Philip Brewer's Writing Progress


Thursday, 24 March 2005

Squeezed a bit of writing this evening. I've got 6200 words. There's really just one more scene to write, I think. Still a lot of work to do, though. I've got a bunch of notes scattered through the story with things that I need to fix up.

I've been using a different program to write lately: TeXShop (and then using TeX to actually produce the ms, which is a weird notion, since TeX is basically for producing beautiful printed documents, not stuff in ms format). But it's working okay so far. One bonus feature is that it makes it easy to stick notes in the document that don't show up when I print it. It'll also be easy to convert the document if I want to send it to an on-line market that wants a flat text file.

Squeezing the writing in was necessary because I wanted to watch the premier of "The Office." It had its funny bits, but I don't think it's going to become a regular show that we need to watch. The funny bits were a bit too wildly scattered. And I'm always looking for an excuse not to watch a new show. We don't have time to watch as much TV as we do.

I've been thinking about what makes a satisfying story.

At Clarion, Steve Barnes taught us a version of the Hero's Journey. It's a perfectly good version, but I think its final element (the student becomes the teacher) glosses over one of the things that makes the Hero's Journey structure satisfying.

In some book or another I saw a version of the Hero's Journey as a circular diagram, with the hero's initial and final state in the top half, with the rest of the journey in the bottom half--which was marked "the underworld" or something like that. The point was that the final scene involves taking the same tools that let the hero finally be victorious over evil in the underworld and applying them in the regular world, in a way that lets us see that the hero has learned something.

There are lots of satisfying ways to do that. At the end of The Lord of the Rings, the Merry and Pippen use their fighting skills to cleanse the Shire. In Glory Road there's a small scene near the end where the hero gets disrespected but chooses not to use his fighting skills against that insignificant person--but the reader knows that the Oscar could have squashed that punk like a bug.

I think there are two keys to making this scene work to its best effect.

First, the scene should be back in the real world. Some stories don't do this--the classic boot-camp movie, for example, ends with the heros being victorious in battle, not returning home. That linear structure of moving forward also works, but I don't think its as powerful as the more circular structure that brings the hero back home.

Second, it should show the hero doing something he could never have done if he hadn't gone on his journey. If it merely shows recognition for the hero's accomplishments, that's not as satisfying either.

I don't have it all worked out yet. I'll take a look at my bookcase and read over the endings of a few of the stories I find most satisfying. Maybe something will come to me.


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