Episode 14 - Crafting Your Own Hero's Journey
As promised, here is the (mostly) full text of this episode:
There’s a method writer’s use to outline the plot of a novel call The Hero’s Journey. First imagined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, it’s a formula of sorts to move your story along a compelling path, taking your protagonist from unlikely and usually unwilling champion to full-on hero. If you’ve done any writing or if you love epic stories like Harry Potter and Star Wars you are familiar with the flow of the hero’s journey.
Writers can spend days, weeks or even months crafting just the outline of the path their main character will travel through methods like the hero’s journey.
How many of us give the same thought to our lives or businesses? In writing, there are two types of writers - plotters and pantsers. Plotters write their outlines and get the framework of their stories down at the outset.
Pantsers do just what it sounds like - they fly by the seat of their pants, writing the plot as they go. I’m a recently reformed pantser. I’ve spent most of my life reacting to my circumstances instead of crafting them. Over the past while I’ve made a concerted effort to change that. It’s how Mighty Choice Life was born. I got tired of complaining that my work in the business world wasn’t fulfilling and I decided to craft work for myself that fit who I was and what I was good at.
I’m here today to try to convince all of you to become plotters instead of pantsers! Specifically as it relates to creating a business that allows you to live within your joy. Let’s spend some time together over these next few podcasts writing your own business hero’s journey. Start just by simply visualizing an outcome. If you were to embark on an epic journey, where would you like to end up? At home more, with your kids? In a place where you find yourself moving at a less frantic pace? Doing work that is fulfilling and serves others? Using your gifts more?
I invite you to use a notebook or journal of some kind to move through this with me in writing. Listening to it will only do marginal good for you, but writing through it with me will be very, very powerful.
Before we dive into the Hero’s Journey itself, there are a few writing tools that I think will serve you well as you prepare your character - you - to travel the path you’re going to create for her.
The first is, know thyself. A good writer always gets to know her characters well. In this story, you are your own main character. Let’s get to know you. In your journal, create a character outline just as if you finding out about yourself for the first time. I suggest doing this in the third person to help you be more objective. As in, my character is Myra. She has wavy, almost-black hair and dark brown eyes, etc. Describe what she looks like (no judgment about what she looks like, just describe it so your readers can get to know her), then some of her characteristics or quirks. What are your main character’s special strengths or deepest weaknesses? What are her fears? Then dig deeper by asking many layers of the question Why and answering them. Let me make up an example for you that’s very common in women who are trying to start a business: What is my character’s biggest fear? She is afraid that she might be found out to be a fraud. Why? Because she’s doing something she’s never done before. Why? Because she’s discontent with her current life? Why? Because she’s always played it safe. Why? Because she’s afraid for people to see the real her. Why? Because she’s afraid she’s not likable or worthwhile as she is. After many layers of why, ask the final question: why does that matter? As in, how will this impact your main character’s story? Ask the many layers of “why” to find motivation. What is my biggest fear? What is my deepest need? Why does it matter?
If you do this with four basic questions...
What is my character’s biggest fear?
What is her greatest need?
What is her greatest strength?
What does she care about most?
...and follow up with the Why’s and finish with the Why Does it Matter, you’ll come to know your character - yourself - much, much better. Which will help you outline her journey so much more effectively. Of course, there are a lot of other questions you can ask, but those are a good starting point.
And remember this, every strong novel has a main character who is flawed. Usually, deeply flawed (The Great Gatsby, anyone?). It makes the story so much more interesting and the final triumph so much sweeter. So, no need to hide your flaws. No need to put a perfect face forward for your customers. Flawed is real and relatable.
2. Think a bit about the pacing of a good novel - the speed at which the story moves along. No great novel has the same pacing chapter after chapter. That would be boring. As you write your own hero’s journey, you’ll need to expect, and plan for, different chapters in your business. Some will be fast paced - the nail biters, you turn some sort of corner and things just start multiplying. Some will be slower and more introspective. Building a following. Getting those first few customers. Both pacings can be used to build your character. A slow pace doesn’t mean nothing is going on.
3. Another thing all good novels include is a Character Arc. This will be one of the most important elements of your story, probably the most important. Your character arc is is the inner transformation that occurs within the hero of your story (that’s you!) in response to what happens in the plot. Changing from who you now are into who you want to be. This transformation has been happening all along in your life, but you will see it better than you ever have before because you are now writing things down, and because you are being intentional about creating transformation. You know where you want to end up, WHO you want to end up being and what you want to end up doing.
Don’t expect transformation to be comfortable. If Harry Potter’s adventures had only led him through comfortable territory, he never would have developed the strength that he needed in the end.
Allow your character to experience hard things, knowing she will need the strength that comes from it.
Next, Don’t forget to leave some things to the imagination. The best books keep some mystery throughout the pages. The best chapters end with cliffhangers. Almost every author will tell you that, even with a strong outline, their plot often ends up surprising even them. Outline where you want your business to go, but be open to serendipity, to inspiration and recognize that things often don’t go as planned.
Finally, watch out for the unreliable narrator. My daughter just read a short story for her high school English class called “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Graham. As she was trying to figure out what some of the prose meant, she realized that some of it was hard to interpret because the narrator was pretty unreliable considering the fact that she was going mad - the reader couldn’t take what she said at face value.
We are all unreliable narrators in our own story sometimes. Sometimes our mind tells us things that simply aren’t true. Things like: you’re not good enough; this will never work; you should go back to the way things were; quit trying. Sometimes our memory plays tricks on us, too, magnifying or repeating the dumb things we’ve done or said and muting the amazing things we've done or said. Be astute, discover when this unreliable narrator is speaking in your own story, and rein her in. She doesn’t get to drive this train.
Finally, I’ve done some writing, and I never, ever sit down to write without first asking God to sit with me, even if I’m writing a young adult beach read that is definitely not going to change the world! I just like how He enlarges my capacity. I like the thought that, with Him, there’s at least the possibility that I’ll write a sentence or two that will mean something to one person. And this that you’re starting here is no beach read. This is a journey you’re taking to transform your life, your finances, your time at home, and your contribution to the world. I’m pretty sure your Heavenly Father is gonna be interested in helping you with that.
With those basic writing tools in place, you’re set to begin taking yourself on a journey like none other - a journey where you write the story instead of just playing a bit part in someone else’s plot.