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Articles On Writing Your First Draft in 6 Months

The Hero’s Journey

When I started on my journey to discover the secrets to great stories, my first stop was Joseph Campbell’s book “The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” In it, Campbell dissects the elements of the great mythical stories from antiquity to today and from around the globe. He observes that the same patterns emerge.

A hero starts out in their ordinary world. Something happens and the hero is cast into a Special World. The hero must learn the rules of the Special World and overcome some obstacle and return to his Ordinary World having learned from his experience. Back in the Ordinary World, the hero shares the lessons learned and becomes a master of both worlds.

One of his disciples was Christopher Vogler. Vogler was an executive at Disney studios in the 1980s and read Campbell’s work. He realized that the great movies all had these elements to them. In his book “The Writer’s Journey,” he examines Campbell’s 19 stages of the hero and breaks them down into the following stages of the hero:

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. Call To Adventure
  3. Refusal Of The Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  8. Ordeal
  9. Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

If you look at the movie “Star Wars: Episode IV” you see this played out very clearly. And it should be no suprise as George Lucas was a friend of Joseph Campbell’s and he considered him a mentor.

  1. The Ordinary World – We meet Luke Skywalker living on the dusty planet of Tatoine (his Ordinary World). He is an orphan living on a farm with his Aunt and Uncle. He is charged with taking care of two droids.
  2. Meeting the Mentor (note that this happens earlier than Vogler suggests) The droids escape and he goes after them when he meets his mentor “Obi-Wan Kenobi”.
  3. Call To Adventure – The droids reveal that they have been sent to as Obi-Wan for his help and to return the droids to the rebel base. Obi-Wan Kenobi realizes that Luke is the son of his former student Anikin Skywalker. He gives Luke a light saber. Obi-Wan lays down a challenge to Luke that he should come with him to Alderon and become a Jedi Knight like his father before him.
  4. Refusal Of The Call – Luke at first refuses the call to adventure indicating that he has obligations on the farm. He no sooner says this than he realizes the Empire will be searching for the droids and rushes home. He finds his aunt and uncle murdered. Now his ties to his ordinary world are severed and he can go on his adventure.
  5. Crossing the First Threshold – He rides his speeder to the nearby town where there is a cantina. He and Obi Wan “cross a threshold” from his Ordinary World into the Special World of outer space adventure. The Special World has different beings, strange music, and harsh rules.
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – In the Cantina Luke meets Han Solo and Chewbacca the Wookie. Luke and friends board the Millenium Falcon and are chased by Stormtroopers. Luke learns to use the Light Saber.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave – The Falcon is pulled into the Death Star
  8. Ordeal – Luke and friends attack the Detention Bay
  9. Reward – Luke rescues Princess Leia
  10. The Road Back – Luke and friends fight the tie fighters and return to the rebel base where they create a new plan to destroy the Death Star using the plans supplied by the droids.
  11. Resurrection – Luke flies into the Death Star’s tunnel and just as he appears to be in Darth Vader’s sights, Han saves him. He uses his newfound confidence in the Force and destroys the Death Star.
  12. Return with the Elixir – Luke and Han return to the rebel base and are rewarded with medals. Luke is now a full Rebel and a new Jedi Knight.

At Agile Writers we borrow heavily from the knowledge and experience of screenwriters. People who write about novels give some very general advice about how to write a book. Screenwriters have to be very economical as they have only 120 minutes (or 120 pages of screenplay) to tell their story. I think this is why they give very specific advice on how to write stories. We believe that plot is plot and the differences between screenplays and novels is in the level of detail and the presentation. Screenplays rely on visuals and dialog whereas novels rely on narration and dialog.

The next time you go to the movies, see if the movie you’re watching follows the Hero’s Journey. I’ll bet you’ll never look at a movie, or a novel, the same way again.

What is a Novel?

What is a novel? I have a lot of people coming to Agile Writers not knowing what makes a book a novel (and not a short story or an essay or some other form). At Agile Writers we believe these things define a novel:

  1. The Agile Novel is Fiction
  2. The Agile Novel is Genre Fiction
  3. The Agile Novel is Hero-based
  4. The Agile Novel is 60,000 words (or 250 pages)
  5. The Agile Novel is Commercially Viable

1) The Agile Novel is Fiction

A novel is not the telling of actual events. For example, a novel is not an autobiography. An autobiography is a retelling of the events of a person’s life. The Agile Writer Method doesn’t work for these types of books because, frankly, unless you’re famous or infamous, most people aren’t going to want to read your life story.

The Agile Writer Method has been used to create memoirs with some success. The problem is that the author has to convert their closely held personal stories into a fictional account. Most people don’t want to alter their true-to-life stories to fit the fictional narrative.

2) The Agile Novel is Genre Fiction

At Agile Writers we divide literature into two categories – literary fiction
and genre fiction.

Literary fiction focuses on the characters in the story. It looks for depth and style. Literary fiction is constantly expanding the novel art form. This is the form of novel-writing that people go to universities to study and get a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA). We don’t attempt literary fiction at Agile Writers.

Genre fiction (or popular fiction) is plot-driven. It is a series of events that unfold to tell a story. The Agile Novel is genre fiction. Now that’s not to say that a literary novel doesn’t have a plot. It may. It’s just that the focus is on the internal thoughts, desires, and dreams of the characters. Good examples of literary novels are To Kill a Mockingbird or A Catcher in the Rye. These are stories that focus on the internal lives of their main characters.

Genre fiction focuses more intently on the events of the story, on the plot. At Agile Writers we analyze our story from the point of view of the events in the story and plot them out for a particular outcome. A genre fiction novel falls into one of several popular types of stories (mystery, science fiction, fantasy, romance, etc…)

3) An Agile Novel Is Hero-Based

The Hero’s Journey is a time-tested pattern for story telling. It involves a main character (the hero or protagonist) who is introduced in his ordinary world. Some inciting incident occurs that throws the hero into a new and uncharted place or situation (the special world). The hero must learn the rules of the special world and find the object of his desire. Once the object is found, the hero then must journey home to his ordinary world to tell of his journey.

4) An Agile Novel Is 60,000 Words

At Agile Writers we consider a novel to be 60,000 words (or around 250 pages). The reason is that when you take your book to a publisher, they won’t want to publish a book that is much less than 250 pages. There are economies of scale that make publishing smaller works less profitable. On the other hand, most publishers won’t want to take a chance publishing a work from a first-time author that is a tome of 800+ pages. So, we shoot for 250 pages.

5) An Agile Novel Is Commercially Viable

At Agile Writers we aim to create a work that is commercially viable. That is, it is a book that the public at large would want to read. There are writers who are writing for the pleasure of writing itself. They don’t care if their work is appreciated by a larger audience. However, we’re aiming to help writers create a novel that others will want to read. So, as a writer you will want to pick a specific demographic to write to. You’ll want to think about the age, gender, and educational level of your reader as well as the genre you want to write in.

Great Articles This Week…

Happy New Year! As 2014 begins, we look into the future with hopes and dreams. Perhaps your hope or dream is that this is the year you will pub­lish your book. Whether this is the first time for that dream or you have dreamed that dream many years and con­tinue to hope that this is the year, you need to know about Book Publishers, what types there are, and how they work BEFORE you pub­lish your book. So let’s talk about what you need to know about book pub­lish­ers and book pub­lish­ing before pub­lish­ing your book.

 Adding Subplots

When I first started con­sid­er­ing writ­ing nov­els, I found the idea of sub­plots daunt­ing. I knew I needed to put them in, but I really had no idea how, why, or in what man­ner sub­plots played a role in novel structure.

Subplots are every­where. We see them in the movies we watch, and they are usu­ally in every novel we read. We may instinc­tively know how they work in story struc­ture. I always thought they were inserted to give some depth to the over­all story, whether movie or novel. And that is one pur­pose for a sub­plot. But writ­ers need to be care­ful not to throw any old sub­plot into a story in the hope that it will just add some inter­est. If you keep in mind that every­thing that goes into your novel must serve the advance­ment and com­pli­ca­tion of the main plot, you will fare well.

The Rules Of Genre Fiction

Genre fic­tion refers to books that are pub­lished widely for pop­u­lar appeal. Publishers tend to place high value on these books, espe­cially when a writer shows a pal­pa­ble enthu­si­asm for his or her par­tic­u­lar genre. Usually, genre books are pub­lished in the smaller, mass-market book size.

Accountability and Motivation

I was recently talk­ing to one of my Agile Writers about why the work­shop is so suc­cess­ful. In the last 3 years we’ve invited over 100 peo­ple to our group. In that same time we’ve com­pleted over 20 first draft nov­els. That’s about a 20% suc­cess rate. For most any writ­ers group, that is a pretty high percentage.

To what do we owe this suc­cess? Part of it is the plan­ning that we do. The Agile Storyboard is an impor­tant first step to under­stand­ing your story and your char­ac­ters before you get started.

But just as impor­tant is the way we do cri­tique. Each writer is assigned two cri­tique part­ners. The three writ­ers will work together for the full six months they will be writ­ing their books.

This cre­ates a sense of account­abil­ity. You know that there are two peo­ple wait­ing to receive your work each week. So you have to get your writ­ing done by Sunday night to email to your part­ners. That’s the motivation.

Likewise your part­ners are send­ing their work to you. You feel a sense of respon­si­bil­ity to cri­tique their work by the fol­low­ing Wednesday night.

This also breeds a strong sense of cama­raderie among the cri­tique part­ners. It’s a coop­er­a­tive arrange­ment. Everyone is work­ing together toward a com­mon goal. Your cri­tique part­ners are your friends and they’re giv­ing you great advice. And so, you want to give them your best advice as well.

We write about 10 pages a week for cri­tique (double-spaced, about 2500 words). This is about the right amount so that every­one gets cri­tiqued in an hour’s time. It’s also the right amount to cre­ate a 250-page novel in 6 months. Which is our ulti­mate goal.

How are you man­ag­ing cri­tique in your group? How does it work? Do you have the same cri­tique part­ners each week or do you get some­one com­ing cold into the mid­dle of your story? What do you think are some of the advan­tages to your way and how does it com­pare to what we’re doing? Leave your com­ments below!