The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler has a home on my all-time-favorite-books-on-writing shelf. This book has it all—starting with wonderful advice on story structure, also a great way to brainstorm your story, and it’s downright entertaining! The book focuses on storytelling (as opposed to specifics on writing) and it’s definitely worth a read to see Vogler’s take on how to put together and create a powerful structure and story narrative.
Originally a book for screenwriting, the popularity of The Writer’s Journey has spread into all walks of fiction. There is much a novelist, short-story writer, songwriter, or any writer dealing with story elements can learn from Vogler’s analysis of story structure. He credits Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces for having a major impact on storytelling and then breaks down the mythic storytelling structure into steps to apply to any storyline. The idea is simple: there is a mythic story structure buried deep within us from before even the Great Pyramids. Man began telling stories as a way of communication from the very beginning, when we were sitting around a circle, marveling at the miracle of fire and wondering how the next hunt was going to go.
Vogler begins The Writer’s Journey by going through character archetypes as he maps the journey out for us, showing us how to use archetype to understand the function of certain characters. He follows the section on character archetype by breaking down the storytelling structure into twelve steps or stages of the Hero’s journey. A chapter devoted to each step ensures that by the time you’ve read the chapter, you understand the stage completely. Vogler uses movies to illustrate how that structure runs beneath all great stories: from Casablanca to Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, E.T., Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and on and on.
When I think there is something missing from my story, or even at the beginning when coming up with ideas, I use the steps as a brainstorming tool. If I have a problem in my story and I’m trying to come up with a fix, I turn to the stages of The Writer’s Journey and do an analysis of my story. When I’ve got lots of ideas or scenes in my head and I’m attempting to sort them out, the steps serve as a great organization tool as well. My copy of The Writer’s Journey has highlighted pages and a cracked spine from so much use. I’ll be needing another copy soon.
One of my favorite parts of The Writer’s Journey is at the end of each stage there is a section of questions called “Questioning The Journey. Vogler asks you to identify the step in specific movies, asks you how the step has happened in your life, asks if the step is necessary in a story, then asks what the step is in your story, and if you can do without it. Considering the step in movies to real life to your own writing makes for some wonderful thinking. He then pushes you to twist the step or present it in a way to make it unusual or out of the realm of cliché. This section is a mini-study guide of each step.
If you really dig this book, there is a companion book called Myth and the Movies by Stuart Voytilla, where the author takes fifty (yes—fifty!) well-known movies and analyzes their structure and characters according to Vogler’s book.
The Writer’s Journey gets a 5 star rating for excellent story-structure advice, for being a great brainstorming tool, and it’s just plain fun to read. This is another book that every writer should have on the shelf.