Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Refusal of the call
I should start this blog by confessing that I was going to follow Rowena's lead and write a post called "Talk dirty to me" which is not -- as it might sound -- about sex in writing, but more about writing using tools of the erotic writers. (Yes, you in the back, I did say tools. Stop giggling. Don't make me come out there.
However, I'm running late on the present crushing load of work. I need another day to get through page proofs and finish going over this book, to send to the editor.
So I thought I would talk about what I'm doing. Refusal of the call.
The term comes from The Hero's Journey, of course, and some studies seem to indicate that the form of the Hero's Journey is how our brain is supposed to perceive/create story or at least satisfying story.
Disney films had a satisfying run of success when its head (Michael Eisner, or did he come after) tried to encourage the use of the Hero's Journey. We got films like Lion King and Mullan and Toy Story.
Since he was canned for "enforcing" formulaic movies (which is not exactly true, since there's a lot of leeway in the structure, which fits both things like The Odyssey and Cinderella) they've done things like Madagascar, where the only truly satisfying characters were secondary and Finding Nemo which was... well, wet.
These are, of course, my opinions and your milleage may vary. The last two movies still did fairly well, but it seems to me they fell short of the heights achieved by the others.
So... hero's journey -- writes the woman with virtually no brain after three of the busiest weeks of her life -- it's one of the tools I like to use, not so much to help me plot -- I don't usually look at it till after I've written the first version of the book -- but to make sure my structure makes some sort of sense. And sometimes to diagnose what bothers me about a book I just finished or about one long-laid aside which I'm trying to revive.
And one of the trickiest parts I've found is the refusal of the call. It happens in almost every book.
To recapitulate for those who've never heard of this concept, what happens is that the hero is in his normal world, contented, if not happy. And then something happens to throw him out of that normal world. This is the call. Ulysses gets the call to join his allies in the siege of Troy. Cinderella's family gets the invitation to the ball.
In almost every story there is a refusal of the call. A moment when the protagonist knows he has to go forth and do something, but does not wish to leave the safety of the ordered everyday world. Ulysses kills his oxen and pretends madness. Hamlet wonders if he really saw the ghost of his father or if it was an evil apparition. Cinderella ... I'm not sure. I'd rate the run at midnight as refusal of the call, but I could be wrong, as we're dealing with a truncated story. My mom had one of the older nineteenth century versions, and man, oh, man was it much longer. And more violent. And more sexual. And scary beyond all reason.
The refusal of the call is one of my sticky plot points. I think it's because despite the fact some of my best friends are imaginary and I spend untold amounts of time in made up worlds, beneath it all I'm actually a very sensible and down to Earth woman. It's hard when writing about fantasy creatures, for instance, to let go of that "she's accepting this to early." "She should be thinking of everyday explanations."
The problem is that you can't hold your character in the "normal" world forever. Your reader wants the character to make a decision, to take action, to do something and be the master of his own destiny.
If the character refuses to do it, the book becomes slow, tedious, or perhaps "candidate for the next nobel prize of literature," all things that are bad and could mean the end of your career or of your being able to look at yourself in the mirror.
So -- ladies and gentlemen -- which books do you like that you find this refusal of the call was very prominent in? Can you find a book in which the acceptance of the call comes nearly at the end, and which nonetheless works? (I could say Puppet Masters, though it's complicated. It's more like he has a mirror moment at the end.) Throw things. Banana peels or whatever. NO coconuts, because Dave already throws those.
And if this post makes no sense whatsoever, let me know. I'm about to hit the mattress, will look at it in morning. I'll try to give you some examples from my own and others works then, though I can't promise anything. (The problem is to give you the whole run of the refusal of the call would take perhaps two or three chapters, which seems to be the normal length of this narrative movement.)