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.