Screenwriting Books – The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

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Amazon UK (as always, other booksellers are available)

ISBN-10: 193290736X ISBN-13: 978-1932907360

In this semi-regular exploration of some of the texts I have read over the last few years, I thought it was about time to give Vogler a mention. The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers takes a slightly different look at structure by moving away from the more rigid rules spelled out by Field and McKee, for example, to explore the very essence of stories, what they are and where they have come from.  Vogler builds on Joseph Campbell’s Hero of a Thousand Faces to describe the Hero’s Journey template that can be found in so many favourite stories and, of course, favourite films. While it still adheres to a structure of sorts, it is a fascinating introduction to the concepts behind the components of effective story-telling.

The volume is largely split into two main books that explore the characters you might find on the hero’s journey and the stages of that voyage.

In Book One: Mapping the Journey, Vogler explores character archetypes that we have all probably come across in one form or another:

  • The Hero
  • The Mentor: Wise Old Woman or Man
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Herald
  • Shapeshifter
  • Shadow
  • Ally
  • Trickster

The shadow, for example, closely mirrors the character we may already know as the Antagonist, or Nemesis. They don’t necessarily have to be villains, but Vogler discusses how they are are odds with the Hero and will act as one of the main barriers to our Hero reaching her goal. The book discusses the purpose of each character and provides examples of how they may change in relation to the story being told.

In Book Two: Stages of the Journey, Vogler sets out each stage of the journey that the Hero may take, meeting many of the archetypes described in Book One. The 12 stage journey is as follows:

  • Ordinary World
  • Call to Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • The Ordeal
  • Reward
  • The Road Back
  • The Resurrection
  • Return with the Elixir

The journey is cyclical, involving an outward quest, looking for the answers/elixir/MacGuffin, the challenges and transformations associated with this quest and the journey home with the spoils. As Bilbo might describe it, “There and back again….”

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I don’t have space to discuss each of these stages here but, if you have been studying screenwriting and have read even just one or two books, you will start to see similarities with other structures and paradigms such as Save the Cat, where the Call to Adventure in Vogler’s work relates to Snyder’s Inciting Incident. Others may call it the Catalyst or perhaps the Trigger, but you will start to recognise the stages as Vogler decribes them.

So there is, perhaps, nothing new in Vogler’s work if you have read other books on screenwriting and are familiar with Campbell. For me, though, what I enjoyed was a slightly more in-depth look at the characters we might see on a Hero’s Journey, as well as the stages of that journey, rather than a simple rundown of what a three-act story should look like on paper. As an introduction to the mythology of story-telling, I think it works really well.

This insight is strengthened by The Epilogue of Vogler’s book which explores the Hero’s Journey paradigm in relation to a number of classic films such as:

He also uses The Wizard of Oz as an example throughout the book when introducing the various concepts of The Writer’s Journey. This way, Vogler can help you understand how the various stages of the Journey work in practice and how the Character Archetypes found along the way interact with each other at each stage of the journey. It won’t tell you how to write a screenplay from a technical point of view, but it will give you a great understanding of story structure and potential components that will help you tell a good tale.

It helps you understand how stories work.

Like any other texts, The Writer’s Journey is not the “only book you will ever need” but, if you have an interest in crafting stories and exploring characters and their journeys, then I can heartily recommend this book.

Have you read Vogler’s work?

Did you find it useful?

Feel free to comment below and have fun if you chose to purchase this book!

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Posted on February 3, 2016, in Character, Films, Learning, Reading, Structure, theme, Writing, Writing Rules and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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