For years I have been a writer, an editor and a teacher of creative writing. Now I want to share some of what I have learned along the way. Write On The Fringes is a blog about the dangers, the disappointments and the rewards of writing. It's a record of the writing of a novel, from the tantalising first inklings of an idea, through to the final draft. But above all it's an exploration of the art and the craft of writing and the nature of story, as well as a search for the essence of creativity and the complex nature of truth.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Heroine's Journey

'The journey of the Heroine is about saying 'yes' to the true self and, in so doing, to become more fully alive and effective in the world.'
Maureen Murdock

For the past few weeks I have been writing about Joseph Campbell’s model of the Hero’s Journey and how it translates to the stages within story. However, many women are concerned that this model of the heroic journey excludes women, or at least doesn't allow for gender differences. Maureen Murdock, in her book, The Heroine's Journey goes some way towards addressing this problem by suggesting a useful alternative model for women which is similar to but in a sense more layered than Campbell’s model. I won’t go into the details of each stage in this post but they include:
Separation from feminine; identification with Masculine and gathering allies
Road of trials, meeting ogres and dragons
Finding the (illusory) boon of success
Awakening to feelings of spiritual aridity: death
Initiation and Descent to the Goddess
Urgent yearning to reconnect with the feminine
Healing the mother/daughter split
Healing the wounded masculine
Integration of the masculine and feminine

Unlike Campbell's linear structure for story, Murdock proposes a circular structure more appropriate to the inward seeking nature of the woman's journey. While, I agree with and appreciate the stages Murdoch lists in her model, I am not drawn to its circular nature. In some ways a circle might symbolically represent completion but it also represents the potential for nightmarish repetition; to end where you began is not what stories seek to do. As psychologist, Roger Woolger writes, 'psychologically, circles can represent every kind of self-perpetuating torment’. I prefer to imagine the journey as a double spiral structure, one that ensures a descent but also a return to a new position, expressing the symbolic death of the body and its spiritual rebirth through initiation. As a double spiral we are also left with the suggestion that there will be new journeys, taking us into new adventures, both internal and external.

 In The Heroine’s Journey, Murdock calls one of the stages, 'Initiation and Descent to the Goddess', describing the Babylonian myth of Inanna's descent into the underworld, to visit her sister Ereshkigal who has been raped by the gods and exiled to the underworld. On her way, Inanna must pass seven gates, at each of which she surrenders more of her identity, until naked she arrives in the Underworld where she is stripped of her life and left to rot, before being released once again, reborn. The myth of Inanna, is a beautiful story, a metaphor for initiation into the mystery of life and like many of the more masculine heroic stories, it also recognises the need to confront the darkness in our psyches. In my novel, Flight, this darkness is represented by the malevolence invading the protagonist’s dreams and threatening her life, as well as the surfacing of old memories, particularly of herself as a baby. There are parallels between the myth of Inanna and Flight, with Fern's stay in the psychiatric ward acting as a metaphor for the underworld. It is here that Fern begins to experience the malevolence attacking her. And here that Fern begins to surrender her identity, when in the mirror she comes face to face with her skeleton self. Later she dreams of her skeleton self, collapsing into pieces, symbolising the death of her old self. From there she must face the darkness in order to begin the restructuring process and eventually give birth to a new self.

Whilst accepting that there are essential gender differences and that it is useful to identify them, I believe, like Vogler, that despite a clear historical bias in determining the content of stories and the gender of its heroes, the structure of heroic myth maps a human process of evolution towards a potential that exists beyond these differences. Most stories involve a character's descent into their psyche in some way with their ultimate goal the balancing of the masculine and the feminine. Certainly some of the markers along the way are different, as Murdock identifies. In many respects, men and women do have different journeys: the masculine journey is usually an active, goal oriented quest, whilst the feminine journey is more internal, like the story of Inanna, a descent into ones depths. Yet, as Bruno Bettelheim points out in The Uses of Enchantment, 'even when the girl is depicted as turning inward in her struggle to become herself, and a boy as aggressively dealing with the external world, these two together symbolize the two ways in which one has to gain selfhood: through learning to understand and master the inner as well as the outer world.' While the plot in stories usually represents an external active adventure of some sort, the character arc generally represents an inner journey. So a protagonist might embark on an adventure in order to learn how to be active in the world but in so doing also be forced to confront his or her inner demons.

 Perhaps ultimately both journeys are a metaphor for the same goal, hence the 'active' and 'masculine' slaying of a dragon is a metaphor for inner change, for facing those things within us that we are most afraid of and for reclaiming our treasure. So while we should not deny the rich differences between genders, it is in these journeys that we reclaim our power, seeking to recognise and in a sense move beyond duality by balancing the masculine and feminine elements within ourselves.

Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website:

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Hero's Journey - Stages of the Adventure

‘We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.’
Joseph Campbell

It seems appropriate to be writing about the Hero’s Journey right now, as I’m immersed in my own journey; moving to a new country, a new job and ultimately, no doubt, a new way of living. Journeys are always confronting and no matter how well planned, any adventure will be filled with both joy and terror, moments when everything slips into harmony and we know all is as it should be, and other moments when we feel we simply can’t go on, or we’re certain we’ve made a terrible mistake setting off at all. But there’s no turning back, so all we can do is deal with each new challenge as it arises, riding the wave of change and hoping we’re not dumped too often.

In my last post I wrote more generally about the Hero’s Journey. This post I want to explore the stages of the journey more deeply. According to mythologist, Joseph Campbell, the three stages of story, Separation, Initiation and Return, can be found in most heroic myths, many contemporary stories, and in the journeys of mystics, shamans and sages throughout time and space. Within each major stage Campbell identified a number of common elements: Separation includes: the Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Supernatural Aid; the Crossing of the First Threshold; and the Belly of the Whale. Initiation includes: The Road of Trials; the Meeting with the Goddess; Woman as Temptress; Atonement with the Father; Apotheosis; and the Ultimate Boon. Return includes: Refusal of Return; the Magic Flight; Rescue from Without; the Crossing of the Return Threshold; Master of Two Worlds; and Freedom to Live.

In The Writer's Journey, Christopher Vogler describes a simpler three-part, twelve-stage structure in stories, which incorporates and occasionally develops the stages Campbell identified. Act One or Preparation includes: The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting the Mentor and Crossing The Threshold.  Act Two or Journey, includes: Test, Allies and Enemies, Approaching the Inmost Cave, Ordeal and Reward. Act Three or Return, includes: The Road Back, Resurrection and Return with the Elixir.
Although Vogler concentrates on film, his theories can be applied just as easily to a wide range of novels as there is a great deal of commonality in the structure of films and novels. Indeed many films are direct adaptations of novels. According to Vogler, all or most of these twelve stages are evident in a broad range of stories and genres, which he then goes on to analyse, applying his theories to films as diverse as Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, Titanic, The Full Monty and even Quentin Tarantino's post structuralist film, Pulp Fiction.

Critics have accused Vogler of concentrating on Hollywood films and creating a formulaic method for writing narrative and developing characters. Vogler does warn of the dangers inherent in following the twelve stages as a formula, stating that for the writer, 'the conscious awareness of its patterns may be a mixed blessing, for it's easy to generate thoughtless cliché and stereotypes from this matrix'. He then goes on to answer his critics by demonstrating the vastly diverse array of factors that can be applied to each stage, creating endless possibilities for stories. Like Vogler, I believe that all good writing is informed by, but steps beyond technique or craft. If we write from our heart, if we allow our stories to lead us into the depths of ourselves, if we emotionally engage with our writing, then what emerges are living, vital stories, not clichéd market driven formulas.

As a writer, I found Vogler's theories fascinating because when I applied them to my own work, I could see that unconsciously I had created stories that fitted closely with his model. And when I applied his structure to my own writing life, I could identify the stages and the parallels between the story, the writing of the story and the themes in my own life, expressing themselves through Flight.
During the writing of Flight, I was already familiar with Vogler's twelve part structure but did not use it as a framework for my story as I didn't want my novel to feel formulaic or to be weakened by forcing it into an external shape. Vogler suggested that there are a number of variations on the order of the stages. 'The stages,' he wrote, 'can be deleted, added to, and drastically shuffled without losing any of their power'. I decided to write without a plan and it is only in retrospect that I can see where Vogler's structure does and does not fit in Flight.

Flight begins with a depressed Fern, self-imprisoned in her attic. She has been there for some months and this has become her Ordinary World, the world that is generally portrayed at the beginning of a story, and one in which there is often some form of stagnation that needs to be addressed. There are a number of Calls to Adventure, which are refused. Change is not something most people choose willingly, so more often than not the hero is not inclined to accept the call. When this occurs then inevitably the call will become stronger, and life as the hero knows it will collapse, forcing him or her to accept change. Twice, Fern's flat mate, Claire, asks Fern to come out of her room as they are moving out of their rental house. Shamesh appearing on the pavement below her room is also a Call to Adventure, but not one that Fern understands. Even when Fern escapes through the window and into Cassie's house, she is still a reluctant hero, choosing to react rather than act.

There are crucial moments in every story, moments of decision that change everything: Billie Elliot puts on a pair of ballet shoes and steps into his first dance class; in the Da Vinci Code, Robert Langdon decides to make a run for it with a strange woman; and James Frey, the author of A Million Little Pieces, enters a rehabilitation clinic. Crossing the Threshold is that moment in a story when there is no turning back: a plane takes off; the hero shuts the door behind her and is thrust into a new world; a crime is committed. . . In Flight, Fern Crosses the First Threshold when she leaves her attic room and steps out onto the street, knowing there is no turning back. According to Steven Jones, 'the threshold crossing is a crossing from the conscious, rational realm to a fictional representation of the unconscious, non-rational domain of the individual's psyche'. Indeed, once Fern steps out of her Ordinary World, she is confronted with Tests, Allies and Enemies and finds that the rules and regulations in this ‘new’ world are different. Reality is not what it seems and the adventures she experiences are to test her readiness for the task ahead of her. Along the way every hero must learn new rules, collect allies and inevitably make some enemies, either in the form of other characters or in the form of self doubt, destructive behaviour etc. These adventures test the hero’s readiness for the task ahead.

In the Approach to the Inmost Cave the hero makes final preparations for the central ordeal of the adventure, says Vogler, who then goes on to use the analogy of the mountaineer who has reached base camp and is preparing to climb the highest peak. The subsequent Ordeal occurs in this metaphoric inmost cave in which the hero faces their greatest fear/s. This can be physical, psychological or emotional, and can be represented by anything from fighting a monster, to standing up to a parent. But in some way the hero must die and be reborn. In Vogler's terms, this is the crisis, not the climax of the story, which comes towards the end. Success at this crisis point enables the hero to develop and change. In Flight, the Ordeal comes early in the novel, when Fern is put into a psychiatric ward. It is here that she finds her power and undergoes a symbolic initiation; a death and a resurrection. She emerges from the cave, not having vanquished her enemy but having gathered her strength, and is now fully equipped to complete the journey. This is Fern’s Reward. The Inmost Cave is the equivalent of Campbell's, Belly of the Whale, in that it is symbolic of the hero's immersion in the unconscious.

Soon after Fern escapes from the psychiatric ward she makes the decision to turn around and face her enemy, a decision that she acts upon by seeking him out. But it is only later, when the enemy that is attacking her, steps through her dreams and into life, nearly killing her, that Fern understands what is at stake and senses she has reached a turning point. Perhaps this is a second Inmost Cave, a moment of realisation, when Fern is more afraid than she has ever been but has to act anyway.

There are many Trials and Tribulations in the hero’s journey, occurring both before and after the Inmost Cave. These trials occur in the dream world where Fern must fight battles she doesn't understand. And they occur in the physical world where the rules are generally clear, such as her meeting with her birth mother and the confrontation with the Bloodhound. However, her meeting with her father does not have clear rules because in the centre of the labyrinth the rules are different. Here the physical world and the dream world meet and Fern finds herself fighting with her father on both planes at once.

The Road Back is a turning point, another threshold to cross and it generally occurs after the Inmost Cave. The hero must either decide to return or be forced to return to the Ordinary World. And he or she must take with them what has been earned, gained, stolen, or granted in the Special World. In Flight, The Road Back is the trek through the wilderness with Adam, seeking the centre of the labyrinth and in it, her father. The Resurrection is the climax of the plot, and it is also the climax of the hero’s development as a character, making it apparent in some way that the hero really has changed. It may come as a test or a sacrifice of some sort and generally there is more at stake than personal happiness. In Flight, the Resurrection comes during the final showdown that Fern has with her father, the results of which I won’t reveal, for those who haven’t yet read Flight.

And finally, the Return with the Elixir, occurs when the hero returns, bringing with him or her a new love, medicine, wisdom, fame, wealth. . .  though, as Vogler states, the 'best Elixirs are those that bring hero and audience greater awareness'. A few days ago we arrived in lovely Aberystwyth; shaken and shocked but not too bruised. However, our journey is by no means over; in fact I feel as if I’m still immersed in the inmost cave, that stage in a story where we are forced to confront our deepest fears. But slowly and surely, the journey is becoming smoother and I’m sure we will ultimately emerge stronger and wiser, having reaped the rewards of embarking on this adventure. For as Campbell explains so beautifully, 'the effect of the successful adventure of the hero is the unlocking and release again of the flow of life into the body of the world'.  

 Copyright (c) 2012 by Rosie Dub. All rights reserved. You may translate, link to or quote this article, in its entirety, as long as you include the author name and a working link back to this website: