Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Hero's Journey: Approach to the Inmost Cave

Today's really late start came courtesy of taking two dance classes in a row last night, which left my body whimpering this morning and refusing to leave the featherbed. I may have another late night tonight, since I have choir and I may try to finish this book proposal, but I swear, on Friday I'm setting an alarm to try to force myself back onto a more reasonable schedule.

I got a synopsis for the first book written yesterday and one for the second -- until I started working on the third and came up with ideas that fit in the second book, which ended up totally changing the plot of the second book. I'm sure editors know that proposals like this are subject to change when the book is actually written and they just need to be able to show that there are plans for more books where stuff will happen. At least I think I'm beyond the point of the book 3 synopsis going along the lines of "Lots of stuff happens, things blow up, good triumphs over evil, love conquers all, and they live happily ever after." Which was where I was before yesterday.

Now, for a writing post. I'm still following the stages of the hero's journey, as outlined by Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey, which takes the work on universal myth done by Joseph Campbell and distills it for modern storytelling. Last time, we went through the Tests, Allies and Enemies phase, in which the hero gets used to the special world of the story. Now we get serious, with the Approach to the Inmost Cave.

In this part of the story, the hero prepares to enter an even more special sub-world within the story's special world -- the enemy's fortress, the temple, the forbidden kingdom. The previous phase has been a time of generalized preparation as the hero learns the rules of the special world, assembles his team of allies and learns who his enemies really are and what they're up to. In this phase, he does more specialized preparation for a focused mission into the heart of the enemy. This isn't the lead-up to the final major confrontation, but rather to the initial major confrontation -- the mid-term exam instead of the final.

A lot of things may happen during this phase. It's one of the two main places in the story where love scenes are likely to happen. If a romantic relationship is brewing, this may be where the characters first acknowledge it as part of their preparation for the ordeal that's coming. It's a time of bonding that may be used to raise the stakes if the love interest is put in jeopardy during the coming ordeal. This is also a time for serious preparation -- specific research and recon, arming, setting out weapons. Think about most military action type movies and the scenes where we see the characters slamming magazines into their weapons, checking weapons and strapping grenades onto their belts as they get ready to go on the mission or storm the fortress.

During the approach, some of the earlier steps of the journey may repeat in a more intense way, since the hero is crossing another threshold. He may run into tests, obstacles or threshold guardians who are trying to keep him from crossing the threshold. Once over that threshold into the special-special world, the hero has to quickly learn any additional rules that apply to this realm. Since the original myths that this story pattern came from usually involve the hero being in a temple, the underworld or the realm of the gods at this phase, there may be semi-religious or psychological undertones to this part of the story, where the hero has to confront aspects of himself or his beliefs before he can move on. The most obvious (and rather on-the-nose) example of this may be in The Empire Strikes Back, where Luke has to enter the magical cave as part of his training, where he runs into Darth Vader, fights him, and cuts off his head, only to see his own face under the mask.

When I think about examples of the Approach from films, I've been amused at how well the imagery often fits the "cave" concept. So often, we'll see our heroes going underground, into a mouth-like entrance or otherwise entering a place where the physical surroundings become narrow and confining, like their options are being closed off. There's the Mines of Moria scene in The Lord of the Rings. In the original Star Wars, the ship gets pulled into the gaping maw of the Death Star. In Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones goes underground into the chamber where the Ark rests.

In pacing terms, this phase of the story isn't usually an action sequence. It's more about anticipation and suspense. You know something big is about to happen, and the events of this phase should increase the suspense, making the audience more and more tense.

Next time: Things happen as the hero goes through an ordeal.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your hero's journey posts. :)