Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Don't Write a Novel, Write a Story

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by C. Patrick Schulze

Listen to a PODCAST of this article.

A reader of this blog asked if I might help get her NOVEL started. She said she had the idea and the research completed, but was uncertain as to how to get on track. This article is for her.

When I first began to WRITE, I joined a writer's group and sat in on a few meetings. I hoped the group could tell me how to write a novel, but found I had my proverbial horse way ahead of my cart. I didn't need to learn how to write a novel. I needed to learn how to tell a story. That little piece of information changed my life.

The next thing I learned was the difference between a story and a novel. A story is the plot, that succession of incidents within the novel. It's what happens in your novel. The novel is the narrative by which the story is presented.

That means you first write a story, then convert it into your novel.

All you need to get your story started is a plan. And with novels, the classic plan is called The Hero's Journey. It's been around since the days of Mythology and is still used by the best writers today. The Hero's Journey is nothing more than a structured string of the events your hero needs to endure.

The Hero's Journey has twelve situations your hero must face. This generates a plot and forces a story to pop out as if by osmosis. The novel is much more difficult, but the story, well, that's easy.

Here are the twelve steps to the Hero's Journey.

1. Ordinary World: You show your hero's life at the start of your story.

2. Call to Adventure: Something, whether the hero realizes it or not, calls him toward some grand quest.

3. Refusal of the Call: The hero first says he can't undertake this quest.

4. Meeting the Mentor: Your hero meets someone important to help him on his quest.

5. Crossing the Threshold: This represents that event that ensures your hero can not go back to his Ordinary World until he finishes his quest.

6. Tests, Allies and Enemies: These are people or events that help or hinder the hero.

7. Approach to the Innermost Cave: He closes in on the big bad villain.

8. Ordeal: He fights the bad guy.

9. Seizing the Sword: Your hero takes what it is he needed to complete his quest. It's what he's gained by his Ordeal.

10. The Road Back: The trials he may face to get back to his Ordinary World.

11. Resurrection: This is the time when your hero proves he's gained the right to use the "sword" he's won.

12. Return with the Elixir: This is where your hero reaches his Ordinary World once again and shares his "sword" with others.

If you think about these twelve steps, it makes perfect sense a story will be the natural outcome. You've got good guys, bad guys, conflict, excitement, rewards and all the rest.

Better yet, it works regardless your genre. For example, think about a story of an abused wife. Her ordeal may be the beatings she underwent and her "sword" may be her freedom. In the same light, in a war story the ordeal may be a battle and the "sword" the death of the enemy general. There is no genre for which The Hero's Journey does not work.

Now, a short article cannot teach you everything you need to know about how to write a story. However, further information is all over the Web and in countless books at any library or bookstore. Take some time to study The Hero's Journey and if you take it to heart, your story will emerge.

Is this all there is to The Hero's Journey? Of course not. Entire literature courses cover each of these twelve aspects. However, it worked for authors then and it works for authors now. It will get you started. It's step one.

Are they other ways to write a story? Of course, but until you've got some work under your belt, use it. As they say on television, "It works!"

Now, some say The Hero's Journey is outdated or incomplete. Maybe, maybe not, but here's a clue. That little black dress and a string of pearls still work, don't they? They work because they're classic. That is, they brought out a woman's beauty then and they do so to this day. Here's another way to look at this idea. If they can write "Star Wars," "The Lion King," "Pulp Fiction" and even "The Full Monty" by way of The Hero's Journey, you and I can use it for our story, too.

Now, are there any specific articles I can write to assist you on your path to publication? If so, let me know.

Until we speak again, know I wish for you only best-sellers.

C. Patrick Schulze
Author of the emerging novel "Born to be Brothers"


  1. Thanks for sharing some excellent advice. You are right in that we shouldn't be worried about writing a novel, we need to think about telling a good story.
    Thanks again.

  2. Simple, tell a great story from the heart and keep writing, and study.