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Creative Writing: Plot

Plot Assignment

PLOT—This week, I would like you to experiment with plot structure.  Everyone should read about the Monomyth on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth and this variation of it that plots interior journeys:  http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2011/04/04/a-new-character-driven-heros-journey-2/  “A New Character-driven Hero’s Journey” by Allen Palmer

You have two choices. The first one is more simple, and not as challenging.  You should use it if you find the Hero’s Journey structure too complex for your project this week:

Option One: This is a simple format that I learned from a group of hardboiled Montana novelists, including James Lee Burke.  If you would like to see this format in action, see the movie Heaven’s Prisoners, based on one of his books.  It roughly follows this plot structure:

● False problem

● False Problem

● Real problem

● False solution

● False solution

● Real Solution


Option Two (recommended): Follow a simplified version of The Hero’s Journey, most expertly analyzed by the great Joseph Campbell (search Wiki and Netflix for more on him). Sometimes called the Monomyth, this structure can be seen most famously in the Star Wars films, and has been used in many, many screenplays.  Up to 188 individual plot turns for the Hero’s Journey may be found online.  (If you would like a more complex version to build the structure of your story, see The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers 3rd ed.  by Peter Vogler) We will work with these abbreviated steps:


Separation (from the known world)

  The Call

  The Threshold (with guardians, helpers, and mentor)

Initiation and Transformation

  The Challenges

  The Abyss

  The Transformation

  The Revelation

  The Atonement

The Return (to the known world)

  The Return (with a Gift)

If you would like to work with more detailed stages, you could use the following, or use one of the visual diagrams as your guide:

1. Ordinary World

This is where the Hero's exists before his [or her] present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It's his safe place. His everyday life where we learn crucial details about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities and outlook on life. This anchors the Hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and hence later, empathize with his plight.

2. Call To Adventure

The Hero's adventure begins when he [or she] receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life or to the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation, but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero's Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.

3. Refusal Of The Call

Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he [or she] will have fears that need overcoming-- Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the Hero will refuse the call and as a result may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem too much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant Hero.

4. Meeting The Mentor

At this crucial turning point where the Hero desperately needs guidance, he [or she] meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs. He could be given an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he faces, wise advice, practical training or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero with, it serves to dispel his doubts and fears and gives him the strength and courage to begin his quest.

5. Crossing The Threshold

The Hero is now ready to act upon his [or her] call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. He may go willingly or he may be pushed, but either way he finally crosses the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. It may be leaving home for the first time in his life or just doing something he has always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, this action signifies the Hero's commitment to his journey and whatever it may have in store for him.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Now finally out of his [or her] comfort zone, the Hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across his path; whether they be physical hurdles or people bent on thwarting his progress, the Hero must overcome each challenge he is presented with on the journey towards his ultimate goal.

The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who can't. He may earn allies and meet enemies who will, each in their own way, help prepare him for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where his skills and/or powers are tested and every obstacle that he faces helps us gain a deeper insight into his character and ultimately identify with him even more.

7. Approach To The Inmost Cave

The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero's story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face. As the Hero approaches the cave he [or she] must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.

At the threshold to the inmost cave the Hero may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon his call to adventure. He may need some time to reflect upon his journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. This brief respite helps the audience understand the magnitude of the ordeal that awaits the Hero and escalates the tension in anticipation of his ultimate test.

8. Ordeal

The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing his greatest fear or most deadly foe, the Hero must draw upon all of his [or her] skills and his experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome his most difficulty challenge.

Only through some form of "death" can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey's end. This is the high-point of the Hero's story and where everything he holds dear is put on the line. If he fails, he will either die, or life as he knows it will never be the same again.



9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)

After defeating the enemy, surviving death and finally overcoming his [or her] greatest personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.

The Reward may come in many forms: an object of great importance or power, a secret, greater knowledge or insight, or even reconciliation with a loved one or ally. Whatever the treasure, which may well facilitate his return to the Ordinary World, the Hero must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of his journey.

10. The Road Back

This stage in the Hero's journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which the Hero had to cross the first threshold. Now he must return home with his reward, but this time the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration.

But the Hero's journey is not yet over and he may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.

11. Resurrection

This is the climax in which the Hero must have his [or her] final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero's own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind.

If he fails, others will suffer and this not only places more weight upon his shoulders but in a movie, grips the audience so that they too feel part of the conflict and share the Hero's hopes, fears and trepidation. Ultimately the Hero will succeed, destroy his enemy and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.

12. Return With The Elixir

This is the final stage of the Hero's journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man [or woman]. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death, but now looks forward to the start of a new life. His return may bring fresh hope to those he left behind, a direct solution to their problems, or perhaps a new perspective for everyone to consider.

The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization or an end to strife, but whatever it is it represents three things: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story's other key players. The Hero's doubters will be ostracized, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again. (Dan Bronzite)


According to Vogler's analysis, the Journey is populated by archetypes -- basic functions that tend to appear in every story. They are recurring patterns of human behavior, symbolized by standard types of characters in movies and stories.

1. HEROES. Central figures in stories. Everyone is the hero of his or her own myth.

2. SHADOWS. Villains, antagonist or enemies, perhaps the enemy within: The dark side of the Force, the repressed possibilities of the hero, his or her potential for evil. There can be other kinds of repression, such as repressed grief, anger, frustration or creativity that is dangerous if it does not have an outlet.

3. MENTORS. The hero’s guide or guiding principles-- for example Yoda, Merlin, Gandalf, a great coach or teacher.

4. HERALD. One who brings the Call to Adventure. This could be a person or an event.

5. THRESHOLD GUARDIANS. The forces that stand in the way at important turning points, including jealous enemies, professional gatekeepers, or your own fears and doubts.

6. SHAPESHIFTERS. In stories, creatures like vampires or werewolves who change shape. In life, the shapeshifter represents change or ambiguity. The way other people (or our perceptions of them) keep changing. The opposite sex, the way people can be two-faced.

7. TRICKSTERS. Clowns, misfits, and mischief-makers, Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy. Our own mischievous subconscious, urging us to change.

8. ALLIES. Characters who help the hero through the change. Sidekicks, buddies, girlfriends who advise the hero through the transitions of life

Christopher Vogler's "Hero's Journey"


Like Syd Field’s Paradigm, Vogler’s Hero’s Journey is a four-act structure camouflaged as a three-act structure.  That’s where the similarity ends.  Based on Joseph Campbell’s work on mythic story structure, Vogler has relabeled the plot points to describe the external journey of the Hero, and the internal journey of the main character (The Character Arc).  Vogler’s setup and inciting event take the form of Ordinary World and Call to Adventure.  Like Field and other paradigms to come, major events function as turning points for the acts, such as Crossing the Threshold into the Special World, Ordeal, and The Road Back to the Ordinary World.  Crisis and climax show up as Resurrection and Final Attempt.  Return with the Elixir and Mastery approximate the story’s resolution.





Another way of thinking about interior journeys:

The 12 Steps of the Hero’s Emotional Journey

Incomplete (Ordinary World)

Unsettled (Call to Adventure)

Resistant (Refusal of the Call)

Encouraged (Meeting with the Mentor)

Committed (Crossing the first threshold)

Disoriented (Tests, Allies & Enemies)

Inauthentic (The Approach)

Confronted (The Ordeal)

Reborn (The Reward)

Desperate (Road Back)

Decisive (Resurrection)

Complete (Return with the Elixir)

(Allen Palmer)

PLOT—This week, you will outline a plot structure or story arc. You will likely write only one scene contained within your chosen structure (except poets). While there are other traditional methods we might study (problem-climax-resolution, good vs. evil), we will work with one of these tried and true methods that often mirrors both real-life and idealized experience.


--Narrative sequence where each plot turn has its own structure, for a total of 8 different forms.          If you want to create your own forms, make those no more than half—at least 4 of the sections should be received forms of poetry (sestina, sonnet, villanelle, prose, couplets, etc.) If you would like suggestions, just ask!

                --in lines (with one exception--one section could be a prose poem)

                --This is going to be a long poetic sequence with dozens or hundreds of lines

                --8 stanzas (at least 8 stanzas—one for each plot turn)

                --1 poem


--You will turn in two things this week: A plot outline based on a received structure AND one complete scene. Outline a story based on this structure, writing one scene contained within it, and describing,                briefly, the surrounding scenes. Attention should be paid to character and setting. If you are able to complete this entire structure in 5 pages, do that!

                --2-5 pages

Creative Non-Fiction

-- You will turn in two things this week: A plot outline based on a received structure AND one complete scene. Outline a true story based on this structure, and write one scene contained within it. Describe, briefly, the surrounding scenes. Attention should be paid to character and setting as well—how do dramatic structures influence the way that we tell and understand true stories? If you are able to complete this entire structure in 5 pages, do that!

                --2-5 pages


-- You will turn in two things this week: A plot outline based on a received structure AND one complete scene. Outline a plot based on this structure (8 brief paragraphs), and write one scene contained therein. Keep character and setting in mind as tools for building your plot.

                --3-6 pages

Subject Guide

Hero's Journey Links

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZxs_jGN7Pg&hd=1  (Characters)


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqOGjBrymWs&list=PLFA1899BEE29381CE&hd=1     (Stages/Plot turns)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBbt_bIDEg0&hd=1    (interview with Joseph Campbell plus more where this came from)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SB_Q1gFsvIw&hd=1   (examples in movies)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGV1BvnyvGo&hd=1   (examples from movies)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJwPIiUPfK4&hd=1   (summary through Campbell)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hbJJEcbTzw&hd=1     (Hero's journey in real life)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bDx2o8e8sH8&hd=1   (Hero's Journey in real life/TED)