Sunday, April 15, 2007

Popular Fiction as Myth

This weekend I had the opportunity to attend a workshop given by Debra Dixon, author of the book, Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, which has become pretty much the backbone of popular fiction writing. After flight delays and other fun and games, she did condensed versions of her three major presentations, “Goal, Motivation, and Conflict,” “The Big Black Moment,” and “The Hero’s Journey.” My expectations for the workshop were moderate. I’m already familiar with the concepts of GMC and black moment, but I’d heard she was an excellent speaker, and I believe you can always learn something new. That is exactly what I came away with from the first two portions—bits and pieces of new ideas to use here and there in the writing process. Deb is an informative and entertaining presenter, and the material is great, but I’m a little too much of a seat of the pants writer to use charts and such to plot out my book. No single process works for every writer, (which she was quick to point out herself, to her credit) and that just doesn’t work for me. I can however see myself going back and using the ideas she presented to rework problem areas or to unstick myself when I’m caught in a dead spot. So by lunchtime on Saturday, I considered my money and time well spent.

I didn’t have fabulous expectations for “The Hero’s Journey.” After all, I’ve known since grade school that for a story to be a story, the protagonist has to change. So I waited, not with baited breath, but with pleasant anticipation for her to begin. And then all my expectations fell away.

This wasn’t a ‘how to write a romance’ talk—not really. It was a ‘what is a story talk’. And again, to her credit, she did not claim the original ideas and material as her own. She began by citing the academic papers she’s based her workshop upon. The workshop points out that in nearly every culture, stories and myths have twelve essential elements. And that the function of myths in society is to provide hope. They give the listener or reader a hope that there is life after death, a hope that good conquers evil, a hope that extraordinary effort brings extraordinary rewards. In our society, popular fiction has that place. People read fiction for hope—whether it is about love winning in the end, the cops catching the bad guy, or the little hobbit saving Middle Earth.

A good story must engage the reader mentally, emotionally, and on an instinctive level, just like an enduring myth. We want to see our characters put through their paces before they get the reward at the end, and we want to watch the characters grow and evolve. A good story takes the characters out of their comfort zone and forces them to change, but also shows them how to change and why they should. Finally, that journey should be both inward and outward. Ms. Dixon’s workshop goes on to explain a great many more facets of an enduring story, but I’ll let you discover the rest of this material for yourself. Read her books, or take her class if you get the chance. I highly recommend them.

Romance has a universal appeal, because a fundamental facet of human nature is the desire to find the perfect companion(s) with whom to share our lives. We are not a species designed to live alone in an emotional sense. But when we read about love and romance, we don’t want to just see “Bob met Sue and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.” We want our characters to work for it, fight for it, and be willing to sacrifice for it. Because when all is said and done, we still need hope, so we still need our heroes/heroines. And we still want to watch them earn their happily-ever-after.


Sara Freeze said...

Hi Cindy! Thanks for the informative post. I also read Dixon's book Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Like you, I don't work as well with charts, and I ended up confusing myself with trying to plot everything out. The hero's journey is an inspiring topic for writers, though; have you checked out Vogler's book?
Sara :)

lacey kaye said...

Thanks for sharing. Like you, I thought maybe knowing the concept would preclude the talk. I'll keep my eye out for her now!

Lynette said...

Great post, Cindy. Thanks for sharing. I'm a bit of a both sort of writer, in that I plan my beginning and ending mentally but as for in between, I fly by the seat of my pants!

I use character charts and sometimes plot a little, but there is no way I could make myself stick with the plot if my characters dictate otherwise.

Isn't it fascinating how different the writing process is for each writer?