Working on my next novel today, called "The Heart of a Lie." I have this fantastic book called "The Writer's Journey," by Christopher Vogler, that helps me with plotting. Act One (the first third of the book) is coming along rather nicely, and I'm especially intrigued by the Mentor I've chosen to guide my Hero, Esther, into a new life and a new place.
Here are the steps to the Hero's Journey, as outlined by Vogler, expanded by Joseph Campbell in his mythic books, and based on the ancient Hero's Journey from Greek and Roman mythology:
- Ordinary World
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Meeting with the Mentor
- Crossing the First Threshold
These four steps comprise the first act of my story, as I followed the journey in "Daniel's Garden," too. That story had several mentors - Daniel's dead father who guided his thoughts and inner decision, his father's law partner Mr. Gage who provided Daniel with a glimpse of the soldier life he was to undertake, and his mother, who proved to be an anti-Mentor, trying to keep him from going forth to be a soldier.
In my new story, "The Heart of a Lie," Esther Perry's ordinary world is a farm in Bayview, Maine. It's October 1868, three years after the Civil War has ended, a war that claimed her exuberant father's life. Esther and her sister Lara are just finishing with the last of the fall harvesting before winter, when her mother succumbs to a long-term illness.
On her deathbed, her mother issues a "call to adventure" by asking Esther to post her obituary in the Portland Press Herald. Esther is confused by this request, since she's never been to Portland, but in the next stage, "the refusal of the call," her sister convinces her to do it. Esther's refusal is rather slight, but Daniel's refusal was huge and required an enormous shift in his consciousness. He was scared by war's costs and didn't want to fight, to begin with.
After their mother's death, the two Perry girls - Esther and Lara - find themselves orphaned and burdened with massive debts on the farm. Their greedy neighbor and his slimy lawyer want the farm, but Esther lets go of servants and sells furniture to get some money. While cleaning out the house, she discovers a small strange wooden box with no markings or way to open it. Intrigued, she decides to keep it.
Two weeks after the funeral, the "meeting with the Mentor" stage occurs when haughty Lucia Curtis shows up on the doorstep proclaiming to be their mother's sister. She read the obituary in the newspaper and has been encouraged by her husband to offer a new home on a temporary basis. The girls have six months to live rent-free until they must secure their own shelter. Esther reluctantly accepts and sells the farm to her neighbor.
Thus, Act One concludes with Esther packing meagre belongings (including her beloved leather music folio) into a carpetbag and joining her sister and new aunt on a journey to Portland.
Novels are not random - they adhere to basic storytelling guidelines set down by Aristotle three thousand years ago. But the trick to writing a great novel is to balance this ancient formula with strong characters, sensory-rich settings, and deep motivations. Otherwise, the reader simply won't care. And a reader not caring spells death to writing. Boredom is the enemy I fight against.
The Hero's Journey takes the daunting task of plotting a new story and breaks it down into a road map for me to follow. Charting the course of a new novel becomes exciting, since I get to accompany my characters on their journeys and decide what becomes of them. Except for some minor plotting details I need to tweak in Act Two, I know how this story will end ...
But that is for another time. :)