Tag Archives: hero’s journey

The mentor character

My company is headed South, and I have a few minutes before paying the bills and working up critiques. I've been doing a bit of daydreaming about my next big project. This project has a mentor character, but he is more spiritual than heroic. I don't know if that will sell or not.

Mentor characters have been around forever, and make some of the more memorable characters in our stories. People remember Merlin, Obi Wan, and Mr. Miyagi.

Real life provides a basis for these characters. There have been some people who survived incredible events who have been called upon to share that knowledge with a new generation. Winfield Scott was called back into service as an old man to lead the Union Army in the American Civil War. It was a short lived term, but ultimately his overall plan is how the war played out.

When The Spanish American War broke out, the USA asked for the help of a former enemy. Confederate General Joe Hooker was given a field command, because he had experience that nobody else could claim.

At the outset of World War One, Americans had little experience moving and supplying large groups of men. These things had been done in the past, but the days of Joe Hooker were over. The US turned to one William F. Cody. His Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show moved and supplied hundreds of people, including livestock, for many years. This included most of the known world, including the European theatre of operations.

Many of the silent movie actors sought out Wyatt Earp to get a feel for the era and men they portrayed. Earp didn't just stop living after the OK Corral.

It's great when an old hero can share wisdom with the new hero. My issue is going to be having the mentor provide non heroic guidance. I still think I can pull it off, but it's going to be a challenge. It also doesn't help me find a genre to fit this project.

The mentor needs to step into the background at some point. The new hero has to face his destiny, and worst fears, alone. The standard these days seems to be killing the mentor off. It also adds urgency and grief to the mix. Reference Sean Connery in The Untouchables, or Obi Wan in Star Wars.

This doesn't have to be the case. Mr. Miyagi fared well, but Daniel had to face the villain alone. I'll make sure this happens in my next book, but I won't kill my mentor off. He will just guide less and less as my main character matures. I want this story to be more about wisdom and maturity than strength and combat.

Merlin wasn't about combat, and Miyagi was anti combat. This tells me I can succeed here. It's up to me to pull it all together.

Mentors can be helpful with bits of backstory too. Writers should avoid info dumps, but a snippet of a story from someone who lived through it can help. Mentors can establish how a farm boy becomes a top swordsman without dedicating ten chapters to training.

Writing this out helps me think it through. Sharing it might get you thinking too. Do you include mentors in your stories? Do you know of any outstanding female mentors? It occurs to me the female mentor has been left out. Have you, or would you ever write a mentor into one of your stories?

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Notes, from The Twilight Zone

These are exactly as presented, notes. Feel free to chime in about any of my points, or about any decent short story tutorial you enjoy.

Regular readers know I bought the entire series of The Twilight Zone. This is an attempt to learn something about writing short stories. I’ve watched two disks out of about twenty-five.

In watching the earliest episodes of The Twilight Zone, I’ve already learned some things. I really enjoy these stories, and the list of old actors are like seeing old friends again. That’s a distraction. I even got out a pen and paper to help me focus.

I’m happy to see that I’m not insane for writing more than one genre. Twilight Zone included science fiction and paranormal stories. I haven’t seen any real fantasy, but there are small elements peppered here and there. It can be done.

The first lesson is that I can’t replicate Serling. (Or Hitchcock from another old favorite.) Using a narrator to bring the audience up to speed is about forty years out of style. I’m not dissing on those who like omnipotent point of view, but I’ve only toyed with it in micro fiction. Serling brings the audience into the story in a few quick paragraphs.

I may be able to replace Serling with a good hook. (Maybe) Some line that draws readers in. “All children, except one, grow up.”

It’s probably best to start with character, but setting may work on occasion. This character must be interesting. If it’s a bad person, the character should be harming someone the audience would root for.

Add the strange spice right about here. What kind of story is this? Paranormal, fantasy, or science fiction. Get it on the page early. Twilight Zone uses a lot of peddlers. Not much use in a modern story, but we have pawn shops, fences, even auctions.

Whatever the strange spice brings, make it light. It can be charming, fun, mildly amusing. The reader might even be envious of something special a character gains.

Change the strange spice to terrifying. Make sure the reader is uncomfortable at this point. Better yet, make it personal.

End with a twist the reader never saw coming. (Good luck.) It may be helpful to write the ending first.

There is no time for a full hero’s journey. Things like training, gathering the team, and mentors have to go. It’s a short story, get to the point.

Important, the science fiction episodes dealt with the culture of the day. Space travel and nuclear war were on everyone’s mind. Today we might have genetics, GMO food, overpopulation, global warming, or depletion of resources in land or sea.

I’m pretty happy with myself as far as my story elements. Lisa, the robot, has GMO skin. Prejudice plays a role in Wild Concept, Panama, and The Cock of the South. Arson has socialized medicine and big insurance as the villain. Yay me!

The seven deadly sins seem to have been as much a motivating factor then as now. Still valid plot issues.

I was slightly surprised to see a robot girl in one episode. They didn’t take time to explain her, like I could in a novel. She was not the main character, Jack Warden was.

Some science fiction elements are timeless; time travel, space exploration, artificial intelligence. I can still use these.

I have no doubt my Muse will be inspired. I’ve already noticed her sandalwood perfume in the air.

I may discover a few thing more as I enjoy these shows. If I do, I’ll share them. It’s hard to come by a good tome about writing a short story. It seems they skip over minor failures and successes, to just deal with the big ones.

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Draft Day, 2013

I really should wait to write this one. It’s probably a bit better for me closer to publication day. Maybe I can recycle it though. There is a not so subtile writing tip in here. I’m writing it in my usual corny style. What’s not to like? You get some fiction and a writing tip.

This happened in the Spring of 2013.

***

I paced back and forth at the bottom of the stairs. My Muse, Lorelei, sent the engraved invitation a month ago. Lisa, the robot, and I would be attending the character draft, live, to make my pick.

Lisa came downstairs. She had on her tight brown suit and stilettos. Her strawberry blonde hair was pulled back in a tight French roll. She was letting her freak flag fly today with her tattooed right leg in full view beyond her knee length skirt. She put on a pair of black framed glasses and said, “Let’s go.”

We went outside and climbed into my gyro-copter. “What’s with the glasses? You have perfect vision.”

“It’s part of my look today. Girl Friday, agent, maybe even bodyguard.”

I took it all in stride and flew us to the stadium. As I headed for the entrance, Lisa reached over her shoulder and clicked the lock. “Boop Boop.”

Our seats were left of the stage and right above the floor. The floor was a mosh pit of heroes. Grizzled old cowboys stood between overbuilt superheroes. Wizards and elves mingled with Classical Greek heroes, aliens, even a god or two.

The announcer, Vin, adjusted his tie and looked into the camera. “This just in, Batman is once again reserved by DC Comics. The first pick was The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Looks like they get to ride the range one more time.”

The color man Chris chimed in. “That was a smart pick, Vin. It’s tough to get two main characters for the price of one. Interest faded in them over the years, and no one saw this coming. Who’s next on our list?”

Vin looked at his computer screen. “It looks like C. S. Boyack is up next. Boyack has fifteen minutes to pick a lead character or he forfeits.”

The spotlight scanned the audience and landed on Lisa and I. Lisa opened her briefcase and grabbed an envelope.

“Hey, Vin. Isn’t that Lisa Burton with Boyack today.”

“Looks like it, Chris. I hope Boyack publishes her story soon.”

“She still looks good.”

“Oh yeah, she’s hot.”

Lisa handed me the envelope, and a runner grabbed it.

As the runner headed for the table, Chris said, “I wonder who he’ll pick. He seems like a Hercules kind of guy to me. Wonder Woman has been drawing some interest too.”

“Don’t forget, copyright expired on Holmes and Watson. They’re free agents this year.”

“True, but to get them both would take some doing. Boyack would have to trade a couple of his supporting character picks to another author.”

“Isn’t that similar to how Boyack landed Theodore Roosevelt and Billy the Kid in last year’s draft?”

“That’s how it’s done in this day and age, Vin.”

The runner handed my pick to a model, who strutted across the stage and handed the envelope to Vin.

The entire stadium grew quiet.

Vin tore the envelope open and held it toward Chris, who pulled out the papers and read, “C. S. Boyack chooses, Patty Hall.”

Vin dropped the envelope and turned to his screen. He whispered, but it still came across the speakers. “Who the hell is Patty Hall? She isn’t even on my list.”

Chris dug into a dusty cardboard box under the table. “Right here. She’s a fifteen year old high school freshman. Holy cow, get this she’s crippled.”

“Um, Chris, I think we’re supposed to say handicapped.”

“Can we get a ruling on that, maybe it’s differently abled. And get a microphone over to Boyack. I’ll bet he has a trade lined up with a romance author. I’ll bet someone has a football jock they’re going to trade for a weak sister or a dying kid.”

The spotlight scanned the crowd below. Atlas and Perseus moved to the side as an unruly shock of brown hair passed, barely coming up to their arms. Stretch Richards stretched himself eight feet higher as Patty passed between his legs. She nearly knocked Laura Croft over as she stomped toward the stage.

A microphone and camera got shoved in my face. “Veronica Staley here with C. S. Boyack. Mr. Boyack, can you tell us who you’re going to trade Patty Hall for?”

“I’m not trading her. I’m keeping her.” I leaned over and told Lisa to go get Patty.

“Mr. Boyack, you’ve written some pretty heroic characters in the past. How does Hall appeal? I mean, you took her in the first round.”

“Look down on the floor, Veronica. There are legendary heroes everywhere you look. It’s going to be hard to take them on a journey and show how they change. I mean what kind of change can you make with Conan?”

“Maybe so, but he could slash his way through a story like no one else.”

Patty stepped onto the stage, and had her picture taken with the model. The crowd hushed once more as they saw her leg braces for the first time. The monitor off to the side read, Boyack commits major error in the first round character draft.

“That’s true about Conan, but Patty has a story to tell too. She’s facing a bit of adversity right out of the slipcover. Adversity makes books interesting. It’s hard to do anything with a character who’s already lived happily ever after.”

Veronica turned back toward the camera. “Back to you Chris and Vin. Boyack is happy with his selection. I’m hoping someone takes a real hero in the next round.”

I was in a foul mood. I was ready to leave, but had to wait for Lisa to pose for pictures, and sign a couple of her calendars. When she led Patty back to our seats, we headed for the writing cabin.

***

There you have it. I look for characters who might be undervalued, and can go on a journey of personal growth. I’m not willing to start with an icon, or unbeatable warrior and try taking them on the same kind of journey.

Patty is the main character in Will ‘O the Wisp, coming to a Kindle or an app near you in 2015. She goes on quite an adventure too. I think you’re going to enjoy it.

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Almost Busy Friday

I’m off work today, and allowed myself to sleep in. I promised myself that everything could wait until I was damned good and ready to start. So much for the almost busy part.

I got a very kind remark on Twitter about Panama. This made my whole week. The purpose of my publishing is to entertain, and it sounds like I accomplished that. Panama could use a bit more love, but I believe it will get there eventually. Holding onto a bunch of older stories before publishing may have been smart, because it allows me to show a volume of work quickly. The downside is a group of stories without reviews. Right or wrong, that’s what I did. (Hint: link on the right hand column)

I caught up on the overnight blogs for a couple of hours, and caffeinated myself to life. Then it was time to tackle the poetry critique.

I whined about this one, and held it for last. Like most things in life, reality isn’t nearly as bad as my imagination makes it out to be. I know I can’t be much help to the poet, but I caught a few things that might be helpful. Most of it involves my novelist filter, and may not be much use to a poet. As an example, a bunch of cowboy miners are drinking scotch. This never happened in real life. It was hard enough shipping booze from Kentucky, shipping it from Scotland was unheard of.

Scotch is the rhyming word. The whole stanza croaks if they drink rye. I think he’s probably correct – as a poet.

The funny thing is that I may have learned something from the poetry. I knew it, but maybe it added a bit of cement. I enjoy a slower start to novels. This is the character in his natural world from the hero’s journey. I want to know the character before I can worry about him. (Or her. I write plenty of female characters. You know about the sidebar, right?)

I’ve always been down on explosions on page one. I’m not invested in the character, and it might be cool to watch the dinosaur swallow her. I’ll broadly refer to this as action, and I try to avoid it.

The poetry brought a great bit of hook to some of his pieces. Not all of them were this way, but those with hooks were the ones I enjoyed. One was about a long nighttime drive and a lost love. I wanted to know more.

One had a Creepypasta feel to it where the character didn’t know if he was digging treasure or his own grave. I wanted to know more. This one worked really well as a novel opening, but resisting backstory would take a real effort.

My takeaway is that long breakfasts or exploding pit bulls isn’t the way to open a story. Establishing stress, tension, intrigue, or suspense works much better on page one. I knew this, but like I said, a bit of mortar on the cracks of my theory.

We go over our critiques at 4:00 this afternoon. That leaves me with several hours for editing.

I’m going to hammer my way through some more of The Cock of the South. I’m using my Stipula Gladiator fountain pen today as inspiration. It has a gladius for a clip and the coliseum as a band. What else would you use on a Greco Roman fantasy?

image

Hail Cobby

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Blog Changes for April, and some Writing Fun

It’s a new month. Well, somewhere in the world it probably is. I have to write these where I find time.

This always starts with a new wallpaper, or background. It’s too easy to choose April flowers, or even Easter eggs & bunnies. I’m going with April Fools Day.

I also deleted my blogroll from the right hand column. This is the place where everyone posts a list of blogs they enjoy. I had some good ones, but they aren’t getting a lot of love. I check my stats, and I don’t see where anyone is clicking on them. I’m not wasting any more real estate on them.

Sometimes you just have to change things up.

I used a photograph of The Fool from an old Tarot deck I own. Readers and writers may appreciate him. There are a series of special cards in the Tarot. I think these are called the Major Arcana cards.

The fool is the first one of the cards in a sequence. Together they tell a story of the fool’s journey. When our novice starts out, he is bright eyed, bold, and well – foolish.

Those of you who study the writing monomyth, the hero’s journey, screenwriting beats, or even fairy tale structure may want to take a look. The tarot is another such journey that can help with your stories. The cards represent development from fool to a godlike being. There are many people he meets along his journey.

It isn’t the same as the other structures, but it can make for an interesting tale. You wouldn’t even have to buy a book. This stuff is all over the internet. Check it out.

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Writing project updates

People who participate in nano regularly post updates. Since it’s November, I thought I might borrow a page from them.

I found out who owns the copyright of the song I want to use in my next story. They want email, so I sent them an awesome one asking pretty please. I offered to blog about how wonderful they are if they let me quote 40 year old song lyrics. If it’s possible, I’m even willing to include a link to buy the song at the end of the book. I’m waiting patiently.

I decided I like my outline. I storyboard, and don’t use any kind of formal outline. I’ll add photos, and a few more notes, but I like to allow a little wiggle room. Sometimes the story needs room to evolve while I’m writing.

I think I’m going to make some character outlines. This story is on the verge of using one main character. It would work well, but a small group makes more sense. I’m torn between writing a lone heroine in first person, or putting her in a group using third person.

Right now, I kind of want to come up with a Goonies or Scooby Doo team. My winning argument is the hero’s journey story structure. Specifically, where the heroine faces the bad guy alone. It’s no surprise if she’s always been alone, but it’s a bigger deal if her friends all bail out at the last minute.

I spent some time editing my older works. I jumped ahead to my most recent tale. I want to address a few small story points before sending it to the editor I met. I’m really excited to see what she comes up with. I know it’s a good story, but I’ll bet she can improve it. I want to send it off sometime in early December.

I put the search for a cover artist on the back burner for now. I have a friend with some contacts that might pan out. I can’t do everything at once, and don’t mind being a little patient.

I don’t feel any pressure to get started writing, yet. The other projects are valid, and need my attention right now.

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