Lordy-Lord! Thank you, you crazy people, for your submissions this week. I particularly enjoyed Sam from the Isle of Man, who started a story, in which the hero journeyed inside a person’s head. Also loved Roisin from Cork, who told an entirely realistic story about moving to a new school, where everyone smelled different. Welcome back to The Writing School, Roisin and Sam! Welcome too, to people who are joining for the first time to learn of The Twelve Steps of the Classic Tale. The next four go like this…
5) Cross the doorway into the unknown.
Classic versions of this step are the moment the children enter the wardrobe in Narnia, or the moment that Alice goes down the rabbit hole. But your hero can go into the unknown, in more subtle ways. You all know that feeling when you stand outside a party, and hear the noise, and then suddenly know that you’re dressed completely wrong, and you want to go home, but you know you must enter… That feeling is the essence of the story. Difficulty is good. I’m always struck, when I’m teaching, how boys particularly want their heroes to be invincible. “He’s called Magic Man,” they say, “and he can crush everyone, and go anywhere in a second.” “Is he scared of anyone,” I ask, “or of going anywhere?” “No,” they insist, thus condemning their heroes to boringness. In a story we want to see someone who’s scared to go forward, but who does it anyway.
I love a good journey – the hobbits walking up mountain and down valley; I love the trek to Mexico in We Are The Millers; the endless journeying of Paris, Texas... The great thing about journeys is they give a sense of momentum to your tale, as you fit in essential character work: people getting to know each other, people learning, all the human emotion that makes your story alive.
7) The goodie who’s a baddie; the baddie who’s a goodie
OK. Technically Chris Vogler didn’t have this step in his Writer’s Journey, but I’m including it, since this step is a key one. In grown-up novels, the biggest selling stuff is Gone Girl, The Girl On The Train, The Kind Worth Killing – books that all riff on the same idea: you’re made to wonder if one the main characters is actually a baddie. This step is what keeps the reader guessing. Think Frozen… Sure, Prince Hans is the goodie, who is revealed as a baddie. But also Christof is the opposite. The meat of the whole story is about how Anna learns to love this stinky, reindeer-loving ice-gatherer.
8) Mums / dads
Your story should feel as if you’re peeling away layers of the onion, getting to the deepest truth about your main character, and these truths concern feelings about mum and dad. “I am your father,” reveals Darth Vadar to Luke in Star Wars, and suddenly the story seems to have real weight. I know this may seem awful to you! You’re probably dying to write your stories, so you can escape the parents – to go into other worlds – it makes you sick that mum will be following, telling you to wipe your nose, and brush your hair… The good news is that, at this point of the story, you can speak your deepest truth to the parents – eg “Mum, you really need to leave me alone!”
You can do that! Say whatever you want to parents, in your stories! Say you love them, overthrow them, or fling them into Outer Space! It’s entirely up to you!
PS by the way, sorry for being late to come to school this week. I went to London yesterday, to meet some producers who are interested in making a filmscript I wrote earlier this year – my own attempt to write Frozen. Yes! A door is opening, and the world is glittering before me! As it can for you. But first you must finish your stories!