Is Your Writing Hit or Myth?

Harness the power of mythology in your writing (Star Wars, Harry Potter, and the Lord of the Rings all do)

The single most interesting fact I have ever learned about writing – one so significant that it affects me more than anything else as a writer is this: Knowing the power of the monomyth, a type of story structure, George Lucas went to comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell for advice on his Star Wars story. Why does this matter? Because the monomyth is by far the most powerful and prevalent story type there is. (Look at the staggering commercial success of Star Wars or Harry Potter to get a sense of how important this story form is).

So then… What is the monomyth? It’s a term that Campbell borrowed from James Joyce that means “the hero’s story,” the transformational journey that a hero takes that defines him or her. The term was coined by James Joyce in “Ulysses,” but was adopted and probably gained its preeminence via Campbell’s writings and lectures, particularly in his book “The Hero With A Thousand Faces.”

Campbell summarized the monomyth this way: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

The monomyth is critically important as a story structure. It gives a story tremendous cohesion and power. Campbell’s research across thousands of years of mythology showed a remarkable similarity across time and across cultures in the stories that are elevated to the highest level a story can have in any culture – the status of myth. So, rearranging the pun in the title a bit, if you want a hit, use the power of myth!

In “Pathways to Bliss: Mythology and Personal Transformation,” a book drawn from Joseph Campbell’s late lectures and workshops, he says about artists and the monomyth: “Artists are magical elfs. Evoking symbols and motifs that connect us to our deeper selves, they can help us along the heroic journey of our own lives.”

What was significant for me in all of these insights was that I finally realized my deepest motivations in story-telling and why I write stories. The monomyth is a transformational idea that, like the theory of gravity or relativity in scientific areas, has a remarkable power to explain why certain stories are powerful and endure for generations and others are weak, valueless, and ephemeral. For me, that insight sent a deep radar pulse into my deepest heart and – finally! – showed the outline of a face that should have been familiar all along but was not.

It’s not just thousands of years of mythology and fairy tales that depend on the monomyth – modern stories like Star Wars, The Lord of the Rings, and many others were either patterned after myths directly, or knowingly patterned using specific knowledge of the monomyth. Why do I dislike reading most modern fiction? Precisely because it tends to depart from the monomyth. I refuse to waste my time reading about complicated neurotic wimps who talk endlessly about their problems and never resolve anything. I want to read about believably heroic men and women (and children) who will inspire me to keep trying in my own personal monomyth.

Naturally, when it comes to my own writing, I gravitate toward the monomyth too. For me, much of the language of my heart and spirit is the monomyth. Writing my own myths with believable heroes is the “boon for my fellow man” with which I have returned: Hard-won truths about love, courage, and loyalty that ring true on some deep, almost unconscious level. These are the deep truths of the human spirit without which a story cannot have lasting power.

The Reacher Phenomenon

Lee Child has officially come of age, with 21 Reacher novels under his belt.

For those of you whose only exposure to Jack Reacher has come from the two films, you are in for one hell of a shock when you come to reading the books. When casting for Reacher began, author Lee Child would probably have had just about every other actor in Hollywood in mind ahead of Tom Cruise. Sure, the movie business these days is a magical world of CGI, but even those computer wizards couldn’t make the 5ft 6inch (on tippy-toes) Cruise become an imposing 6ft 5inch Reacher. Andy Serkis became Gollum, Mark Rylance the BFG, but Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher? Pull the other one. Still, Lee Child was happy enough. And Reacher is his man.

Lee Child has officially come of age, with 21 Reacher novels under his belt. The legend began in 1997 with The Killing Floor, whilst the latest, Night School, was published only recently. During the series we’ve seen Reacher past and present, lone wolf walking the earth like Caine from Kung-Fu, finding trouble wherever he goes (if it doesn’t find him first), or hard-as-nails Military Police major. Reacher has also ventured into first-person POV, which makes for an interesting insight into what makes the man tick.

Of course, Reacher is not great literature. According to those who tell us what great literature is, at least. Stephen King once wrote: It is the tale, not he who tells it, expanding on Elmore Leonard’s theory that the story is the main driving force, not how it is told. Lee Child seldom strays beyond ‘he/she said’ when writing dialogue – another Leonard rule – but the tales he tells are nonetheless compelling. Usually. Yes, the phrase ‘Reacher said nothing’ has become so overused the reader may begin to dread its next appearance, but we forgive it as we are blown along by the force  – and brevity – of the prose. For every Kingsley Amis there is a Lee Child, and that’s how it should be. They both get the job done, just in different ways.

Having been fired from his corporate job at the age of 40, Englishman Jim Grant decided to write his first Reacher novel. The decisions to both set his protagonist in the USA, and publish under the pen name of Lee Child, were brave – especially given the cliché that authors should write about what they know. But then, what awful advice that often is. Of course, Lee Child and Jack Reacher are very much products of this ‘I want it all, I want it now, and I want to achieve it in as little time as humanly possible’ modern world. Few Reacher adventures live long in the memory, but whilst consuming them they are always both satisfying and tasty.

Well over 100 million Reacher books have been sold, and with the movie tie-in there appears to be no end to this cash cow continuing to reel in readers. I’m one of them – hooked a little late, but have since read every novel. This enduring character, with good intentions, a genuine sense of right and wrong, allied to the strength, physique, determination and will to do something about it, is someone we can all root for. Someone we hope might be in our corner should we need him.

Jack Reacher was not the first literary hardman, and he will not be the last. But the strength of the character is thus: with the Thomas Harris creation, Hannibal Lecter, every subsequent sociopathic serial killer was compared to him; so every fictional tough guy with a heart is compared to Reacher. Substance over style wins the day

A Guide on Determining Your Genre as a Writer

One thing to remember, however, is that sticking to the same niche will make it easier for you to build a career.

Some of the best writers out there specialize in a certain field. Pinpointing the genre that’s just right for you will usually be the first step towards building a successful writing career. You’ll have to do some research and you’ll also have to do a lot of reading in order to identify the field that speaks to you and that you could potentially excel in.

Understand the Differences between Genres

Many newbies fail realizing the large plethora of writing genres out there. Before doing anything else, you may want to understand the differences and the characteristics that make each one unique:

  • Fiction: this is one of the broadest and most popular writing genres out there. Literary fiction is essentially a novel that the writer has imagined. The term literary is there to indicate the complexity and the richness of the language. There’s another sub-genre here and it’s called genre fiction. It can be science fiction, romance, crime, horror, erotica, etc. This one is typically considered a lighter read. A literary fiction work comes with an engaging story but the language doesn’t have to be as elevated.
  • Nonfiction: nonfiction writing is the exact opposite of writing a novel. Such a book can come in the form of a how-to guide (tremendously popular today), it can be published by a university or another academic institution or it can be a tremendously niche piece of writing. Usually, the writer has in-depth knowledge of the subject, which turns them into the authority in the respective field.
  • Memoirs: this is another form of nonfiction writing that has become a genre of its own. It seems that memoirs are gaining more and more prominence in today’s world with just about everyone from A-list celebrities to people nobody has ever heard about producing at least one in their lifetime.
  • Young adult books: a fiction genre, young adult books target people in their teens and early 20s. Divergent and Twilight are two popular books that fall within the category. The market is growing all the time and such books have to adhere to a couple of essential rules. For a start, there are no profanities, no explicit sexual scenes and vulgarity in young adult books. Things are rather hinted than directly described when pertaining to something a bit more questionable.
  • Children’s books: the final field caters to the needs of the youngest readers. Being a successful children’s book author is far from an easy task – you need a lot of creativity and you also have to adapt the language to the respective audience. If you manage to accomplish these goals, however, you can build a pretty successful career.

What’s Your Idea?

To get started with writing, you will have to carry out a brainstorming session. The ideas that you have most often will make it rather easy for you to pinpoint the genre that’s just right.

Sit down and try to develop the book concept that you have in your mind. Do you feel comfortable sharing your own experience with a large group of readers? Do you have a great idea for a book that’s set in an imaginary world?

Don’t try to fit your concept inside any of the genres. Such an approach will be too limiting. Rather, attempt to flesh out the idea itself. Once the book concept becomes crystal clear in your mind, you’ll understand which genre you have a predisposition to.

Understand the Specifics of Each Genre

Now that you have a book concept and a basic understanding of the different genres, it’s time to take a look at the literary tools used in each. There are “secrets” and specific approaches that writers have to employ when producing a text within the respective category. In order to be successful, you’ll have to acquire an intimate understanding of the genre and its specifics.

One of the easiest ways to accomplish the goal is reading the books created by some of the best genre’s representatives.

Remember that the audience you’re addressing knows and understands the respective genre. If your book is off, chances are that people will not bother going through until the end. In order to write for the specific audience, you have to become one of these people.

The more you read, the more you’ll understand the secrets of the trade. Take notes while going through high-rated books. Pinpoint the tone, the style, the complexity of the vocab and even the sentence structure. Every single element contributes to the overall readability of the book and to its appeal.

Stick to a Genre that You’re Comfortable in

Can you switch between genres when writing a book? Sure, you can experiment and have fun with different writing approaches. One thing to remember, however, is that sticking to the same niche will make it easier for you to build a career.

Thus, if you’ll be turning writing into a profession, it may be best to stick to one genre.

There are several reasons why such an approach makes sense. For a start, you’ll be building your reputation in the respective field. In addition, you can do cross-promotion, making people purchase one book in a series after the other.

Being creative is very important but you’ll also have to focus on the business side of things. There’s sufficient evidence that series sell well and they make it easier for writers to build a career in a highly competitive world. Thus, pick a genre that you like and that you’ll be capable of writing multiple books in.

There’s no need to make a quick decision about your genre. Take some time to plan, research and develop your ideas. The period you dedicate to preliminary work will speed up writing and the publication of the book itself. The more effort you dedicate to this first phase, the easier it will be for you to get started on the right foot.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Alice.

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Six ways you can stop procrastinating – and start getting writing done

Procrastination was called the ‘thief of time’ more than 300 years ago by the English poet Edward Young. Here are six steps to help combat procrastination.

Writer’s block just could be something else?

Six ways you can stop procrastinating – and start getting writing done

Procrastination was called the ‘thief of time’ more than 300 years ago by the English poet Edward Young.

While procrastination may or may not be the thief of time, it will certainly steal your peace of mind.

Putting things off requires mental and emotional energy.  Most who procrastinate are not at all lazy, they just shift emphasis to different things for different reasons.

When we are writing, is it possibly because we have made the task is too difficult, time-consuming, not your favourite part or just your mind playing tricks.

Why do we do it when it eats up peace of mind and vitality? Putting things off is just that – it’s just delaying action, and the more you do it the more there is to keep track of and worry about.

Already you are wasting time and energy and the stress is building up. You haven’t done any writing or editing yet and the day is drifting.

Gradually, it takes more and more effort to “not think about it”.  Yet the crazy thing is you’re going to have to get back to that chapter sooner or later.

The only difference procrastinating makes is that you have a gradually increasing level of stress and uneasiness and, when you eventually do get around to acting, you do so under pressure rather than from choice.

Here are six steps to help combat procrastination:

1. Take a few minutes to think about something you have been putting off and to feel, just how much stress putting this off has already caused you since you first realised the task needed action.

2. Think about, and feel, how much stress it is causing you – how much time you spend thinking about it (or trying to not think about it), feeling guilty about it, being reminded about it and so on. Again, get in touch with these feelings of discomfort.

3. Think about how much discomfort it will cause you if you continue to do nothing about it for another few weeks or even another a few months.

4. Okay, you have just experienced the uneasiness and unpleasantness involved in procrastinating on this issue, now let’s look at the benefits of taking action. Take a few moments to really feel how good it will be once you have taken action on this and put it behind you.

5. Think about how just how much time and effort this task will actually require. And compare the cost of taking action (in terms of energy, effort, etc) with the cost of not taking action.

6. Now do it. Right now, while it is still fresh in your mind and in your emotions. Or at least begin doing it. Or plan to take action within the next day or so – and make sure you stick to this commitment.

This post is contributed as Guest post by Alison Blackler. You can contact author on her website

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You Are An Author: Keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

This poem was written to encourage authors to keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

As a budding author, I have found myself wondering who I really am because I am constantly thinking of new ideas to change the world through my art and craft, which produces words. This poem was written to encourage authors to keep moving forward and remain steadfast!

Who are you?

Do you even know?

Our MINDS are like the shadows of lost souls; it wanders  & creates art!

Our HEARTS are like warm butter dripping from the surface of a gas stove; it melts for others.

Our FEARS are transparent like blurred lines fading away on rigid notebook paper; they are non-existent.

Our FATE is like a river that flows constantly downstream; its never ending and immeasurable.

Our WORK is like the process of a growing fetus; it produces new life.

Our WORDS are like colors found inside of a rainbow; they give life.

Now, who are you?


This post is contributed as Guest post by Candida Akins.

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