Ever have those moments when you say to yourself. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” When I retired in 2009, I started my third career. I became a writer. Since then three of my novels and several short stories have been published. Over these seven years, I have attended seminars, conferences and talked with writers. I would hear words and phrases describing writing techniques and would ask about them and get vague answers.

One day I was talking to one of my writing friends for whom I have high regard. I asked about a description of the sentence she mentioned earlier at a critique meeting. She couldn’t remember what she said, and I was doing a terrible job at describing what she said. Finally, out of frustration I asked her, “What is the most important book on writing?” Without skipping a beat she replied, “The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler.” I bought the book and after reading the first chapter, I knew she spoke the truth.

Vogler explains storytelling. He tells the reader about the Hero’s Journey, the basic structure for all stories in some form or another. The author explains how the structure works, and the different ways it can used. An understanding of this structure is crucial for writers.

He explains the character archetypes and their functions, such as the Hero, the Mentor, the Threshold Guardian, the Herald, the Shapeshifter, the Shadow, the Ally and the Trickster. Through examples of stories in novels, movies and television, Vogler illustrates these archetypes and shows how to manipulate them to make your story better.

Next is the Stages of the Story. These stages consist of the Ordinary World; Call to Adventure; Refusal of the Call; Meeting the Mentor; Crossing the First Threshold; Tests, Allies and Enemies; Approach the Inmost Cave; The Ordeal; Reward; The Road Back; Resurrection and Return the Elixir. You can see the flow of a story in the names for the stages. This does not mean Vogler suggests a formula. Knowledge of how the stages work, will give you the ability to better manipulate them with your own creative power.

I wrote for seven years without the wisdom of this book. My first stories would have been better had I only known. It’s not that I didn’t use archetypes or story stages. I just didn’t understand them enough to use them in the most effective way. Now you know about this book. I highly recommend every fiction writer read A Writer’s Journey, Mythical Structure for Writers (Third Edition) by Christopher Vogler. Your storytelling will improve if you do.


3 thoughts on “THE WRITER’S JOURNEY by Mike McNeff

  1. The stages of a story are a great thing to know. One problem in writing a story is what to put first, what to put next, and what to put next. Anne LaMotte said when she was writing a novel, she would write her scenes, print them out, and then lay them out on the floor to study which would go best where. When you know what all the stages are, you can decide which to tell in narrative and which in scenes, which to include and which to only imply. Some good stories leave one or more up in the air, so the reader can guess what they were. Some good stories reverse the order of the stages or mix them up for maximum suspense or other effect. But it’s likely to be a stronger story if the writer knows that the missing or mixed stages are.

  2. Great recommendation, Mike. Vogler reminds us that for audiences, the most memorable stories go beyond understanding the words. We want to feel the emotions. His masterwork is a must for every writer.

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