Posts Tagged Hero’s Journey

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure

The Heart of Middle Grade Adventure with Sean EasleyI recently went on an impromptu trip to Colorado that changed the way I think of the word “adventure.”

You’d think I would already have learned all I need to know about adventure. After all, middle grade adventures make up the core of my writing. But that’s the thing about this journey of life, and about story itself: it’s often surprising. It takes you to new places where you don’t know what’s coming. It leads you to lands where you can explore who you are and see your life, even your identity, in a different light. And it often does so through the people you encounter, and the bonds you build.

A buddy of mine has had a rough summer full of the kind of life that starts to get to you after a while, and really wanted to head out to the mountains and spend a few days recuperating in the great outdoors. So we packed up a couple tents, a few sleeping bags, and headed out. And while we were out there hiking backwoods and swinging in hammocks and sitting around campfires, I started thinking about the whole genre of middle grade adventure. How it’s like that unplanned, unexpected trip into the unknown, and what makes that special. Why the books I remember so fondly from my youth books contained stories of expansive journeys and daring-dos, and why, after all these years, I came back to take kids on similar adventures.

Adventures Are Born of the Unexpected

We all know the tropes of this kind of fiction. Sometimes new threat is dropped in a character’s lap. Something out of the ordinary shakes the protagonist’s life, and whisks our hero away to a new and unfamiliar world. A friend calls and says, “Hey, wanna go on a trip?”

In the writing business we often call this the “inciting incident”—the inception of events that are beyond the protagonist’s everyday experience. This is where adventures begin.

In other genres, the call that sets the events of the story in motion can be emotional or close to home—the interest of a potential relationship, the solving of a mystery, the thwarting of a villain—but a call to adventure takes the hero away from home in a literal sense, setting them on a path they haven’t trod before. Our protagonist must actually leave home to find their destination. They leave to find themselves.

Adventures Contain Uncertainty

As I gathered my camping gear (what little I own) and climbed into the car we’d take on our journey, none of us knew where it would take us. We had an general idea—a trajectory—but anything could have happened to derail our plans. And it did.

At one point on our journey, we ended up at a mall, where I regaled my friend with stories of the mythical corn dog place I loved growing up. As I’m about to name the place—a chain I haven’t seen anywhere in ages and thought had gone completely out of business—we rounded the corner to find that exact restaurant. The angels sang the Hallelujah Chorus. Light shone down from heaven, and I was able to share a deep-fried goodness I haven’t had in years with my buddy.

It seems that uncertainty is an essential component in any adventure. If the stories we read were all laid out from the beginning and our protagonist never strayed from the plan, what would be the point? The characters would be simply going through the motions, and the reader would end up just flipping pages out of boredom.

Adventure requires those little uncertainties, because that’s what breathes life into the experience.

Adventures Are Personal

Stories matter to readers because they matter to the characters taking us with them. Those journeys aren’t just from one geographical location to another—they have to move from one emotional place to another, as well.

As readers, our brains are always working, always struggling to reconcile what we know with what we see in the world around us. This is especially true of young readers, who haven’t settled on which lenses they’ll use to look at the world when they grow up. Stories offer new lenses, new perspectives.

On our little excursion, I too had some things niggling at the back of my mind, coloring the world around me. Questions about how to handle things of life, worries about what to do in situations that were waiting for me back home. But it was the color of those lenses that affected my thinking, my experience. This was true of my friend, as well. The new experiences of our short adventure—though far more limited in scope than the stories of, say, Fablehaven, Keeper of the Lost Cities, or Peasprout Chen—helped me process and make decisions I was avoiding. It was clarifying, and made our trip all the sweeter.

We didn’t leave who we were behind when we went on the trip. We carried it all with us. Just like the characters in a book see their world through the lens of how it’s changing them, specifically. And that gives meaning to the journey.

Adventures Are Relational

None of that would have happened, however, without people to go on the journey with. Few of us go through life fully alone. It’s the relationships we make—the people we meet along the way, the side characters and opposing forces and allies—who take a hike in the woods and turn it into a true adventure.

If you think about your favorite sprawling stories, I’m sure you’ll come to the same conclusion. The journey is better with friends. Harry Potter’s story is nothing without Hermione, and Fred and George, Neville and Luna. What would Howl’s Moving Castle have been without Calcifer, or the scarecrow, or even Howl himself?

Characters—people—populate the words on our pages, and they can’t be neglected. It’s those characters who provide the unexpected. They set us on our paths and share wise truths and give us the input we need to become better people.

Sean Easley looking out over mountainsThis is the power of fiction: to take us on an unexpected, uncertain journey, to change our hearts and introduce us to new friends. Kids need those adventures. And middle grade fiction is specially positioned to impact who those kids are going to be in the long run. To teach them who to be. To empower them to grow, and envision the mountains beyond what they can see.

It’s a unique gift, and a unique responsibility.

For examples of some middle grade adventure stories that do a great job of incorporating these elements, you can check out another post I wrote, Upper-MG Authors to Adventure With.

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The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) by Carolee Dean

Hi everybody! Your long-time MUF member, Kimberley, here with today’s fantastic post!

carolee dean pics

Author Carolee Dean

I’m thrilled to introduce you to The Secret Language of Stories, created by my good friend and writing/critique partner, Carolee Dean. As you will see below she has oodles of experience doing this in the public school system as well as in classes and workshops around the country. She’s a brilliant writer, teacher and story analyst, with a terrific plan of fun writing activities to do with your students based on the 12-step Hero’s Journey. If you’re a home-school parent, substitute teacher, or writer yourself – jump right in – and enjoy! LOTS more details at the links below. Take it away, Carolee . . .

OVERVIEW

The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) is a twelve-step story analysis I created based upon The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell as well as The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. Though I love both of these texts, I was looking for symbols a little more concrete for the students I work with, and terms that brought images easily to mind for them.

I use this method both to create my own novels and to teach writing to kids of all ages as well as adults. As a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, I serve students elementary through high school of all ability levels. Understanding the structure of narratives gives kids a framework not just for understanding the stories they hear and read, but also for telling the stories of their lives.

Carolee Dean pic

Carolee with one of her students

SLOS is broken down into twelve basic parts. Stories don’t necessarily contain all of the components, and they don’t always occur in the order given here. In longer stories, many of the elements are repeated. Subplots may have their own story threads and novels may include endless repetitions of the Plan, Attempt, Response sequence found in the middle section of the story. The purpose of this analysis is not to micro analyze every element of a story, but rather to help students and other writers recognize what is going on in stories and to begin to think like authors.

I like to find magazine images depicting each of these story elements and then ask student to first talk about the pictures and then write sentences or paragraphs about them. Struggling writers may also be struggling speakers and thinkers. Since written language builds upon oral language, I always try to start with a conversation.

1)      Old World – Setting and characters are introduced.

luke skywalker

Our Hero!

2)      Call and Response – This may occur during or after the inciting incident. The Hero receives a call to adventure. Sometimes he eagerly undertakes this challenge, but more often there is a period of reluctance or even refusal as the dangers of the adventure are weighed against possible benefits.

3)      Mentors, Guides, and Gifts – A mentor appears to encourage the hero to accept the challenge of the call and gifts are often given to help him on his way.

4)      Crossing – The hero decides to act and crosses over into the New World.

5)      New World – The hero faces small challenges as she learns to function in the New World.

6)      Problems, Prizes, and Plans – A clear story goal is established and the hero makes plans for how it will be attained.

7)      Midpoint Challenge: Going for the Prize – An attempt is made to attain the Prize. A shift in the story occurs.

8)      Downtime – This section shows the hero’s response to what happened during the attempt. It may be a time of celebration, recovery, healing, regrouping or sulking, depending on what happened during the attempt to attain the Prize.

(Note: In longer stories or novels, endless cycles of the plan, attempt, response sequencing continue to build momentum.)

9)      Chase – A twist sends the hero off in a new direction. Something is being pursued. The hero may be pursuing the prize or the villain, or the villain may be pursuing the hero.

10)   Death and Transformation –

Hero's Journey and Character Arc

The Hero’s Journey PLUS Character ARC

This is the point in the story where it appears that the hero will lose whatever is of highest value. Often someone dies at this point in the narrative.

11)   Showdown: The Final Test – The hero must face one final challenge to demonstrate whether the changes that have occurred are lasting or only temporary; internal or merely external.

12)   Reward –  The hero gets what she has earned. If she has passed the final test, it may be a reward. If not, there may be other consequences. Often there is a celebration and the return of the hero to the group.

This is a very brief overview of the twelve steps. For more information visit my blog at http://caroleedeanbooks.blogspot.com/ and check out the tab entitled The Secret Language of Stories. If you have questions or if you are interested in writing workshops for your staff or students, please feel free to contact me at my email (caroleedean@yahoo.com)

I also have a monthly column called The Secret Language of Stories focusing specifically on story analysis at SPELLBINDERS BOOK NEWS. To read my analysis of Cassandra Clare’s City of  Bones go to my April post at http://spellbindersbooknews.blogspot.com/2013/04/city-of-bones-story-analysis-by-carolee.html.

CAROLEE DEAN BIO: Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/librarian conferences. She holds a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, a master’s degree in communicative disorder and has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist.

Her first novel, Comfort (Houghton Mifflin), received an IRA notable citation. Take Me There (Simon Pulse) is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers. It follows the journey of a budding young poet who cannot read or write, but dreams of using words to escape a life of crime and deprivation. Forget Me Not (Simon Pulse) is a verse novel exploring suicide and the effects of cyber-bullying.

Follow her on Facebook at Carolee DeanM, Twitter @CaroleeJDean, www.caroleedean.com

Kimberley Griffiths Little is the author of three magical realism novels with Scholastic, THE HEALING SPELL, CIRCLE OF SECRETS, and WHEN THE BUTTERFLIES CAME (2013). Forthcoming: THE TIME OF THE FIREFLIES (Scholastic, 2014) and her Young Adult debut of FORBIDDEN with Harpercollins (Fall 2014). When she’s not writing you can find her reading/daydreaming in her Victorian cottage and eating chocolate chip cookies with a hit of Dr. Pepper.