Monday, April 25, 2011

New Additions Part 3: Mapping Out the Hero's Journey

Part 1 of the New Additions Series covered the first step in my dystopian sci-fi story-writing process - brainstorming insights and ideas. Part 2 covered the next step: turning that idea into a fully-baked outline.

The next stage in my process is all about mapping out the "Hero's Journey" by identifying the key elements and points of interest within the complete story. Again, this process isn't meant to build a template for the written word or hinder creativity, it's simply meant to push the writer to understand the key points of the story and the progress that the story must make along the way.

Is there a basic framework for the elements that should exist along the Hero's Journey? Well, sort of, yes...

Three Acts
The general rule of thumb for most impactful stories is the "Rule of Three" - try to think of the stories in terms of three overarching Acts. Remember, every good story has a beginning, middle, and an end, whether a short story or full-fledged novel. The Acts should flow smoothly into one another, yet the reader should still be able to recognize where they are in the story.

An Attention-grabbing Introduction
The first element of the Hero's Journey should include an introduction that grabs the reader's attention and immediately pulls them into the premise of the story or the plight of the main character (the Hero). In some cases, this can mean starting the story with a scene of high-intensity or importance, in other cases it can mean using an intriguing quote or section of dialogue.

The Inciting Incident
The Inciting Incident is an event in the life of the Hero - either before the story proper starts or near the very beginning, that brings to life for the reader the Hero's yearning (what they want but don't have) and conflict (the feeling of incompleteness that comes from their unfulfilled yearning). Yearning and conflict are the key elements to an interesting Hero and story, and so the Inciting Incident is the true kick-off to the Hero's Journey.

The First Epiphany
While the Inciting Incident is the event that triggers the Hero's yearning and conflict, the First Epiphany is the first time the Hero himself comes to terms with that yearning and conflict - and decides to either act on (or not act on) it. In some stories, not acting on the First Epiphany demonstrates the Hero's flaw, the lesson that he must learn by the end of the story. In other stories, acting on the First Epiphany is when the journey really starts to move forward.

The Point-of-Attack (Catalyst)
In many cases, the Hero's Journey cannot move forward without an outside catalyst - a Point-of-Attack from either an event or a person - to push them along the way. The arrival of this catalyst or event changes something in the Hero's disposition and signals a new path for the Hero to follow.

The Second Epiphany
After a series of events and encounters, the Hero will eventually come to a second key realization - a Second Epiphany - and will be transformed henceforth because of it. Sometimes this realization comes early enough for the Hero to change and act on it in order to save the day. Other times, the realization comes at the very end of the story - too late to change what happened, and thus, tragic.

Reward and Resolution
If the Hero was able to use the transformation resulting from the Second Epiphany to act on and change his current circumstances (resolving both his yearning and conflict), he is often rewarded with a resolution or happy ending. If not, the Second Epiphany can also act as the reward in and of itself. Either way, happy ending or tragic, the story must end in a satisfying way!

Once I've mapped out the elements of the Hero's Journey for a particular story, the next step of course... is to start writing! And so, I've procrastinated for far too long - I will now attempt to write the next short story in the In-Futura collection: "Mail Order Bride".