The second of my seven Problematic Badass Female Character Tropes is live over on Writers’ HQ. The third is coming soon…
The second of my seven Problematic Badass Female Character Tropes is live over on Writers’ HQ. The third is coming soon…
From: Elementary 6.2
Line: SHERLOCK: It was easier to know it than to explain how I knew it. If you were asked to prove that two and two made four, you might find some difficulty. And yet you are quite sure of the fact.
Reference: this quote in the Elementary ep is Sherlock’s response to an incredulous FBI agent (no spoilers–this ep aired recently), and this exact same quote, verbatim, was uttered by Holmes to an incredulous Watson, in one of the earliest moments in the duo’s relationship of detective and record-keeper. This exchange took place in the very first Sherlock Holmes story, the novel-length A Study in Scarlet, after Watson couldn’t quite believe how Holmes saw the commissionaire’s situation just by glancing at him out a window.
You may remember, lovely lurkers, my dredging up of an old lecturette called “Drunk and in Charge of a Bicycle,” named after Ray Bradbury’s chapter from Zen in the Art of Writing?
Welp, I rewrote and refurbished it into an article for Writers’ HQ. Check it out here.
[(Aged) hero’s journey]
I was struck by recollection of Ursula K. LeGuin’s very-important-to-me Earthsea series upon news of her recent passing, and was especially struck by the Hero’s Journey she constructs in The Farthest Shore. Sure, it’s ostensibly young Arren’s Journey, but actually? No. It isn’t. It’s Ged’s. After already living comfortably as Archmage for many years, in middle age, he embarks on another hero’s journey. Arren goes through a classic coming of age adventure, but Ged’s Journey, though the same adventure and path, is at the same time completely different, because of his age (and station). So I was inspired to construct a hero’s journey that’s specifically for us old people.
This is a hero’s journey that isn’t a coming of age story (or at least, it’s not a coming of that particular young age, nor is it a story of becoming an adult). Our hero is already an adult, and even already a hero, before s/he embarks.
I’ve made it into 8 stages, to go with my 8-Stage classic hero’s journey and the villain’s journey I’ve written about here before.
You might want to familiarize yourself with those again before plunging into this one.
1. Break in stasis / call to adventure
I use a term from the beginning of the Freytag’s Pyramid story structure here along with the Hero’s Journey classic “call to adventure” because for our older, experienced hero, the comfort of regular life, the level life of stasis, the “way things is” in normal existence, including the presence of friends and family, is a deeper and higher stakes situation for the older hero. The comforts of home are kinda essential for someone with chronic arthritis in her knees, and her family, in contrast to the young hero running from/rebelling against her parental figures and elders, instead is herself the elder. Her family might be her own children, her home the comfort of a chosen partner. Leaving this behind takes a great, dire, often violent, disturbance.
2. Resisting the call / shutting the door
I’m too old for an adventure; get off my lawn! How dare you disturb me in my retirement—I’m done with all that now. Allow me to milk these island beasts in peace. No, I haven’t tapped into the Force since my nephew went bad, which was my fault, by the way. I can’t harm anyone out here in my retirement, nor am I willing to save the world. Again. Been there done that got the T-shirt and the scars. Go back to your rebellion, kid, and leave me here where I belong.
3. Return to the forest
There’s usually, as stated in stage one, a volatile, vital, and necessary reason to drag the Aged Hero out of her stasis, comfortable or no. Once she realizes her refusal of the call to adventure is to no avail, she’ll embark on her journey, back into the Forbidden Forest. But, unlike when she was young, she knows exactly how to navigate the threshold; in fact, it’s usually her own stubbornness that’s the only thing holding her back. Those fearsome guardians at the gate? They remember her and know her well, or at the very least, our hero knows very well how to move through that gate. It’s familiar territory, as is the Realm itself.
4. Becoming the fae
Once the Aged Hero is back in the Forest/Enchanted Realm/whathaveyou, he doesn’t have to fight anybody, or pit his wits or strength against the magical guides or guards. Both, honestly, are fading at any rate. And boy does that stump look comfy to rest on, just for a minute while he catches his breath. And look at that young hero who just broke through the gate guardians, looking terrified of the path. I wonder if he has any water to spare…
Know how in every old tale, the young hero always should share his meager supplies when he comes across strangers in the Wood? That’s because the strangers (if treated kindly), will help him succeed in his journey. Sometimes the strangers are magical denizens of the Realm. But sometimes….
5. Give up the gifts
The Aged Hero acquired these magical boons long ago, and if she’s a real hero, she already returned with them, using them to benefit her community. They have served her well, and made life a little better for her tribe/family/etc. But now it’s time to give them to somebody who can use them better than she can. Or, it’s time to use them one more time: just once, for the final and most important act.
6. Acknowledge the child/ren
This stage can come simultaneously with Stage 5, with the old hero giving his gifts up to the younger one, or it can be a more symbolic passing of the torch. At any rate, it’s not his story anymore: it belongs to the young ones now, and will continue with them.
7. Last legs / home again
The return-w-boon is usually in this stage the Empty Vessel, from which the Aged Hero has poured out her power in order to save the world, or it’s an empty hand from which the torch was passed, etc. More wisdom, often in the form of deep love, is now the Aged Hero’s boon, and she, tired to death, returns without magic, but all the empty spaces wherein the magic once was. And a deeper, more integrated, quieter, powerful innerstrength withal.
8. Golden years / I’m fucking retired, y’all
No really, kids. This time I mean it. For reals. Get off my lawn, seriously.
This stage can take the form of a disappearance or death, like our elder Jedi in the Star Wars stories, or just going into retirement, or moving on physically, like Tolkien’s old immortal Elves retreating to the western lands, leaving Middle-Earth to the young humans to mind. Maybe the Aged Hero teaches the younger ones now, or (more often) not, but a new stasis is established in any case.
Of course, this new stasis can be broken again at any time.
Ugh, what’s that call I hear? The Call to Adventure? Again? Nope, not this time—my back hurts…
From: ep. 3.1
Character name: Sebastian Moran
Reference: In the original canon, Sebastian Moran is a colonel, not a peer of the realm, but he shares the distinction in this episode (very nearly named after the original story: “Empty House” = “Empty Hearse”) of being the central villain of the first story after Holmes’ return from his supposedly fatal end at the Reichenbach Fall.
Moran is one of several suspected terrorists Sherlock calls his “rats,” so when we find a bomb set up in a tunnel called Sumatra, we also of course hear the echo of a never-penned, only-mentioned adventure called the “Giant Rat of Sumatra.”
Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey:
Read Part I for a discussion of the concept of the Monomyth and the Hero’s Journey.
A DU grad student of mine about ten years ago (back when they let me create classes with interesting and useful topics) came up with a system for a Villain’s Journey. His idea came about from the many readings in class, and he mused that villains also must go through a Journey, but the steps have got to be different than the path a hero takes. Here’s the Villain’s Journey this student concocted, in its 8 stages parallel to the Hero’s Journey:
8-Step Villain’s Journey (by Jon Thumim):
1. moral conflict
Nobody ever sets out to become a villain. Even villains like Iago, who seem to enjoy their role of Bad Guy, still make choices, moral choices, based on an Objective (for more on objective, tactics, and obstacles, revisit my 3 Rules for Protagonists). The villain is faced with a moral conflict, and must act on it to embark on their journey.
Much like the hero’s Threshold, the Precipice is the boundary between the mundane everyday regular life, and the Realm within which the villain will become a villain. Once they fall over that precipice, there’s no turning back.
3. Sith Trials
These are the tests and challenges the villain must move through in order to achieve their objective. These trials are often more torturous and self-destructive than the Jedi trials, and the villain, unlike the hero, usually has no help in their endeavors.
4. The Void
This is where the villain faces total annihilation. Sometimes the Conflict with the Hero stage happens before this one, causing the obliteration; but sometimes it can be as simple as our villain getting a glimpse into the nothingness, which is (like the hero’s abyss) the biggest challenge for the villain, the most difficult trial and one it’s not certain they’ll survive. In fact, as we’ll see in stage 7, they probably won’t.
5. Conflict w/hero
The villain’s comeuppance and time to shine as the villain they are comes in this stage, where they must face off against their own Boss Monster, the hero. Very rarely does the villain win this contest.
6. Forswear mentor
The life of the villain is a solitary one, and where the hero will Atone with the Father, the villain will do no such thing, rejecting and forswearing any teachings, gifts, or help their magical guide or mentor may have supplied till now (or they’ll take the money and run, thank you very much). They’ve grown villainously beyond the fairy godperson and will face their world alone.
Where the hero underwent a Transformation, becoming more themselves than ever before as they became the hero, the villain’s transformation is much more destructive. The villain isn’t transformed into themselves, but is instead annihilated, ripped apart, until there are only pieces left. In contemporary stories, this tends to be a metaphorical dismemberment, but in ancient folk and fairy tales, it’s literal.
The villain is obliterated, annihilated, by their journey, and when resurrected, they’re never the same. Often in old stories and in fantasy tales, the villain is now no longer a healthy human being, but an unnatural abomination, often actually undead. Voldemort and his horcruxes are a vivid example of this.
What do you think of this dark, Mirror-Mirror version of the Monomyth? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Hero’s Journey/Villain’s Journey :
When I was very young and first learned about story formulae, it distressed me, as I was worried very much about originality at the time. But once I grew into my writership and my voice and became more and more well read, I realized that formulae like Campbell’s Hero’s Journey function as skeletons, a strong (and yes, necessarily same) structure that a storyteller can then hang original flesh and clothing on top of. See Kirby Ferguson’s Everything Is A Remix episode wherein he talks about the materials George Lucas used to build the bird’s nest that is Star Wars, and you’ll have a new appreciation for the recycled, and a new view of what it means to be “original.”
The Hero’s Journey
Joseph Campbell, in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, laid out the basic structure for all story, something he called the Monomyth. The original Journey consists of 17 different phases or stages the hero goes through, from the Call to the Apotheosis to the Magical Flight, and so on. Many writers have shortened this formula down to a more manageable three stages: The Call, Road Of Trials, and Return. Personally, I prefer an 8-stage version a teacher concocted from the original 17, in that with the 8 stages, we get the detail of the Journey more specifically than the very simplified 3-step version, but it is much easier to swallow (and more versatile) than the full 17. And I have taught my writing students this 8-stage version in my own Jenn way for many years (part Campbell’s words, part pop culture/my own. And ain’t that just so postmodern of me?).
(Only thing better is my 3 Rules for Protagonists, based on Stanislavsky’s acting “Method.” And it is better. But this piece of writing is specifically about the hero’s and villain’s Journey, so I digress…)
Anyway. This is my take:
8-step version Hero’s Journey
1. call to adventure
Our hero (oh, and, side note: I eschew use of the word “heroine,” as it is merely the diminutive form of the noun. I don’t use the word “actress” for the same reason. The feminine should not be diminutive. A person is a hero or an actor, no matter what gender they express) gets whisked away on the adventure. The snug norm of regular life is disrupted, and it’s time to embark upon the unknown. Very often, the hero resists the Call (or even outright refuses it), but no matter if they do, they end up running after those dwarves without a pocket-handkerchief, or taking the red pill, or falling down the rabbit hole regardless.
This is the gateway to the Magical Realm. In old stories (and often In new fantasies), this is where the hero enters the Forest. Usually there’s some kind of terrifying guardian at this gate, and the hero must use their own bravery and wit (and often, help and/or gifts from a wise mentor or fairy godperson) in order to get through. The doorway to nirvana is guarded by two fearsome swordsmen, for example, and the way back to the Garden of Eden is flanked by terrible (also sword-wielding) seraphim. But crossing the threshold is only the first challenge for the hero…
3. Jedi trials
Once the hero is in the Other Realm, away from the normal world as we know it, they’re immediately in mortal, life-changing danger. They must undergo a series of challenges in order to move on, each one tougher and more dangerous than the one before. And each test makes the hero stronger, and teaches them more. This stage is the one where our hero may meet other characters like the Temptress/Goddess and the Trickster, and may or may not lose their magical guide here. The first Star Wars movie follows this precisely, as once Luke crosses through the threshold (Mos Eisely spaceport; you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy), he meets Leia, Han, Chewie, and loses Obi-Wan. Sorry, did you need a spoiler alert?
This is the worst, darkest, direst of the Jedi Trials. This is the most difficult test the hero goes through, the one where they almost give up, or nearly perish. If our hero is in a video game, this is where they must fight the Boss Monster, and it’s uncertain whether or not they’ll succeed.
5. A-ha moment
This is the moment when the hero puts their hands on the Holy Grail. When they attain their objective, or realize it’s not attainable. Indiana Jones literally did this in the third movie of that trilogy (yes, the Indiana Jones franchise is only a trilogy lalalalala I can’t hear you what are you saying about a crystal skull)….
Sometimes this happens right with the a-ha moment, or the a-ha moment happens because of this. This stage is where the hero changes irrevocably—no longer are they the hapless teenager, scared little girl, or impatient farmboy. That abyss was the straw that broke the hero’s back and transformed them into an actual hero.
7. Atonement w/father
Often if the hero is female, this stage is an atonement with the mother figure instead, but just as often it’s a father figure regardless of heroic gender. Even more usually, the father figure is the highest god, The Father, as it were. The Norse and Greek myths were all about this stage, though usually the atonement comes in the form of punishment in those tales.
8. Return w/boon
The hero must return with all the wisdom and superpowers and whatever else they’ve gained along their journey, to bring the boon of their new heroship to benefit the community. This return is often where you’ll find the stage called Magical Flight, where the hero continues to have help in order to cross back over the threshold into the regular world. Now the hero is what Campbell called Master of Two Worlds, able to exist both in the enchanted realm and the world of workaday reality.
Stay tuned for Part II, where I will introduce and discuss the concept of the Villain’s Journey.
In the first of these VKPS posts, I discussed and showed the Grammar Video Lesson assignment. Of course, you can surely see, lovely lurkers, how this assignment could work quite well in any class subject, any field.
The second way I encourage video projects instead of writing is in the Reading Response. Now, as a prof of the humanities, I perforce assign lots of reading to my students. I curate the reading carefully, and I always ask for a Reading Response (with a few specific guidelines as far as what I’d like to see in their responses). Basically, I want to see that they’ve done the reading, and I want to know what they think about it. More: I want them to connect the readings to other stuff they’re doing, and synthesize it within the rest of their scholarly (and other) experiences.
The Reading Responses (oh, and these are for ALL my courses, not just the ones on writing) usually end up being a few paragraphs of sloppy writing and an accompanying image up on a blog (my assigning blog creation for classes is a whole ‘nother post). But I always give the students the vlog option. Which is simply that they can record a video of their reading response in lieu of a written one, and they post it the same way they would a written response.
Surprisingly, not many students opt for the video version of this, but two students in particular found the option invaluable.
Nate’s writing skill wasn’t top notch, but his immersion in the stage combat class material was. He would ruminate on the readings into his phone while walking through campus, interspersing his thoughts with footage from class, making for an engaging, thoughtful, and thorough response. I wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much from a written response from him, and he also got interested in video composition, adding these skills to his technological knowledge in classes. There’s a technology requirement in all general ed courses (which this one wasn’t), which is another reason why assigning videos is a good thing in the comp courses. Here are two examples of Nate’s work from advanced stage combat at Metro. These were from a few years ago, so if you wonder at the video quality, that’s why.
Jackson is a Composition student of mine. Now these classes are all about writing essays, and for him, writing is a major struggle. So when I gave him the vlog option for the reading responses, he jumped at the chance to have some assignments that didn’t involve writing. Thing is, when he shared his notes for his video responses with me, it was apparent that his understanding of the reading was complete, and when you see his videos, you can hear yourself how intelligent and on top of the material he is. If I had not given him the option to respond with video instead of writing, you better believe I wouldn’t have been able to tell this.
So there you have it. Two instances of video assignments working well for higher education. That’s not to mention the read-aloud assignment for Children’s Literature…..
I use invective, lovely lurkers, with conscience and reason. Why I just used one of the words that would make my movie Rated R in America is that I just saw that the last post on this blog was posted in, like, mid-August. Seriously, what the fuck? Why do you tolerate this kind of behavior from me, huh? Are you all so busy reading Parallel Bars that you can’t be bothered? Can’t say I blame you, truth be told…
So I’m jogging in the reins of Week 4 at both Metro and Front Range, Week 2 of Regis, and the verrrry beginning of Week 1 at DU. And lemme tell ya about the cool shit that’s happening at all those fine institutions (okay, I’m going with this invective thing):
At Metro: I’m teaching that online Staging Cultures course I’ve told you about before. It’s a really good reading list, lovely lurkers. Let me know if you want it. I’m also doing a MW (that’s Monday & Wednesday, kids) Intro to Theatre, which is a delightful gen ed course I haven’t done in a while. Man are those First Year Success students bright eyed and enthusiastically bushy tailed! They’re just about to embark on their historical presentation projects AND their Raisin in the Sun unit, so wow how much good material can we stomach at 11am? A lot, apparently. Youthful energy, I’m tellin ya…
Beginning Stage Combat over at Metro is Friday mornings as is usual, but as is not usual, it’s SO FULL YOU GUYS! There’s, like, 24 or something people in it, and they’re all lovely young talented energetic insane theatre majors and I am having so much fun and getting so old…. They’re just about to start choreographing their Unarmed fights, and I could not be more excited!
At Regis: I have two lovely and talented grad students doing a one on one Writing the Novel course w me; and one other lovely and talented grad student doing my own self-constructed YA Literature course (one on one, natch. It’s nearly always one on one at Regis). It’s going to be some stellar writing, which will only make me wish I had more time to work on my own work….
At Front Range: it’s two evening courses: a Comp I and a Comp II. The former is revising their Mini-Essays as we speak (Er, as I type), and you know what that means! That’s right: the Mini-Essay Contest winner post is imminent! Let’s hope it’s not the next one, as I need to be more frequent than that here….
Comp II as is usual these days for me, functions under a theme of Creativity and Innovation. They just finished their (quite high quality) Elevator Pitches, and now have just been introduced to the Analyzing An Image essay, which is where they pick an ad or psa and analyze it in essay format. Should be some good reading.
At DU: Children’s Literature started today! As my ancient, steam-powered laptop decided to become a doorstop recently, it was quite the challenge to get that course shell updated and ready to go for a fresh crop of Professional Writing graduate students. But I am nothing if not diligent. And, yes, I have a lot of work to do still, but hey at least it’s up and functioning, and thanks to the SO, I have a brand spanking new refurbished box I can now use to get everything even more ship-shape. Thanks to that generous soul…
Oh but that’s not all! I also continue to have professional endeavors:
Bronze Fox Burlesque is doing their next show at License no.1 under the loose theme of Clue (the movie) and murder mysteries in general. I am mulling over choreography for a duet and a new solo right now…
Metro is doing The Country Wife in a couple weeks, a ribald comedy of no manners at all, and I am consulting the period movement as well as choreographing and directing a raucous chick fight with fans. And maybe fisticuffs.
I’m still writing for Parallel Bars and Your Boulder, editing the SO’s spectacular new book, and I’m just now starting to think I could remount my Retro Reviews of Sherlock, over on Sherlock’s Home, now the 4th season is far enough away…..
I guess there’s a reason it’s taken me so long to post here. Yeah, well. NO FUCKING EXCUSES, AMIRITE?
Ahem. Carry on….
We interrupt your regularly scheduled Stage Movement begging session to praise to the skies a theatrical project I’m a part of: Viva’s Outrageous Fortune. Viva is a company connected to Boulder’s Society For Creative Aging, and as such, its large cast is quite diverse both in the age and the experience areas. The Boulder Weekly has a thoughtful article on some of the philosophies behind it, which you can read here. Basically, it’s Shakespeare’s tragic characters in group therapy in an attempt to find closure with their tragic lives, and things go rather amuck when some characters try and change their Outrageous Fortune to make one of their own.
On a personal level, I’ve had a lot of fun cultivating my Valley-Girl-Desdemona character, but also in choreographing the second largest fight scene I’ve ever had to tackle. An extra challenge in coordinating this giant fight scene is knowing that around 85% of the players are of an advanced age, such that certain moves are not only difficult, but dangerous and even impossible. But I am very happy with how it’s turning out, and the show as a whole should be a heckuva lot of fun to see.
Outrageous Fortune opens this Saturday and runs two weekends. Find your tickets here.