I remember being astonished when, in my early twenties, I came across a book called The Writer’s Journey, by Chris Vogler, which broke all stories down to twelve steps. It told how George Lucas had followed them exactly, and produced Star Wars. What?! I thought, if this stuff is known, what’s to stop me producing a bestseller too? What’s to stop you?
Here are the first four of Vogler’s twelve steps, changed slightly…
Sometimes writers miss this step out, since they’ve been told: ‘You need to grab your reader from the start!’ but if you start with your hero , in the first sentence, being Flung Into Outer Space, or Hearing A Strange Voice Calling Them From The Toilet, then we don’t care about them. Also they will have nothing to change, as the story develops. Tell us: what does your hero do every day? What are their habits, catchphrases, obsessions? What’s unusual about how they look? Tell of the annoying characters who block them. Say, too, what your hero wants. What they need. Do they have a secret? One friend who sometimes helps them? What messed them up in the past?
2)Call to adventure
But then one day, something happens, which pushes your hero into an adventure… A mysterious letter arrives… They find a strange picture in the attic… When peeking at Dad through a hinge, they discover he has a huge scar (and what appears to be a tail… While out walking, yours hero sees a tiny fairy drowning in a puddle… The Call can come in a million ways, but the effect is the same – the hero thinks: ‘Something is wrong, and I shall put it right.’
3)Refusal of the call
But then they don’t. They refuse the road lying glittering before them. When I read this, I was so surprised. Why???!! I wondered. What’s the point of this step? I wondered. If the adventure sounds exciting, why shouldn’t it start? Think! Why do you think this step happens? Have you got a reason? OK, write to me. Tell me.
4)Meeting with the mentor
But luckily – just when your hero was thinking of doing nothing – just thinking they were fine to wallow about like a hippo / to lie in bed playing Clash of the Clans and eating crisps – they meet a mentor – a teacher – who will usually give them advice / some sort of magic sword / or just a big Kick Up The Bum. Now at last they are ready to go into Outer Space. They can hear that mysterious voice calling them from the toilet. They have the tools they need / the special Toilet-swimming Armbands and scuba gear. They can dive in. As can you of course.
And start a new story, using these steps. Or perhaps re-write your Spooky Story, in the light of them. And send them to MrCloverTheFamousSnail@gmail.com I shall await your tales, inside my sparkling shell! I shall put them on the walls! I shall send out gifts to the best writers! Have fun!
Mr Clover, your slimey friend
PS I nicked this image from Ryan Dunlavey, who does some brilliant cartoons. Check him out!