By Kellie Larsen Murphy

Plotting the Hero’s Journey

Kellie Larsen Murphy
Kellie Larsen Murphy

The February Writing Show, the first in its new home at the Firehouse Theatre, played to a packed house the last Wednesday of the month. Plotting the Hero’s Journey featured guest panelists Connie Lapallo and Greg Smith, along with moderator Doug Jones.

Ms. Lapallo is the author of two novels based on historic Jamestown’s first women and children. She has spoken before 425 groups across eight states and is recognized as a historian regarding Virginia’s 17th century women. She was invited to address the Virginia Monument Commission regarding its monument to Virginia’s women at the State Capitol. Ms. Lapallo has a degree in Finance from Virginia Tech and an MBA from the University of Georgia.

Mr. Smith founded the Agile Writer Workshop in 2011 to create a method to write a first-draft novel in 6 months. The method is based on Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” screenwriting techniques, psychology, and project management. Smith co-authored “Reel Heroes: Volume1” – a book on heroes in the movies. Agile Writer Authors have completed more than 20 novels, 8 published works, and two members were finalists in the 2013 JRW Best Unpublished Novel Contest.

Mr. Jones has written and seen produced more than forty plays and screenplays, including the musical Bojangles (music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Sammy Cahn), The Turn of The Screw, and his award-winning Songs from Bedlam. His film 1607: A Nation Takes Root is on display at Jamestown Settlement & Yorktown Victory Center. He teaches at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and The Visual Arts Center and is a member of The Dramatists Guild.

Kristi Tuck Austin was honored to introduce Jo Kennedy, president of the board at the Firehouse Theatre, the Writing Show’s new partner. After thanking Ms. Kennedy as well as the show’s generous sponsors, including O’Hagan LLC, she highlighted some of JRW’s upcoming events, including Master Classes, membership, and October’s conference. Then it was on with the show!

For context, Mr. Jones outlined the concept of The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell, which not only inspired the “Hero’s Journey” but well-known filmmaker George Lucas. Of the panel, he asked, “What is mythology?”

“Some think a lie, but really a metaphor for life,” said Mr. Smith. All the stories, he told the audience, were a guide through hard times, gave meaning, and showed how to work together. He pointed out that while myths are less common today, they are an important part of culture.

In defining a hero, Mr. Smith went beyond just labelling him or her the lead character. He or she should be likeable and make the reader want to be that character. Ms. Lapallo added that a hero should be flawed and grow to that likeability. There should be imperfections and vulnerability.

Ms. Lapallo outlined a summary of a “Hero’s Journey,” offering some Wizard of Oz and Star Wars references.

  • Begin with the ordinary world – Initial setting (Kansas/Alderon)
  • A call to adventure – Restlessness (Dorothy and Luke wanting to leave)
  • Refusal of call – Hero should not be tempted (Going home to Auntie Em/staying with family)
  • Meeting with Mentor – typically older or wiser character but can be young (Professor Marvel/Glinda and Obi Wan Kenobi)
  • Crossing first threshold – Entering the new world (Dorothy through tornado/Luke in bar scene)
  • Test allies and enemies – Learning the rules and enduring a series of tests; hero should not be alone (Scarecrow, Tin Man, etc./Han Solo, R2D2, etc.)
  • Approach to imminent challenge – Stakes are ramped up (Emerald City/Rebel Camp)
  • Supreme Ordeal – Confront greatest fear/often life of death (facing the wicked witch or the Empire)
  • Seizing the Sword – Taking possession of the treasure (the witch’s broom/saves the princess)
  • The Road Back – Leaving the special world (Dorothy wants to go home)
  • Resurrection – “Final Exam” for hero (Dorothy must believe to go home)
  • Return with Elixir – Coming back with something that changes their world (“no place like home”/the Force)

Mr. Smith pointed out that Harry Potter stories are also good examples of a “Hero’s Journey.” Harry Potter leaves his “ordinary” world on the train and has Dumbledore as a mentor. In Star Wars, Luke loses his mentor, but that loss precipitates his growth as a “full” hero. He suggests the “Hero’s Journey” is a pattern in about 80% of movies made.

However, the panel agreed the method is not just for cinema. Ms. Lapallo was able to tell the crowd how the “Hero’s Journey” worked for her as an author. Because her books are fictionalized stories of real women, using Christopher Vogler’s Mythic Structure for Writers, she was better able to troubleshoot her work.

Although the method works extremely well for plotting, Mr. Smith did suggest that it doesn’t always work as well for character-based novels such as Catcher in the Rye. While all the panelists agreed that using the method could be formulaic, writers could avoid the pitfalls by introducing their hero early, hooking the reader. The intersection of plot and character makes for compelling fiction. In addition, the “formula” itself isn’t always dramatic. Bugs Bunny is a “trickster” hero. Comic relief creates a lighter atmosphere. In the end, all “heroes” may share some of the elements, yet they all look different.

The panel stayed for questions and answers from a great crowd (and many Campbell fans). For the March show, JRW will return for Life After Rejection: Publishing Advice to Go On.

Looking forward to another great night at the Firehouse Theatre!

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