Creative Writing Tutorials

Ordinary World – Limited Awareness[]

  • Prologue: Disorientation leads to suggestibility
  • Should contrast sharply with, yet foreshadow, the special world
  • Set an inner and outer problem for the character
  • The hero enters, is introduced, audience identifies with them
  • The hero lacks something, has a tragic flaw, or a deep wound
  • Illustrate this with inability to perform a simple function
  • Establish what’s at stake
  • Exposition reveals backstory
  • The theme is set

Call to Adventure – Increased Awareness[]

  • An inciting incident occurs to get the story rolling
  • It may be synchronicity, temptation etc
  • A HERALD often makes the call
  • The call often produces disorientation and discomfort for the hero
  • The call is often a loss in the character’s life
  • It may be simply the lack of any other options
  • In tragedy, the call is often in the form of a dire warning

Refusal of the Call – Reluctance to Change[]

  • Excuses are used to avoid the call
  • Hesitation illustrates the formidability of the challenge ahead
  • Persistent refusal leads to tragedy
  • Willing vs reluctant heroes
  • A THRESHOLD GUARDIAN may test the hero’s resolve
  • Conflicting calls may be given, leading to difficult choices

Meeting the Mentor – Overcoming Reluctance[]

  • A MENTOR is in the widest sense simply a “source of wisdom”
  • They may not be personified, or may be incongruously so
  • The mentor is often an evolved hero
  • The mentor archetype assists the hero in overcoming their fear

Crossing the First Threshold – Committing to Change[]

  • The first turning point
  • A THRESHOLD GUARDIAN tests the hero's resolve
  • An external event forces the hero to make a decision
  • The decision leads to an internal commitment to the journey
  • Their threat may be illusionary, the solution simply to push through
  • Resistance creates change and strength, hence the guardian allows the hero to grow
  • The guardian may be turned into an ally
  • A physical or metaphorical crossing is made into the Special World of Act II
  • The crossing is an irrevocable leap of faith, from which there’s no turning back
  • The passage to the Special World may be exhausting, frustrating, disorientating

Tests, Allies, Enemies – Experimenting with First Change[]

  • The first impression of the Special World should be in stark contrast to the Ordinary World
  • The hero is tested with a series of obstacles, although not life-death as later
  • A quest for information may lead to new friends or allies, a team may be forged
  • Enemies may be made through encounters with SHADOWS or their servants
  • A rival of the hero may emerge
  • New Rules of the Special World must be learnt by hero and audience
  • A ‘watering hole’ - bar - is a commonplace setting for these relationships to emerge
  • A bar can involve music, danger, flirting, gambling

Approach the Inmost Cave – Preparing for Big Change[]

  • Final preparations are made for the central ordeal of the adventure
  • A series of dramatic complications further test the spirit
  • In romance, approach involves courtship
  • Obstacles and messages: beware illusions
  • A THRESHOLD GUARDIAN may be passed by earning respect
  • The challenges of the past inform the journey
  • A second special world is entered
  • Preparations are made
  • Another threshold is crossed, possibly by emotional appeal to the guardian
  • A figure representing the status quo presents a seemingly impossible test
  • A shamanic territory is entered, on the border of life and death
  • The stakes are upped, the audience is reminded the “clock is ticking”
  • Archetypes in a group might be changed as reorganization occurs
  • The hero or group “gets into the opponent’s mind”
  • Breakthrough occurs into the inner cave, from which there is no exit

Ordeal – Attempting Big Change[]

  • The central crisis, the hero “dies” so they can be reborn
  • A witness to the hero's “death” can be effective
  • Relief from the ordeal leads to the greatest elation on the other side
  • The hero may not die, but rather cause or witness death
  • The hero faces a demonised shadow, a reflection of their own darker side
  • The villain/shadow may die, which should be extremely difficult
  • Death of villain should switch Act III focus to moral/spiritual issues
  • Villain may escape, to be encountered again at the Climax
  • In romance, the death may be of the relationship, betrayal etc
  • Or, the crisis may involve a sacred marriage – opposing energies are reconciled
  • If the hero actually dies at this point (Pycho) – who is the next hero?
  • The hero faces their greatest fear – an authority or family figure often
  • This battle of youth vs age – possibility of atonement
  • The ordeal signifies death of the ego, an apotheosis

Reward – Consequence of the Attempt[]

  • A time of celebration, nostalgia, love scenes…beware the cliché!
  • The hero takes possession of the treasure – perhaps becoming a TRICKSTER briefly
  • The treasure may be the gift of new perception gained surviving the ordeal
  • This new perception may create a moment of clarity, even clairvoyance
  • The moment may be of great self-realization for the hero
  • It may also be an epiphany for the hero’s companions

Road Back – Rededication to Change[]

  • New doubts and fears are overcome, and the hero rededicates to the adventure
  • Motivation may come from fear of retaliation
  • Expendable minor characters may be killed
  • The hero may run for their life – a chase – back to the ordinary world
  • A sacrifice may be made in the chase, in order to stall the pursuer
  • Variously, the hero may be pursued by admirers, or the villain may escape
  • A setback, reversal of the hero's good fortune, tests the hero's resolve to finish

Resurrection – Final Attempt at Big Change[]

  • The climax, where death is faced finally
  • A new personality is needed for the hero to return to the Ordinary World
  • It should reflect the best part of the old self and the lessons along the way
  • One function of the resurrection is cleansing
  • There is a decisive confrontation with the shadow – a ‘showdown’
  • The stakes are at their highest – it’s not just the hero, it’s the ‘world’ at stake
  • The climax should involve a choice that illustrates if the hero has really grown
  • It may be a quiet climax, a gentle cresting of the wave of emotion
  • Rolling climaxes may occur as plot and subplots climax
  • An emotion climax may lead to a physical one, followed by catharsis
  • Ideally, the story brings all levels to climax at the same moment
  • Catharsis, purging, is the relief following the climax
  • Catharsis is the logical climax of the character arc, the slow growth through the story
  • Catharsis works best through the physical emotions of laughter and crying
  • The hero may misstep at the last moment, before succeeding
  • A false claimant may emerge, creating the need for the hero to provide proof
  • Resurrection often calls for sacrifice, something given up for the greater good
  • The hero should have incorporated elements of the archetypes they met on the way
  • The change in the hero is outwardly manifested in their behaviour, attitude, actions

Return with the Elixir – Final Mastery of the Problem[]

  • The denouement
  • Completion of the circle
  • Repetition of an image/phrase/metaphor from Act I, but with new meaning
  • Completion of a task that was impossible at the beginning of the film
  • Achievement of Perfection – weddings/new beginnings
  • Open-ended form – new questions are posed, resonating after the film ends
  • A return should unravel in a surprising manner
  • Punishment should come in the form of poetic justice to the villain
  • Likewise, the hero should be rewarded in proportion to their ordeal/sacrifice
  • A cynical world view would inform the nature of rewards/punishment
  • The hero must return with the elixir – a literal or metaphorical item of healing
  • Love, change, responsibility, tragedy, sadder but wiser
  • If the hero doesn’t return with the elixir, they are doomed to repeat the ordeal
  • All subplots should be resolved
  • Avoid both overly protracted and abrupt endings
  • Focus on the central theme should remain to the last moment
  • What is the ‘punctuation’ of the ending? Closed (.) or (!), or Open (…) or (?)
  • One way or another, the ending must signal a sense of completion