A Writer’s Life

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Eating the Elephant…

Writing a novel feels like eating an elephant; an enormous task. So how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time. I am trying to take this approach with my writing; one word, one paragraph, one page at a time.

Each day, before I begin writing, I listen to an excerpt of one of my many audio books on the subject. I usually do this while I’m getting about the mundane morning chores and by the time I’ve cleared the dishwasher, made the bed and applied my mascara, I am more than motivated to sit down and write.

Recently I listened to Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge talking about the hero’s two journeys and thought I would share with you some helpful advice from Michael Hauge on the hero’s OUTER JOURNEY.

Michael starts by reminding his listeners that the writer’s primary goal is to elicit emotion. He says, very simply, that each story has a main character, the hero, who has a powerful desire and experiences conflict in trying to attain this. In order to elicit emotion in the reader, we have to very quickly, right when we introduce our main character, create in our reader identification with the hero. Michael offers us five easy ways to do this:

1. Make the reader feel sympathy for the hero
2. Put the hero in jeopardy – make our reader worry about him or her
3. Make the hero likeable – even if the hero is not good, they must be someone the reader cares
4. Make the hero funny, or
5. Make the hero powerful

He says we should use at least two of these techniques when introducing our hero. Now, really, when you think about it, that’s not difficult to do at all, is it? You see, eating the elephant is not so impossible.

Next, Michael gives us some advice on the hero’s desire. This desire must be a very visible goal he or she needs to pursue. He says that, essentially, the hero’s outer journey is one of accomplishment and that all visible goals fit in to one of four categories:

1.  To win – to conquer an enemy, win a challenge, etc
2.  To escape – get out of a situation
3.  To stop – prevent a bad thing from happening
4.  To retrieve – bring something back

So this narrows down the choice for you when developing your main character’s objective in his outer journey. I’ve thought about this a lot and analysed many books and movies, and really, Michael is right, these four objectives pretty much capture all the possible outer goals a hero could have.

Breaking down the process of writing a good novel into these simple, rather common sense, components makes the whole task of writing my novel so much easier. I hope they help you too. If you found this useful, let me know and I will post another passage on how I go about Eating my Elephant.

Let the writer in you come out and play!


*Please find a link to Chris Vogler’s blog in “THE BOOK WORLD” at the top of this page.

*There will be a new post of “A Writer’s Life”  every Monday morning.  Check in regularly for great insight and information we’ve learned from our studies of some great writers!

  1. Excellent, very helpful! Off to eat my own elephant now!

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