something new

I began something new over the weekend, but first, some backstory.

Nearer the dawn of civilization, which is to say back in my St. Louis life, I was a member of a small writing group. We met monthly to critique each others’ stories, and though I am sure none of my writing from that period survives, I really thought I had arrived then.

Among the members of the group was the leader’s sister, who professed that she was not a writer (I think her field was the Polish language), but she regularly had a story for us to dig into. One I specifically remember was an interior monologue about a character grieving over a friend who had recently died. The sister announced that she applied the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief when she developed her story, carrying her character through each stage.

I can remember bridling under this, thinking that grief was personal and unique to each individual and didn’t necessarily comply with prescriptive stages. When I eventually wrote my own friend-dying story, I paid no attention to the “official” stages and just wrote from (my) experience. (The story eventually became “Unfinished Business,” and it was published many years later.)

And all of that is the backstory.

I began a new story over the weekend, “North, East, South, and West,” (which you’ll, of course, recognize is a reference from the first chapter of Moby-Dick), but the real new thing I did was begin writing this story from a prescriptive series of stages.

The “plot” of the story involves a man wandering through a forest on a hot August day. But it’s more than that, as you might imagine. And the new thing I am doing is applying the stages of the hero’s journey to his wandering. I’ve never written like this before, from someone else’s script so to speak. Most of my stories have been organic, if I can use that word, and while I might have an ending in mind when I begin, the ending I actually reach is often something completely different.

Not so in this case, or at least not so in the journey to the ending. While my character has many comical mishaps as he moves through the woods (he’s a city boy), his interior monologue (about certain aspects of his life) is where the steps of his hero’s journey take place. I made a list of the steps and then noted what aspects/events in the story would apply to each. (Dropping a couple.)

The story is speeding along. I sat Saturday morning intending to tinker with maybe a first paragraph and rose 1,300 words later. I added another 300 words to that in a second session. I can understand why some writers will develop detailed outlines before they begin.

I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable with this process of writing a story at someone else’s “direction”; even the things I’ve read about the hero’s journey concede that not all heroes hit all of the common points along the way. But for this story, it seems to be working for me.


(In that last paragraph, should the semicolon go inside or outside of the quotation mark?)

Update 6DEC19 – So trying to frame my story using the hero’s journey pretty much failed. I found myself just writing the story as it presented itself in my head, regardless of any “official” touchstones I was supposed to have achieved. I’m not sure it’s a good story, nor might it ever have been. It’s thin and even forced a bit. I’m letting it simmer on the back burner of my mind. Also, it’s now titled “Commonplace Book,” which I think better suits what’s going on in the story.

Explore posts in the same categories: Fathers and Sons, Process

3 Comments on “something new”

  1. Outside, oddly enough.

    I found the hero’s journey a useful tool when I was writing a schlock novel. It could also work for a memoir, I suppose (stops to think). I think any kind of limitation or challenge can improve a work whether or not you keep faithful to it. (At least that was true in my poetry days.)

  2. Paul Lamb Says:

    Indy – but what about the semicolon?

  3. markparis Says:

    If you watch many movies, you begin to recognize all the forms that many of them follow. We watched a rented Netflix movie, I realized that the plot was almost identical to the previous one we rented — a family runs afoul of some really bad guys, the bad guys threaten the family, and the father or mother (or both) have to struggle to defeat them. The bad guys get their comeuppance in the end, of course. You also begin to understand the importance of the writer, because just following the proper forms doesn’t guarantee a good movie. Or in the case of the last one we watched, even a decent movie.

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