Outlining: The Time Chris Vogler Helped Me Write

Never heard of monomyth and the hero’s journey? Glove and Boots have done a masterful job at explaining it and applying it to HAPPY GILMORE. It’s perfect.

Joseph Campbell was extraordinary in his understanding and comprehension of mythology and psychoanalysis. That said, his book, Hero With a Thousand Faces, has become a writing bible for most everyone with a proclivity to narrative expression.

Where does Christopher Vogler come in?

For those of you who have never heard of Vogler, he has applied Campbell’s monomyth to the writing process in The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. There are outlines, key questions, and diagrams throughout the book that break down every archetype and movement through a traditional hero’s journey, making it less complicated for writers to apply said structure into their stories.

What does this have to do with outlining?

I struggled with story structure for the longest time. I was one of those writers who felt the moment and wrote, no end-game in sight. My stories would begin with high-octane action and tension and then fizzle out because there was no plan. I did not take creative writing courses in college (my one and only CW class was in grad school) or seek advice from my friends about writing (until very recently in my life), so I had absolutely no clue what I was doing–other than going with the flow of the moment. That didn’t make me a bad writer, nor does it make you one (if that’s your method)! But what it made me was disorganized.

(Note: I still write scenes that are out of order when I feel them come to me. Do not ignore those moments, under any circumstances, just because you’re “not there yet” in your story. Example: A lot of famous writers, JK Rowling including, have written their ending FIRST.)

Vogler’s book was like a creative writing class, from cover to cover, in its style and narration. His explanations were clear and examples numerous. In his book, he showed me how to outline without necessarily calling it an outline, and I could all of a sudden see the elements of my planning process that I was missing. For example, each scene should be built accordingly:

  • Goal
  • Conflict
  • Disaster

As I began constructing outlines for my recent and current projects, that scene building is in every chapter outline. I have even added them into my character outlines so that their motivations remain clear.

Is an outline a commitment?

Absolutely not. An outline is a plan. Plans, just like anything else, can change. An outline is a goal for you, the writer, to accomplish in your story. As you write, you may learn things about your plot or your character that you didn’t see before. Those changes are essential and expected–so put them in your outline!

Need some help outlining?

Below are several great resources for outlining your stories. Use what you like, and get writing!

The Snowflake Method

Margaret Dilloway’s 60 Notecard Method

Easy Novel Outline from Creative Writing Now — they even have worksheets!

Below is a video of Vogler giving a lecture about the Hero’s Journey in writing and entrepreneurship for your enjoyment.

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