The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler

I’m in Seattle attending Day 1 of the StoryMasters course, organized by Lorin Oberweger of Free Expressions. I met Lorin a few months ago at the Niagara SCBWI course where she kindly donated this workshop to the silent auction table. I bid, and won, and booked my ticket!  I couldn’t wait to hear the three gurus of storytelling – Chris Vogler, James Scott Bell, and Donald Maas.

Today was all about The Writer”s Journey by Chris Vogler. It was one of the first books I bought when I decided to write a novel. I’ve read this book many times over the last few years, and would highly recommend it. It’s based on the work done by Joseph Campbell, one of the world’s foremost scholars of mythology.

Even though I’ve read the book, the experience of hearing Chris Vogler speak about his work added another dimension to my understanding about the hero’s journey, and it’s relevance to modern literature. My notes are over 4000 words. I think I wrote for the entire time he spoke. But I’ll share a few thoughts that really resonated with me.

He emphasized that a good story needs to connect with the reader on an emotional level. Your stomach should knot with suspense when the hero is trouble, and your throat should constrict when ending threatens to make you cry.

Chris went on to talk about the meaning of “entertaining” which means to “hold the attention of your audience.” He emphasized that we, as writers, should be entertaining in that sense. We should surprise our readers, deliver something new on every page, and use all the five senses. He quoted Ray Bradbury as saying “I do something simple. I put all five senses on every page.” How many of us can say we do that? I know I can’t.

Chris talked about the definition of a story, and asked the group about their thoughts. So what is a story? A simple question. The answer is more complicated. Here are some of the answers from our group.

  • It is an explanation and insight into the human condition.
  • It is a character in conflict with a problem.
  • It is about characters having series of experiences that have meaning.
  • It is a universal situation or problem or desire being expressed

Chris’s definition of a good story is that it is a metaphor. A story allows us to compare how we are doing in our own lives. The need to constantly compare ourselves to another person is a deeply human thing. We need to measure our progress or situation to someone else’s. Whether we are taller, or stronger, or faster, it is part of the human condition to understand how our situation is better, or different, or worse, that that of other people. How do we fit in? Stories give us metaphors that help us manage our lives and give us ideas about how we should behave in various situations.

Tomorrow: I look forward to comparing James Scott Bell’s session to Chris’s.


My next (big) thing…What I’m working on now

This is a writer’s version of tag – a questionnaire about what people are working on currently. I’ve been tagged by Marsha Skrypuch, whose post about her next big thing can be read here.

Bwhahaha… It’s my turn to tag unsuspecting writers. I pick Don Cummer, Mahtab Narsimhan, Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, and Rosemary Danielis.

What is your working title of your book?
1944: The Curtain Closes

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
In 1944,  an Estonian girl must choose between freedom and her family when the Soviet Army occupies Estonia,  and the Iron Curtain shuts over the Baltics.

 Where did the idea come from for the book?

My first novel, The Darkest Corner of the World, is set in Estonia in 1941. Madli, a fifteen-year-old girl faces unimaginable decisions as she tries to survive the threat of both the Soviet and Nazi armies.

My work -in-progress sheds light on another little-known story of World War II. In 1944, thousands of Estonians (along with Latvians, and Lithuanians) tried to escape from their country as the Soviets stormed in to occupy the Baltics. Hundreds of people did not survive the hazardous journey across the stormy Baltic Sea in the fall of 1944.

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I could see Dakota Fanning as Madli. She has that quiet intelligence, but is feisty and a bit sassy.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My first novel was published by Dancing Cat Books. I don’t have an agent, but am interested to be represented should the opportunity present itself.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It is a work-in-progress. At the moment, research is consuming most of my time, but I make notes for potential scenes in an outline. The Darkest Corner of the World took about four years, but this one should take a few months. (fingers crossed)

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

One of the most prolific and popular writers of World War II historical fiction is Marsha Skrypuch. I started reading her books a few years ago when I first began to entertain the thought of writing a novel. She deals with horrific topics, such as the Ukrainian famine, and Armenian genocide, with compassion and intelligence.

Ruta Sepetys’ novel Between Shades of Gray tells about the deportation of a fifteen-year-old Lithuanian girl during World War II. Thousands were deported from the Baltics in June 1941.

World War II historical fiction set in Eastern Europe, and stories of Stalin’s atrocities are remarkably under-represented. There are so many stories that the world is still unaware of, mostly because these countries, and their people were locked behind the Iron Curtain for over fifty years. It is only in the last few year that stories have started trickling out, and many of them are published in languages other than English. Much of my research was done by reading Estonian life histories and textbooks that have not been translated into English.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My current work-in-progress is based on my mother’s escape from Estonia in 1944. She grew up on the island of Hiiumaa. For years, I thought that it was a sleepy little place. It wasn’t until I started to research my first novel, that I realized that the front passed through her farm twice; once in 1941, and again in 1944. She was an adult when she left Estonia with only an apple in the pocket of her coat. As a teenager, I never appreciated the struggles that she faced but I’d like to write this story for my children.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Though I write for young adults, The Darkest Corner of the World, seems to appeal to older readers as well.  A number of book clubs are reading the novel, and have asked me to participate. I love getting feedback from readers.

MORE What if you had UNLIMITED resources to market your book? With Lizann Flatt

A couple of days ago, as part of Darcy Pattison’s Random Acts of Publicity, I asked a few authors a “what if” question.


WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO CONNECT WITH YOUR READERS? THINK BIG! THINK REALLY, REALLY BIG! For example…what about having a book launch at Disney World?

From Lizann Flatt, author of Counting on Fall (September 2012, OwlKids Books)

What would I do with unlimited dollars to launch Counting on Fall? I think I’d find classrooms of kids who have never experienced fall as I know it here in Muskoka, Ontario with its vibrant red, orange, and yellow leaves, cool temperatures, crisp blue skies, and morning mist over the water. I’d get them here by bus, plane, or train because these classes could be located anywhere in North America–or even the world!!” . Maybe these kids live in a city. Maybe they live where their fall season is not so distinct or colorful.

Once the kids were here we’d go on a guided tour of Algonquin Park so the park interpreters could tell us all about the animals and plants and history of the park. I think maybe we should even camp in the park for a few days! Our experience would include a canoe trip and we’d take a hike so we could see the amazing scenery and hopefully spot some animals. I’d give every kid a camera so they could photograph their adventure and the fall things they want to remember. We’d feast on fall foods, and I would thank each child for coming with a gift of a copy of the book.


Even though these answers express wishful thinking (unless there is a wildly wealthy benefactor out there), it is clear that all these authors want to offer memorable experiences to their readers. And that is the joy of reading a book about a different time and place.

What’s your dream?

What if you had UNLIMITED time and money to market your book?

There are many ways to connect with our readers and we’re always looking for new ways of promoting books, reading, literacy, and ourselves as authors. I like Darcy’s Pattison’s BLLuRT acronym (blog, link, like, review, talk) but what if we could do more?  I thought it would be fun to fantasize about a no-holds-barred, spare-no-expense marketing campaign for books.

As an author, we ask a lot of “What if” questions about our characters, and plot. I posed a “what if” question to a few authors of children’s books and books for teens.


WHAT WOULD YOU DO TO CONNECT WITH YOUR READERS? THINK BIG! THINK REALLY, REALLY BIG! For example…what about having a book launch at Disney World?

Here are the fun and fantastic responses from a couple of authors.

From Maureen McGowan, author of Deviants (October 30, 2012)

If I had unlimited time and resources, I’d get an excerpt booklet of the first chapters of Deviants into the hands of every person who bought The Hunger Games, DivergentThe Maze Runner, Blood Red Road, or The Forest of Hands and Teeth. While we’re at it, might as well get the excerpt to everyone who’s bought any Young Adult or high-action Sci-fi novel in the past year. (Why limit myself.) I’d then offer great prizes to the first hundred, no thousand, no five thousand people who read the excerpt and buy the book. And another prize pack to anyone who also tells a friend to buy the book. (Bonus points for mentioning Deviants on a social media site and/or posting a review (negative or positive) on Amazon or Goodreads.) TV ads shown during The Vampire Diaries and other great teen-centric TV shows would be fabulous too.

From Kari-Lynn Winters, author of Buzz About Bees (2012), Stinky Skunk Mel (Nov 2012), and Gift Days (Nov 2012)

For me writing is all about the kids. So connecting with them is always the major factor.
At the same time it is always great to tailor the promotion to the book, meaning that the promotion design would be different for each and every book. This said, if I had unlimited time and resources, I would do the following things for my 3 upcoming 2012/2013 books:

1) Gift Days
a) fly anyone who wanted to go with me to Uganda (set them up in a nice space for a week or so)
b) set up reading tents for the Ugandan children, especially the girls
c) give everyone a complementary copy of the book
d) share and interact with the book through drama, art, music, dance
e) create a walking gallery of their representations back in Canada

2) Buzz About Bees
a) collaborate with a local conservation area
b) set up interactive bee walking tours in gorgeous gardens with famous bee specialists (e.g., researchers, beekeepers, environmentalists), conservation celebrities (e.g., David Suzuki, Al Gore, ), and celebrated related characters (e.g., The Honey-Nut Cheerios Bee, Pooh Bear) where people can learn about the importance of bees for humans and for other species
c) invite photographers to take splendid and professional photos of people interacting with nature
d) set up a honey sampling and beeswax stations
e) share and interact with the book through puppetry, imagery, sound
f) give away bee trading cards for each and every bee (kids can collect them all and trade them)

3) Stinky Skunk Mel
a) collaborate with a local park (e.g., Stanley Park in Vancouver)
b) use the stanley park train as a way to set up interactive learn about skunk sessions for guests
c) host a black and white costume party in the early evening
d) share the book by a campfire with people roasting marshmallows and drinking hot cocoa
d) invite guests to enjoy the train display or to partake in an interactive night walk with famous people and celebrated related cha
e) share and interact with the book through puppetry, imagery, sound
f) give everyone skunk puppets and additional resources as they leave

WOW!!! Those ideas sound amazing. One day….

What’s your secret no-holds-barred marketing wish?