Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Narrative modes ~ #1 the Heroic Journey

Organizing your novel or story around a narrative mode can help your story follow a reliable framework and ensure you maintain your reader's interest.  The heroic journey is a great narrative structure to follow and is one of the most popular in use, just check out every Pixar movie.

The heroic journey calls for several elements and in a fairly standard order.  There are variants in the structure, but this is one in common use.
  1. The main character, in this case the average Joe or Joelyne (potential hero) arrives on the scene.  
  2. An event occurs which forces Joe to leave his home and go in search of something important.  This is known as the call to adventure.  The event can be falling in love, having someone he cares about become sick, a favor asked for by someone, something taken away he must retrieve, or a trick used to get him out out of the way.
  3. What Joe needs can be a magic item, forgiveness, a physical quality, knowledge, a person, any number of things, a.k.a., the boon.    
  4. He need not go alone.  He may bring along friends (known as companions) to aid him in acquiring his boon.  The companions come in several archetypes: the simpleton, the loyal friend, the trickster, the guide, and there are many others.  They also can be acquired in the course of the journey.
  5. Frequently, the hero is not recognized as a hero, but he/she may already have a secret weapon.  This is known as a talisman and is used to give the hero strength.   It can be anything you can imagine: an object, a physical quality, intelligence, a innocent token carried for sentimental reasons, an inherited object.  The talisman must play an important role in the course of the journey, though it starts out innocent of any value.
  6. He must leave what is known and enter the unknown.  This is a case of crossing the threshold.  He has lived in a world where the rules are obvious and normal (the overworld).  When he crosses, he will find himself in the underworld where everything he has known will no longer apply.  The locations are often jungles, forests, desert, but could be just as easily, a country the hero has not been to, an experience, such as bungee jumping.  He will have to face several trials as he travels to acquire his boon.  These trials are challenges that strengthen the hero as he wins each one. Tests of strength and intelligence are the usual fair.  Traditionally, they are monsters, riddles, and puzzles that force the hero to mature for the final feat required to earn the boon.  For non-fantasy stories, personal fears and weaknesses can supply plenty of challenges.
  7. Along the way, he may face a challenge that is too great for him.  In this case, supernatural intervention is available to come to his aid.  The source of this intervention can be his talisman, the guide who is a companion or an outside force that provides the necessary time he needs to come up with his own means of meeting the challenge.
  8. After the final challenge, he receives his boon.  This can be a crucial event.  A nice twist at this point can be that he gets the boon he needs rather than the one he sought.  So the fellow searching for money and fame, finds the girl of his dreams instead or the woman determined to find independence and individual freedom, gives it up for someone else's needs, but it gives her satisfaction.
  9. The last step is the hero recrossing the threshold, returning to his original home and integrating into society as a recognized hero.
And so the story is told, and the reader's attention maintained. Next week, is the Faustian Legend narrative mode.

 The Little Handbook of Narrative Frameworks available on Smashwords and Amazon.

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