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Monday, September 29, 2014

Quest Stories

Who doesn’t love a good quest story? Remember Beowulf going off to slay the monster/dragon Grendel? Or Bilbo Baggins seeking a treasure? What about Luke Skywalker’s journey to join the rebellion?

In his book The Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell shows the commonality of myths and legends—the journey each hero takes to accomplish his goal. When Christopher Vogler worked in the development department at Disney studios, he came up with a memo based on Campbell’s mythic journey for determining a good screenplay. That memo eventually became The Writer’s Journey, a must-have reference book for all writers.

Since I love adventure stories—in books, movies, and TV shows—I also love writing them. While my characters aren’t mythic, I find using the Campbell/Vogler’s structure makes the stories easier to write.

Writers tend to describe themselves as plotters or pantsers. Some writers have to plot the whole story before writing it. Others write by the seat of their pants—they start writing with only a vague idea of where the story is going. When I first started writing, I just sat down and started typing away. Those first stories will never see the light of day. LOL Like any craft, you learn by doing. The more I wrote, the better the stories became. Sort of. Until I discovered Vogler’s book. Prior to that, I’d read LOTS of how-to books. While I took bits and pieces from each, I didn’t connect with any until reading The Writer’s Journey. Maybe it was because he used Star Wars (my all-time favorite movie) to illustrate the structure. Whoo-hoo! The lightbulb over my head lit up.

I’m still a pantser, but . . . And here’s the big but—I have a basic structure to follow. If I go off on a tangent (as pantsers often do), the structure hauls me back. As an example, I started writing One Red Shoe back in the mid-nineties. It was rejected, rewritten, rejected, rewritten, etc. When I finally applied the mythic structure, the story became much better and was published by The Wild Rose Press.

According to Campbell and Vogler, the story begins in the hero’s ordinary world. Think Luke Skywalker on the moisture farm, grousing because his friends have gone off to the Academy and his uncle won’t let him leave, too. In One Red Shoe, my heroine Daria is leaving home (Iowa) for a writer’s conference in New York City. Her overprotective brothers are still trying to dissuade her from going, but she’s determined. This conference is going to be her big adventure. Or so she thinks.

In the next step of the journey, the hero hears the call to adventure but refuses. Luke meets Obi Wan who wants him to learn the way of the Force and become a Jedi knight like his father. Luke has a number of reasons why he can’t go and refuses the call. Daria finds a wounded man who needs her help to get out of a building without the bad guys seeing him. At first, she dithers. But when Sam nearly falls over she knows he can’t make it without her. But she can only help him so far, though. She has to get back to her conference. She has a great opportunity that she can’t miss. She continues to help him a little more, but each time she tells him that’s it, no more.

For each hero, an event pushes them over the edge and they accept the call. For Luke, it’s returning home and discovering his aunt and uncle have been killed and the farm destroyed. For Daria—savior of every wounded animal that’s ever come into her life—accepting the call isn’t so dramatic. When Sam falls asleep in her car and she can’t wake him up for direction to the next stop, she makes her decision. If she leaves him, he’ll surely be captured. Not only can’t she leave him, her journey is about to get worse. This isn't the adventure she thought she was embarking on when she left home.

If I’ve piqued your interest, One Red Shoe is available at:

One Red Shoe buy link: http://amzn.com/B00FDXRHZA


When elementary teacher Daria Mason left Iowa for a writers’ conference in New York City, she didn’t expect to come home with a wounded spy. Sam Jozwiak works for a shadow agency that gathers intel vital to U.S. security. From the moment he steals digital files from a Russian Mafia kingpin, Murphy’s Law takes over. No matter how he covers his tracks, the kingpin’s assassins find him. What’s worse than getting shot in the butt? Accepting help from an Iowa tourist. Thus, begins a road trip that takes Sam and Daria cross country with the assassins right behind them.

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