By Jax Hunter
Welcome to the next installment of Story Tips From the Big Screen. This monthly column (to be posted the second Monday of each month) explores screen writing techniques that will help fiction writers tell a better story.
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Thank goodness we’re almost done with this topic. If I’d known when I started this Hero’s Journey series how long four months really were... Well, anyway, we’re to the end.
Act III: We’ll get your trusty hero out of that tree now - the Vogler way - with the final three steps.
Step Ten - The Road Back
In this step the story engine, which has been idling for a while, gets revved up again. Our hero must be forced from the plateau upon which he rests. You got it - our hero has stirred up a hornets nest and now must deal with the consequences of the Supreme Ordeal. Now’s his chance to show whether he’s really learned the lessons he’s picked up along the way.
On his way back to Ordinary, our hero will be subjected to the final temptations and tests which may actually cause a change in the story goal.
In Star Wars, this step has Luke and Leia chased by Darth Vader as they flee the Death Star.
Dorothy is ready to go home - the balloon is prepared and the goodbyes said. Then Toto (remember his role as Dorothy’s intuition?) takes off after a pesky cat and the balloon leaves without her. Dorothy is stranded in the Special World with no way home.
Step Eleven - Resurrection (the Dark Moment)
This step is something of a cleansing process, sealing in the good and burning away the bad. Often, we have a death scene followed by a new birth. This death can be literal (in which case it’s likely a near death scene - we really don’t want to actually kill our hero) or it may be figurative (as in the death of the relationship in a romance.) Either way, hope is dead.
The Supreme Ordeal was the Mid-term. The Resurrection is the Final Exam. To learn is one thing - to be able to bring that knowledge home a bit more difficult. It’s one final shot from the enemy. This is the last chance for the hero to pass the test. Often in the Supreme Ordeal, he either just scraped by or he actually failed the test. Here’s the last chance for redemption, the final test of faith.
In each of the original Star Wars movies, Luke is “killed” and miraculously reborn. Each time he’s reborn increases within him the power of the Force. Han Solo is also reborn in the first movie as he turns his back on the battle but shows up at the last minute to face the enemy beside his comrades.
In the Wizard of Oz, the Wizard has floated away. There’s no hope of ever getting back to Kansas. Then, Voila! The good witch shows up and tells Dorothy that she always had it within her to get home. We have that great moment when Dorothy is asked what she’s learned and she replies that her “heart’s desire” is “in her own back yard.” What a great movie!
Step Twelve - Return with the Elixir
It’s not enough to just get home in one piece; our hero must return to Ordinary with a treasure. A cure. A lesson learned. The key to the enemy defeat. The power to heal the wounded land. Or, in a romance, a committed relationship.
Luke defeats Darth Vader and restores peace and order.
Dorothy’s perceptions of Kansas have changed. She admits that the Special World was beautiful, but also had some horrible elements. “There’s no place like home.”
The circle is complete. The story is satisfying to the reader because you have taken the hero through the full cycle. All is right with the world. And they live happily ever after. Cliches all. I won’t mention here that this full circle concept is very American and that things aren’t always so neatly wrapped up in stories around the world.
Now I have to get back to my WIP (work in progress) and I don’t know what we’ll be doing next month. Consider it a surprise. I am :)
Until next month, BICHOK (Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard)
(This series first ran in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers newsletter in 2004.)
About the Author: Jax Hunter is a published romance writer and freelance copywriter. She wears many hats including EMT, CPR instructor, and Grammy. She is currently working on a contemporary romance series set in ranching country Colorado and a historical romance set in 1775 Massachusetts. She lives in Colorado Springs, belongs to PPW, RMFW and is a member of the Professional Writer's Alliance.