The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Backstory

SPOILERS FOR THE NOVEL CITY OF MIRRORS BY JUSTIN CRONIN

Recently, the final book in Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic horror series, The City of Mirrors, was released. I loved the first two installments, The Passage and The Twelve. For close to four years, I had eagerly anticipated the finale to a great story.

I was mostly pleased with the final book. Very gratifying wrap-up to the series.

About two-thirds of it, that is.

In the middle of the book, Cronin plunks a very long flashback that dramatizes the backstory of the story’s major antagonist, a vampire-like creature who controls an army of other vampire-like creatures. Continue reading “The Right and Wrong Ways to Use Backstory”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Return with the Elixir

This is the 11th and final post in my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. After being reborn and purified through a resurrection experience, our hero finally returns from the Extraordinary World.

The journey has ended. The circle is complete. The hero has, in some sense, returned to the point where she started.

2. It is not unusual for heroes to find themselves waking up in the Ordinary World after their adventure in the Extraordinary World. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Return with the Elixir”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Resurrection

This is Part 10 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. This stage is the climax of your story.

The Ordeal was the major crisis; now your hero is facing his final and most terrifying confrontation with death.

2. It is often a major set piece sequence. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Resurrection”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Road Back

This is Part 9 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. The Road Back is the transition from Act 2 to Act 3 of your story.

The hero has completed her initiation and is now an evolved hero. It is time for her to begin her transition from the Extraordinary World back to the Ordinary World.

There’s still a long way to go, however. The road back is filled with more danger and challenges for the hero.

2. At this point, antagonists may have been completely vanquished . . . or not. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Road Back”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Reward/Seizing the Sword

This is Part 8 of my series on mythic structure, or monomyth.

1. After surviving the Ordeal, the hero now claims a reward.

The reward may come in many different forms: treasure, an object that helps the hero return home, a declaration of love/friendship, knowledge, power.

In The Wizard of Oz, this is the point where Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion claim their rewards from the Wizard in exchange for killing the Wicked Witch.

2. The “reward” may be something that has always been a part of the hero.

In The Wizard of Oz, the Wizard doesn’t literally bestow a brain, a heart, or courage. He instead makes the characters realize that they always had these things inside them. Emmet in The Lego Movie survives his Ordeal and emerges as a Master Builder – which is really just a realization of his own potential. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Reward/Seizing the Sword”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Ordeal

This is Part 7 of my series on the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

1. The ordeal is the first major confrontation with the main forces of antagonism.

After undergoing many tests, forming alliances, figuring out enmities, gaining some respect in the extraordinary world of the adventure, it is time for the hero to experience her first major battle against the antagonist(s).

2. This generally occurs at the mid-point of the story.

The ordeal is not interchangeable with the climax of a story. This is the major crisis, not the end of the journey. It doesn’t have to be at the mid-point. It’s fine if the ordeal occurs later, but it’s important to remember this is not where the story ends and that it’s not necessarily the last confrontation with the forces of antagonism. Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Ordeal”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave

DIVERGENT

This is Part 6 of my series on the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

1. This stage of the journey is when the story begins to coalesce around a major confrontation with the antagonist.

The part of the journey that falls under “Tests, Allies and Enemies” can take up quite a bit of the story after the hero crosses over into the world of the adventure. But now everything has to begin to come together and focus on the main battle against the forces of antagonism.

It’s at this point where the main task in The Wizard of Oz changes from “off to see the Wizard” to “acquire the Wicked Witch’s broom and bring it back to the Wizard.” The Scarecrow says, “But we’d have to kill her to get it!” It’s when the Ghostbusters realize there’s more going on than just random ghost sightings, and that an ancient Babylonian god is returning to destroy humanity.

In other words, this is when sh*t starts to get real for your hero.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Tests, Allies, and Enemies

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This is Part 5 of my series on monomyth or the hero’s journey.

1. After your hero crosses the threshold into the world of adventure, the rules of the new world are a good place to start when it comes to testing your hero. Here are some ways he can get into trouble right away:

Ignorance of the rules: For instance, in Back to the Future, Marty doesn’t realize at first that he has traveled back into the past. When he crashes the DeLorean into someone’s barn and emerges from it in a hazmat suit, he looks utterly alien to the family who own it. He is surprised to find himself on the business end of a shotgun and must find a way to escape.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Tests, Allies, and Enemies”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Crossing the First Threshold

This is Part 4 of my series on monomyth, or the hero’s journey.

1. Crossing the first threshold is the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 of your story.

Up to this point, your hero is still connected to her ordinary world. In many models of mythic structure, the first part of the story is referred to as “separation,” the second “initiation” and the third “return.” Crossing the threshold is the final separation from everything that is familiar to the hero and begins her initiation into a new world–the world of the adventure.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Crossing the First Threshold”

The Illogical Protagonist and Why Your Story Needs One

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In the movie The Godfather, two characters in the opening scenes are presented as possible protagonists:

Vito Corleone, the presumptive title character, who from the first scene is shown as the powerful head of a Mafia family.

Sonny Corleone, his hot-headed son, has been groomed as his father’s successor and loves the Mafia life.

On the surface, both seem a logical choice as protagonist of the story. They are the ones who fit into the world of the story, who want to prevail in it. In the beginning, it’s easy to assume that the story will be primarily about one of them.

Then we are introduced to Vito’s youngest son, Michael. Continue reading “The Illogical Protagonist and Why Your Story Needs One”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Meeting with the Mentor

aryasyrio

This is Part 3 in my series on mythic structure, or the hero’s journey.

1. Even though this stage of the journey is positioned after The Call to Adventure and The Refusal of the Call, the Meeting with the Mentor can happen at any point in the story.

It is common for the hero to meet their mentor figure at some point during the first act (first third or so of the story) but there is no restriction on when the hero can meet her mentor for the first time. Dorothy doesn’t meet Glinda until after she crosses the first threshold (enters Oz). Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, on the other hand, meets swordmaster Syrio Forel before she crosses her first threshold (escapes King’s Landing in the guise of a boy). Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Meeting with the Mentor”

The Strong Female Character: I Do Not Think That Means What Some People Think It Means

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I recently started watching the new TV series Outlander, based on the popular books by Diana Gabaldon. I have never read the books. The series sounded like something I might enjoy, about a woman who time-travels to 18th Century Scotland.

After watching two episodes, I’m already done with it.

I see people raving about the show on Twitter and other social media. Like Charlie Brown, I don’t know how to argue with success. Something is resonating with many viewers, and I don’t mind that they are enjoying it.

But to me it’s a major disappointment. It made me think of how the term “strong female character” is so often misconstrued. Continue reading “The Strong Female Character: I Do Not Think That Means What Some People Think It Means”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Call to Adventure & Refusal of the Call

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This is Part 2 in my series on mythic structure, or the hero’s journey. I am combining the next two stages of the hero’s adventure, The Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call, because they are so closely connected.

1. The call to adventure is issued by the herald archetype. This may be personified in a character i.e. Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games, the Tarleton brothers in Gone with the Wind, the droids in Star Wars: A New Hope. Or a herald can be an item such as the letter from Hogwarts in Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone, the dead body washed up on the beach in Jaws, or the burning bush in The Prince of Egypt. (For more on the herald archetype, please check out my previous article on the subject.) Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Call to Adventure & Refusal of the Call”

#10Queries Hashtag on Twitter Reveals 10 Common Reasons for Rejection

Rejected letters  (clipping path included)As writers, we sometimes (maybe most of the time) feel as though agents and editors are our natural enemies, rejecting work unfairly. They live to keep the truly talented from succeeding, the thinking goes.

That’s because most of us have never had to deal with the slush piles at publishing houses and literary agencies.

On Twitter, several literary agents tweet with the #10queries hashtag (other variations are #10queriesin10tweets and #tenqueries). This is a fantastic insight into what agents see cross their desks from the slush pile. You can either periodically check out the hashtag(s) or follow agents who do this on a regular basis.

I currently follow Margaret Bail (@MKDB) at Inklings Literary Agency, Whitley Abell (@whitleyabell, also at Inklings), Eric W. Ruben, Esq. (@EricRubenLawyer) who is, obviously, a lawyer but also a literary agent. Sara Megibow (@SaraMegibow) of Nelson Literary Agency used to do #10queriesin10tweets on a regular basis; she does it only occasionally now. (Follow her anyway, she still shares great advice about submitting to agents.)

Here are a few striking things you can’t help but notice when you check out the hashtag: Continue reading “#10Queries Hashtag on Twitter Reveals 10 Common Reasons for Rejection”