Tuesday, April 1, 2014

the hero's journey

It is relatively easy to find fault with something. 
It's much harder to describe what is better.


Working on a new book is a time of great joy. Currently I am in the rough draft stage, where I find out all kinds of cool things about what will happen. As I have mentioned before, I don't do a book direct from writing to publishing. I'll leave that to writers who work in a different way-- as in perfecting as they go. 

After a month or more of mentally thinking where a story will go, I often write 5000 or more words a day. I literally have to make myself stop as frankly going too fast means missing things or realizing I must undo and retrace steps.

On this book, because the journey is not just an emotional one but also a physical, I put together a timeline. There is a physical reality. You cannot fly somewhere. How long does it take to get there? Beyond that, it can go anywhere. Latter stages of editing and making sure it is well-written, they are ahead. This is a time of listening to the inner voice and my characters.

While I am writing, in what are often eight hour days, I take breaks to do further research on some new point I found. I have stops to live my own life which can be hard to want when in the white heat of writing where I honestly don't want to stop. Writing though benefits from such stops. 

In one of my little breaks, my husband and I were discussing the work of another writer, discussing things that might have made her books many times more successful monetarily than mine. He said something that almost made me feel the top of my head blow off-- you could look at what she does and try to incorporate that into your stories.
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When I finally came back down from the ceiling, I tried to explain to him how that would be a betrayal of all I value in writing. IF I had wanted to fit the mold of other romance writers, I'd have done it years ago when sending manuscripts to editors who suggested those very changes if I wanted my stories accepted by them. Yes, I know what they wanted, maybe even what readers want. Frankly, today they have computer programs to turn that sort of thing out.

Not long ago a writer wrote she had done just that. She had calculated the key elements in the romance novels that were selling, figured out a system that hit all the right keys, and put together a book. She claimed it led to her writing a best seller. 

To be honest, if I had to make a living with my writing, hoped to make it a career, maybe I'd sell out. Maybe... but I don't have to-- fortunately. I would not find joy in writing if I knew by 1/3 of the way into the story I had to include this or that-- regardless of what my hero or heroine would most likely have done.

To be honest, I do have a formula of sorts. It is the hero's journey which involves a gatekeeper experience, challenging adventures that lead the hero/heroine to grow and become more than they would have been by the time they return to where they began but changed. The mythic hero's journey is not just a fairy tale. It is about life and our own experiences as we also have gatekeeper experiences where we have a choice as to what we do next and where our choice may impact who we are when we return home. It makes sense to use that concept in a novel.

To me, writing is about trying to incorporate some concepts of life into the stories and this is true of romances or any other sort of book. Yes, there are stories that simply entertain. That's fine. It's not the only reason writers write.

Writing a romance incorporates a challenge that will impact the characters but the greatest challenge is-- can these two people make a life together? Real life or fiction, all couples should ask themselves the same-- can we make a good life together? If we cannot, we let it go. Basically, the conclusion of a romance is when the moment is reached where two people say yes to a life together.

Because I write a lot with the help of a muse, which may or may not be something outside of myself. Because I lay out plot-lines ahead of writing them and discuss them with my husband as I work out details in my head, I am not willing to jeopardize my way of writing to fit a successful mold. The muse would desert me if I did and I'd be left with the formula.

  In writing about my work, I can't just warn readers what they won't find. Somehow I need words to depict what I think they will find. What I want them to find. To add to this, I have to do it while recognizing what I want to write may not be what the average romance reader wants. And yes, I do know this based on looking at the books that are flying off the shelves.

My goals for my books are huge. I want stories of redemption, hope, community, family, connection, wilderness. I want to show how a life can be led with energy, excitement, love, and how barriers can be overcome. To me writing should be about ecstasy as it fits into the mundane. It should have moments of epiphany, of ethereal experiences while set into the real world of life and death.

And I am reminded of all of that when I write something new. As I wrote, I realized this story is not just about love but about father and son relationships. It's a love story but more than that. Is that what romance readers want? Possibly not. The editors years ago didn't think so, and I can believe they are right. But for me writing is about discovery and following a trail that emerges giving me with a new way of seeing.

“It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it as the butterfly in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life.”               
Richard Jefferies

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