Revisiting an Old Friend
I've never been much of a re-reader. There are simply too many interesting new books out there clamoring for my attention. But there are a handful of writing books that I can't seem to get enough of. Some are motivational (Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, Steven Pressfield's The War of Art), some are character-related (Victoria Schmidt's 45 Master Characters), others are career-related (Donald Maass's The Career Novelist), but one stands out as the bible on storytelling. That singular book, The Writer's Journey, by Chris Vogler, is one I either read, skim, or listen to on tape at least once a year.
For the uninitiated, Vogler's classic is based on his study of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with A Thousand Faces, which looks at the underlying structure of myths, stories, and characters told over and over again throughout all cultures. In Vogler's view, a well-told hero's journey plugs into the collective unconscious and strikes a deeply-satisfying chord. As a Hollywood story consultant, Vogler found it useful to speak of character archetypes such as the Hero, the Mentor (wise, old man or woman), Allies, Shadows, etc. and the stages of the "quest" (Ordinary world, Call to Adventure, etc.) in shaping appealing and commercially-successful plots. He's been accused sometimes of creating a cookie-cutter dynamic, but the hero's journey is so infinitely flexible and variable, I don't feel there's much danger of wearing out its usefulness.
If you have read The Writer's Journey, do yourself a favor and give it a try. I won't promise it's the magic bullet that will catapult you onto the bestseller's lists, but it's one more tool for your kit, and an exceptionally powerful one at that.