Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Q is for Quest

The Writer's Quest (by way of The Hero's Journey)

Act I

1. Ordinary World - Limited awareness of problem
The writer decides to finally write that novel they've been meaning to do for ages.  It can't be that difficult - after all, 1000s of books get published every year.  

2. Call to Adventure - Increased awareness
"This isn't quite as easy as I thought," the writer realises, as yet another week goes by without much progress being made on the novel.  They start to read published novels with a sneaking sense of envy - what have they got that made them worth publishing?  How did that author make it to The End?

3.  Refusal of the Call - Reluctance to change
The novel is finished, and it's perfect.  It is - and there can be no doubt about this at all - the most wonderful and incredible book in the history of the universe.  A quick scan using Spellcheck, and it's ready to send out. 

4.  Meeting the Mentor - Overcoming reluctance
The novel is rejected by every agent and publisher in The Writers and Artists Yearbook. The writer finally signs up for a writing group and gets feedback on their magnum opus.  Some of it's good, some of it's not but no one seems to think this is the most wonderful and incredible book in the history of the universe.  This is a surprise.  The writer stomps home where another rejection letter is waiting for them.  

5.  Crossing the First Threshold - Committing to change
The writer turns up at the writing group again.  Perhaps they do have something to say worth listening to.

Act II

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies - Experimenting with first change
Some people in the writing group exclaim at how wonderful and unimprovable the novel is, others are more critical. The writer learns to give feedback and understand about things like POV and head-hopping, over use of adjectives, character consistency.  Gradually it dawns on the writer that some of those problems might be in their novel too.  They start to listen to the more critical members of the group a bit more. 

7.  Approach to the Innermost Cave - Preparing for big change
They get some external feedback from a book doctor.  It suggests making various changes, most of which are obviously stupid. They re-read those rejection letters.  Perhaps their novel isn't as perfect as they thought...perhaps there was a reason why all those agents and publishers rejected it...They re-read the book doctor's feedback - it's still wrong, but they start to think about what 'wrong' means and what 'right' might look like.  

8. Ordeal/Crisis - Attempting big change
One evening the writer decides to lose 3 sub-plots, and half a dozen characters.  It's not what the book doctor suggested but it feels 'right', even though it means cutting 50% of the novel. They do it.

9. Reward - Consequences of the attempt
The writing is flowing better now, the writer feels in command of the story line and characters.  They ruthlessly cut anything that doesn't fit in with the overall story, however much they think it was brilliant writing.  90% has gone from the original version, but they don't care.  


10.  The Road Back - Rededication to change
The writer joins writing associations, goes to writing conferences and talks, reads everything they can about writing, learns about the submissions process, makes contacts.  They realise that publishing is a big business which has to be taken seriously.  They now see themselves as professional, and cringe at their early amateurish attitude. All the time they are rewriting the novel, polishing it, leaving nothing that needs fixing.  

11. Resurrection (Climax) - Final attempt at big change
The writer selects a short list of 6 agents to send the new ms out to.  They polish the covering letter and synopsis, tighten up every phrase in the first three chapters, then put the submissions package in the post and cross their fingers...

12. Return with the Elixir - Final mastery of the problem
Two days later they get a phone call.  'I've read your novel.  I'd like to represent you...'  They sign with an agent.  A publishing deal follows.  They see their novel in the bookshops.  They have become a published author.  Life - ordinary life - doesn't change much.  They make a living from their writing, but still live in the same house, still have the same routines.  But they've learned so much more than they did at the start of the quest, about publishing, about writing and about themselves.

(Based on a true story...)


Diane Fordham said...

Enjoyed the post - thank you :-)

Sarah Duncan said...

You're welcome!