The Writer’s Journey, Chapter 1

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Cover image of The Writer's Journey, Third Edition, by Christopher VoglerI’ve started reading through The Writer’s Journey (Third Edition) by Christopher Vogler. I was given the book ages ago by mom and never really sat down to read it. (I have such a huge pile of books that are TBR.)

The book is a look at the Hero’s Journey and how it can apply to writing and a writer’s life. The Hero’s Journey is the idea that every story is, at core, the same. It’s a monomyth paradigm put forward by Joseph Campbell.

There are a lot of problems with this paradigm being touted as universal. The Hero’s Journey has a definite Western bias and trying to apply it to non-Western stories and myths is, to my mind, a form of literary colonization.

However, I still think the book will be useful to me. Not because the Hero’s Journey is universal, but because it is specifically biased to Western civilization, and I am a Western writer, with a Western audience.

The book also doesn’t push formula, which is unexpected, honestly. It puts forth the Hero’s Journey as a form, but says that to make it really work, one must internalize one’s understanding of it and then do one’s own thing. It’s form, not formula. It’s a map, with possible rest stops marked out, not an itinerary from which one may not stray.

The rest stops he marks out are as follows, with my own understanding of what each rest stop means.

Act I

Ordinary World: this is the beginning, where we establish what the hero’s world is like before the story begins.

Call to Adventure: everything changes, and the hero must leave her ordinary world.

Refusal of the Call: the hero resists, even if she was desperate for adventure before — this is not the adventure she had in mind.

Meeting with the Mentor: she meets her mentor who guides her on the path, sometimes kicking her in her reluctant ass.

Crossing the First Threshold: the hero finally commits to the adventure, and her story really begins. (This would be the First Plot Point.)

Act II

Tests, Allies, Enemies: the hero, now on her path, must go through more tests, find allies, and create enemies.

Approach to the Inmost Cave: the second major threshold, where the hero prepares to face her worst fears, her most dangerous adventure, certain death, in order to gain what she seeks.

Ordeal: the hero hits rock bottom. This is the midpoint shift, when all seems lost — her goals and hopes are dashed, everything appears to be over.

Reward: after surviving the ordeal, after climbing back up from rock bottom, the hero receives her reward: the magical artifact, love, reconciliation, recognition as a hero.

Act III

The Road Back: the hero must now return home, to her ordinary world, but she faces the consequences of taking on dark and powerful forces. Her return home may be fraught with more danger, more death, and she must fight off the forces from the Otherworld to which she has traveled yet again.

Resurrection: the hero must once again face death and survive; she must be purified before her return home. She is reborn, and becomes a different person.

Return with the Elixir: the hero returns home triumphantly, but she is no longer the same person who left home originally. She has been forever changed, and while home may seem the same to the casual observer, to her it is forever different. The “elixir” is that change; it is what she brought back from the otherworld, whether it’s an actual item or a lesson the hero has learned.

This is an overview of the hero’s journey as I understand it from Chapter 1 of this book. You may notice I use she and her to refer to the hero; this is because hero is a gender-neutral term and one does not need to use male-as-default pronouns. Besides, my heroes are usually women.

Chapter 2 is about character archetypes. I plan on doing another blog post about it whenever I read it.

I do have a few complaints about the book; some things have caused me annoyance. In one of the three introductions/prefaces that appear in the third edition, the author mentions that “hero” isn’t supposed to be read as male-as-default, but then talks about how men and women might have different journeys — taking care to point out that a woman’s journey may be more to do with family, and home, and emotion, moving in a spiral or concentric circles, while a man’s journey will be out in the world, going in straight, linear lines.

I reject this idea as sexist and outdated, and heavily binarist. It’s not Vogler’s fault he’s put forth this theory; it’s a common enough paradigm among women as well as men (in fact, most of the books he suggests people read to explore the idea further are written by women). But it assumes that every single world one might write in will have the same gender roles as our world does. As someone who’s put a lot of work into making sure the worlds I write don’t have the exact same gender roles as this one, I disagree that my female heroes will have journeys that are all about home and family, or even travelling in spirals or concentric circles.

This is a large problem people have with deconstruction of stories, the tendency to slot “men’s” and “women’s” journeys as largely different, because of how these folks are socially classed (and no one really talks about what a genderqueer hero’s journey is supposed to be like, nor is there much acknowledgement of the existence of heroes who are not cisgender).

I’m not saying skip the book because of it; so far I’ve only read the prefaces/introductions and Chapter 1, and for all I know it only appears in that one part. I’m saying if you’re going to pick up the book, be aware of that bias and assumption, and remember that it is largely sexist and binarist.

The other complaint I have so far is very small, and likely won’t matter to a lot of people, but since getting into publishing I notice things like this and it bugs me. There are some minor formatting errors. Specifically, a part where the author says something about something being laid out in a graph, and ending the sentence with a colon — this indicates the image should appear after this paragraph. It doesn’t; it appears a few paragraphs before, at the top of the page. This is the sort of thing a layout person should not be doing. The error occurs twice, too — there are two diagrams, and they are incorrectly positioned according to the text.

Another error that has occurred more than once: italicizing parts of a sentence as part of titles of movies. Vogler lists several movies or stories after each example, showing where in that story that part of the Hero’s Journey occurred. He will start sentences like this: In Return of the Jedi, etc etc etc…. However, the layout person at this publishing company thought “In” needed to be italicized as well, so the sentence reads: In Return of the Jedi, etc etc etc.

This may seem like a small error, but to me it’s massive. Coming from a publishing company that puts out, primarily, books and media on filmmaking and screenwriting, it’s disappointing. Leaving in an error like this — multiple times — is akin to leaving in several boom shots in a feature length film. Someone should have caught the error and fixed it.

I really do hope there are no more formatting or layout errors like this in the book. It’s glaring to me, and reducing my immersion in the content of the book. I also hope there’s no more of the “men’s journey/women’s journey” stuff in there, because I’d like this book to be helpful to me — so far, it is, but more of that sexist BS and I’ll have to ragequit.

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