Monday, July 30, 2012

on writing success - chris vogler's memo to disney execs

In the long run, one of the most influential books of the 20th century may turn out to

The book and the ideas in it are having a major impact on writing and story-telling, but
above all on movie-making.  Filmmakers like John Boorman, George Miller, Steven
Spielberg, George Lucas, and Francis Coppola owe their successes in part to the ageless
patterns that Joseph Campbell identifies in the book.  The ideas Campbell presents in this
and other books are an excellent set of analytical tools.  With them you can almost always
determine what’s wrong with a story that’s floundering; and you can find a better solution
almost any story problem by examining the pattern laid out in the book.

Brave concept art

In his study of world hero myths Campbell discovered that they are all basically the
same story – retold endlessly in infinite variations.  He found that all story-telling,
consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth, and that all stories, from the
crudest jokes to the highest flights of literature, can be understood in terms of the hero
myth; the “monomyth” whose principles he lays out in the book.

The theme of the hero myth is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time; it is
as infinitely varied as the human race itself; and yet its basic form remains the same, an
incredibly tenacious set of elements that spring in endless repetition from the deepest
reaches of the mind of man.

The repeating characters of the hero myth such as the young hero, the wise old man or
woman, the shape-shifting woman or man, and the shadowy antagonist are identical
with the archetypes of the human mind, as revealed in dreams.  That’s why myths, and
stories constructed on the mythological model, strike us as psychologically true.  Such
stories are true models of the workings of the human mined, true maps of the psyche. 
They are psychologically valid and realistic even when they portray fantastic,
impossible, unreal events.

This accounts for the universal power of such stories.  Stories built on the model of the
hero myth have an appeal that can be felt by everyone, because they spring from a universal
source in the collective unconscious, and because they reflect  universal concerns.  They
are a great key to life as well as being a major tool for dealing more effectively with a mass audience.  Every story-teller bends the myth to his or her own purpose.  That’s why the hero
has a thousand faces.

The hero’s journey:  The hero is introduced in his ORDINARY WORLD where he
receives the CALL TO ADVENTURE.  He is RELUCTANT at first to CROSS THE
FIRST THRESHOLD where he eventually encounters TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES. 
He reaches the INNERMOST CAVE where he endures the SUPREME ORDEAL.  He
SEIZES THE SWORD or the treasure and is pursued on the ROAD BACK to his world. 
He is RESURRECTED and transformed by his experience.  He RETURNS to his
ordinary world with a treasure, boon, or ELIXIR to benefit his world.

As with any formula, there are pitfalls to be avoided.  Following the guidelines of myth
too rigidly can lead to a stiff, unnatural structure, and there is the danger of being too obvious. 
The hero myth is a skeleton that should be masked with the details of the individual story,
and the structure should not call attention to itself.  The order of the hero’s stages as given
here is only one of many variations – the stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically
re-shuffled without losing any of their power.

The values of the myth are what’s important.  The images of the basic version – young
heroes seeking magic swords from old wizards, fighting evil dragons in deep caves, etc. –
are just symbols and can be changed infinitely to suit the story at hand.  The myth is infinitely flexible, capable of endless variation without sacrificing any of its magic, and it will outlive us all.

Read the full memo here.

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