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Which Journey Fits Your Genre? by Mary O’Gara, Ph.D.

The hero’s journey is high testosterone.   We start in the ordinary world, but the inciting incident or first turning point is a blast of disaster that rocks the hero’s world and thrusts him into an adventure he may or may not have wanted.   Tom Clancy and Mary Stewart wrote about characters who didn’t want high stakes adventures–and got them anyway.   Luke Skywalker did want to be a Jedi Knight, but he wasn’t free to go adventuring until the Empire destroyed his uncle and aunt’s farm.

In tarot terms, the inciting moment of the hero’s journey corresponds to the Lightning Struck Tower, when everything falls apart (but all the parts are there ready to be reassembled in a more useful form).

The feminine journey, on the other hand, has an inciting incident that’s more like a breath of fresh air in a tomb or an unlocked door opening suddenly.   The heroine of the Titanic, for example, met a boy on a ship and chose him over her rich but stuffy fiancé even before the ship hit an iceberg.   There was a lot of testosterone, but it came late in the story.

The feminine journey has an inciting moment that corresponds to the Empress card, the woman pregnant with possibility, whose chosen creativity is a rearrangement of life (without the need for that destructive blast to set things in motion).

The two journey patterns are described in detail in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s “Story Structure Architect.”  For a more succinct version, click here.

Both story forms deal with cycles of creation and destruction.  The dramatic question is “Where does your story enter the cycle of destroying and creating?”

The Mars-Tower-testosterone blast is always there, and so is the Venus-Empress-flexible feminine principle.   Where each component lies in the book is the key to the genre and its journey.

A long complex book, the kind Dramatica calls a complete story, requires both journeys.  The hero’s journey deals with the external world, everything from the hero’s skin out to the galaxies.   The feminine journey deals with the inner world and internal changes.   If you think in GMC terms (Goal, Motivation, Conflict), the hero’s journey is the external conflict, and the feminine journey is the internal conflict.

If your story is a thriller–or even romantic suspense–the inciting incident will be dramatic; the hero’s journey will fit your genre.   Many, but not all, of the science fiction genres work best with the hero’s journey.   Fantasy?  Sometimes.  What’s your fantasy?   Vampires almost always fit the hero’s journey, but angels and fairies usually don’t.   Urban fantasy can go either way.

If you write romance or women’s fiction, your story is probably about the feminine journey.   Life is good enough for the heroine in everyone else’s eyes, but not in hers.   When she sees a chance to break free (inciting incident), she takes it.   She gives up the good and the bad from her former life and makes a change as profound as the hero’s.

The journeys begin differently and end differently.   The hero is launched by an external event, usually a highly dramatic one, and then has to find the strengths within himself to find the “treasure” he takes back to his people.   The feminine journey hero (yes, either male or female) is motivated by an internal restlessness and has to empower himself both internally and externally in order to have the full rich life he or she really wants.

Luke Skywalker couldn’t become a Jedi knight until he found the Force within himself.   The heroine of Titanic made her choice and then used a disaster to facilitate her break from the past and her new life.   At the end of the first Star Wars movie, Luke destroys the Death Star and saves his people.   At the end of Titanic, our heroine tosses a fabulous gem back into the sea; she doesn’t need the remnant from her past because she’s already created her life.

Sometimes, of course, the heroine of the feminine journey fails.   In literary fiction, the hero or heroine often walks through the gate and loses everything–or walks through the gate and finds the grass on the other side is faded, too.   Maybe the grass on the other side of the gate is a different color of dead and dry.   Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence” tells the story of a woman who loved outside the bounds of society and ended up alone.  And yet–alone with memories is better than alone with nothing.

Joseph Campbell believed there was only one journey–the hero’s.   In the ancient mythology, he was almost right.   The most profound feminine journey myth is the story of Inanna’s descent to the underworld, giving up all her external world powers.  Like the later story of Demeter and Persephone, Inanna’s tale ends with the goddess spending spring and summer in the outer world and the fall and winter in the underworld.   Inanna was a goddess of war, but the most vital parts of her story and of Demeter’s involve the feminine journey.

Tracing women’s histories isn’t always easy.   Campbell is right that the great myths were almost always created around the warriors and told and retold to inspire victories and courage.   The feminine stories are no less powerful because they were shared in bedchambers and quilting bees and whispered from woman to woman. Women were less likely to read, write, or have the leisure to keep diaries or the public venues to tell their stories.   Their stories, and their journey, are no less powerful because they are less well known.

What do you want your readers to take away?   Do you want to inspire the courage that saves a village or the courage that builds and preserves a family and a way of life?   Do you write event-driven dramas or stories of character growth?

Ultimately, the journey choice depends on the way you want your reader to experience your story. Find the journey pattern that fits your journey and your genre, and you’ll make it your story more powerful (and easier to write).

On the 11th of July, Mary’s workshop: The Feminine Journey starts.

Workshop INformation: Romance isn’t just for the romance genre. Any genre can benefit from some lovin’ because relationships make the world go ‘round. Also, romance sells. In this class, learn how to build a romance (even if you’re just including romantic elements) that is properly paced and isn’t missing any of those important gooshy things.

For more information, check it out here.

[box type=”bio”]Mary O'Gara Mary O’Gara, Ph.D., is an award-winning short story writer, poet and columnist.   She is also a Certified Creativity Coach and holds the CVACC life coaching credential.   Mary has worked as an astrology and psychic for nearly 40 years and teaches workshops for Savvy Authors on topics such as astrology, tarot, kabbalah, character development and story structure.  

Mary was inspired to a writing career by romantic suspense authors like Mary Stewart and Phyllis Whitney, who told stories in what came to be known as the hero’s journey.   Later she found that the stories told by and read by her own friends were less dramatic and more insightful than the hero’s journey.   Victoria Schmidt’s writing led to Mary’s discovery of the feminine journey pattern and her understanding of its (often hidden) influence on the powerful stories of saga, romance, women’s fiction and fantasy.[/box]


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  • July 3, 2016
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