AHHH, THE MONOMYTH.
IT IS A FASCINATING ACADEMIC PURSUIT; A JOURNEY INTO OUR CULTURAL HISTORY, TO THE TIES OF COMMUNICATION THAT BONDED OUR EARLY CIVILIZATIONS. IT EVEN EXPLAINS HOW OUR STORYTELLING ROOTS ARE DIRECTLY BORN FROM THAT SHARED HISTORY. YES, THE LESSONS AT THE CORE OF THE MONOMYTH ARE MANIFOLD, RICH, AND TEXTURED; A THOUSAND VERSIONS OF A HERO’S JOURNEY, ALL BOUND BY THE HUMAN CONDITION, ALL CRUCIAL TO OUR UNDERSTANDING OF WHY WE TELL STORIES IN THE FIRST PLACE. SIMPLY PUT, THE HERO’S JOURNEY IS VITAL TO OUR HUMANITY.
AND NOW IT’S A TOTAL FUCKING CRUTCH.
A LOT LIKE HULK’S DISMISSAL OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE, THE PROBLEM WITH JOSEPH CAMPBELL’S THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES IS NOT IT’S LACK OF ACCURACY, BUT INSTEAD WHAT WE DO WITH THE INFORMATION IT PROVIDES. CHIEFLY, THE FACT THAT OUR SOCIETY HAS OVERTLY ADOPTED THE BOOK’S BREAKDOWN OF THE HERO JOURNEY AS SOME KIND OF READY-MADE APP FOR “PAINT BY NUMBERS” STORYTELLING. HULK’S NOT EVEN REALLY SURE HOW MANY PEOPLE WHO REGULARLY CITE THE HERO’S JOURNEY HAVE ACTUALLY READ THE DAMN BOOK PAST A FEW CHAPTERS. IT’S ACTUALLY OBVIOUS BECAUSE THE BOOK’S REAL VALUE IS DEEPLY, EVEN MADDENINGLY ACADEMIC (AT TIMES IT GETS DOWNRIGHT ANTHROPOLOGICAL). THE TRUTH ABOUT CAMPBELL’S LAUDED BOOK IS IT ACTUALLY DOESN’T HAVE A TON TO DO WITH ALL THOSE NEAT THE LITTLE DIAGRAMS AT THE BEGINNING, IT’S MORE INTERESTED IN CULTURAL DEDUCTION BASED ON THOSE CONCEPTS. BUT SINCE THOSE DIAGRAMS ARE ALL WE SEEM TO REMEMBER IT IS THUS ALL WE SEEM TO TAKE FROM IT: UNIVERSAL STORYTELLING MADE EASY.
QUITE FRANKLY, IT’S HURTING MORE THAN IT’S HELPING.
HERE ARE THE REASONS WHY:
FOR STARTERS, THERE IS A FUNDAMENTAL ERROR MADE IN HOW WE INTERPRET THE APPARENT “SIMPLICITY” OF THESE MYTHS, MAINLY THAT THEY ARE ACTUALLY NOT SIMPLE WHATSOEVER. THE UNIVERSAL BREAKDOWN OF THEM MAY BE SIMPLE, BUT THE STRUCTURE ON DISPLAY IS ANYTHING BUT. FOR INSTANCE, YOU’LL NOTICE THAT ONE OF THE MAIN REFERENCED MYTHS IN THE BOOK, THE EPIC OF GILGAMESH, IS ANYTHING BUT PAINT-BY-NUMBERS.
THE 12 TABLET EPIC OF GILGAMESH IS ACTUALLY PRETTY FUCKING COMPLEX EVEN THOUGH IT’S CONSIDERED THE ROSETTA STONE FOR THE HERO JOURNEY. SURE IT CONTAINS BIG PICTURE REFERENCE POINTS (THE PASSING INTO THE STRANGE WORLD, THE CALL/RETURN, ETC), BUT THESE AMOUNT TO NOTHING BUT THE LOOSE STRUCTURE OF THE WORK AND ARE BY NO MEANS THE ENGINE OF THE NARRATIVE OR PLOT. NO, WHAT DRIVES THOSE ARE THE DYNAMIC THEMES IN PLACE: THE IN-FLUX RELATIONSHIP WITH ENKINDU, WHICH ARE BORN OUT OF STOPPING GILGAMESH FROM ENGAGING IN HIS MORE, UM, SORDID ACTIVITIES (RAPE MOSTLY). THERE’S ALSO THE QUEST FOR IMMORTALITY (L’MORTE D’ARTHUR ALERT!), SOME OTHER STUFF ABOUT RELIGION, PROSTITUTION, DREAM STATES, YOU NAME IT. HULK HAS EVEN READ MORE ANALYSISSESS OF GILGAMESH AND ENKINDU AS HIDDEN LOVERS THAN YOU WOULD IMAGINE IS POSSIBLE (OH, COLLEGE KIDS!… ACTUALLY THEY MAY HAVE A POINT WITH THAT ONE). THE POINT IS THERE’S A SHIT TON GOING ON IN THE STORY BEYOND IT’S FUN LITTLE ABILITY TO BE OUTLINED IN TERMS OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY. THESE ARE THE THINGS THAT MAKE THE WORK COMPELLING AND INTERESTING, NOT THE MERE FACT THAT IT TOO MOSTLY FITS WITHIN THE CONFINES OF MONOMYTH CLASSIFICATION.(1)
YET, GILGAMESH ONLY SEEMS TO SURVIVE IN OUR CULTURAL CONSCIOUSNESS BECAUSE OF THE CAMPBELLIAN HERO DIAGRAM AND OUR DESIRE TO TALK ABOUT IT IN THOSE VERY SPECIFIC AND UNIVERSAL TERMS: THE CALL! THE REFUSAL! THE TRIALS! THE RETURN! YAY!
NOW, IS MOST OF THAT STUFF IN GILGAMESH? ABSOLUTELY.
IS THAT WHAT MAKES IT A STORY? EH, MAYBE.
IS THAT WHAT MAKES IT A GOOD STORY? NO.
IS THAT WHAT MAKES IT A WELL-TOLD STORY? FUCK NO.
THIS SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO WHAT HULK BELIEVES IS THE GREAT FUNDAMENTAL ERROR OF ACADEMIA. WHAT PEOPLE DON’T SEEM TO REALIZE IS THAT WHEN YOU ACADEMICALLY TRY TO BOIL NARRATIVE ELEMENTS DOWN TO THEIR MOST BASIC ELEMENTS, YOU ARE THEREFORE BOILING DOWN STORYTELLING TO THEIR MOST BASIC ELEMENTS! HULK MEAN… GAAAHHH. THAT’S ALL YOUR DOING! AND THE INTENTION OF THIS ANALYSIS IS TO FIND SIMILARITIES AND UNDERSTAND CULTURAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL INCLINATION! WHICH MEANS IT IS NOT THE KEY TO UNLOCKING STORYTELLING, BUT A KEY TO MAKING YOUR STORY AS SIMILAR AS POSSIBLE TO EVERYTHING ELSE OUT THERE.
THERE IS A GREAT VALUE TO THE CAMPBELLIAN BREAKDOWN, SPECIFICALLY CONCERNING THE FORMATIVE NATURE OF CULTURE AND WHY WE VALUE/TELL THESE STORIES, BUT IT IS ACTUALLY THE FURTHEST THING AWAY FROM A HOW-TO GUIDE. WHOEVER ARE THE FOLKS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE ORAL TRADITIONS BEHIND STUFF BEOWULF AND GILGAMESH, THEY WEREN’T SITTING DOWN SAYING “OKAY, OKAY, NOW HE HAS TO REFUSE THE CALL AND THEN BY TABLET 2 THE NEXT BEAT SHOULD…” GAAAAH. SMASHY! WHAT’S SO INTERESTING ABOUT THE HERO’S JOURNEY IS THE WAY THESE THEMES AND DYNAMICS SEEPED NATURALLY OUT OF THESE DIFFERENT STORIES, NOT THAT EVERYONE FELT OBLIGATED OR WAS PURPOSELY TRYING TO DO IT. THE HERO’S JOURNEY SECRETLY HAS NOTHING TO DO WHATSOEVER WITH GOOD STORY STRUCTURE! JUST THEMATIC CONTENT!
IF THERE IS ANYTHING THAT HULK SO DESPERATELY WANTS TO CONVEY TO ALL OF YOU IN THIS BLOG IT IS THAT THERE IS A STARK DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE LANGUAGE USED IN THE BROAD STROKES OF CATEGORIZATION AND THE LANGUAGE WE SHOULD USE FOR PRACTICAL APPLICATION.
IT’S LIKE THE MYTH OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE VS. HULK’S PREFERRED METHOD OF FLOW STRUCTURE (MULTI-ACT WORKING ON CHARACTER/RELATIONSHIP CENTRIC ARENAS THAT ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE). OR POST-MODERNISM VS. THE PRAGMATISM OF CONSTRUCTIVE IDEAS. OR ACTION’S “COOL” DESIGNATION VS. THE POWER VISUAL CAUSE + EFFECT STORYTELLING. IN A STRANGE WAY THESE ARE ALL THE SAME ONGOING PROBLEM OF BAD LANGUAGE. (2) THE WAY WE BREAK THINGS DOWN AND DESCRIBE THEM ARE NOT NECESSARILY HELPFUL TO UNDERSTANDING HOW TO CONSTRUCT THEM. YET WE CONSTANTLY MISTAKE THESE MODELS OF DESCRIPTION FOR “HOW TO”S AND THUS WE KEEP RUNNING INTO THE SAME BASIC STORYTELLING PROBLEMS AGAIN AND AGAIN.
WE HAVE TO REFORM AND BROADEN OUR MODELS. WE HAVE TO REVISE OUR LANGUAGE. TO PUT HULK’S ‘CATEGORIZATION VS. PRACTICAL APPLICATION” ARGUMENT INTO METAPHOR: KNOWING THAT A HOUSE IS MADE FROM WOOD WITH PLASTERED WALLS AND A ROOF DOES NOT ALLOW ONE TO SIMPLY BUILD A HOUSE, YOU HAVE TO UNDERSTAND HOW TO LITERALLY “BUILD” AND SHAPE THOSE THINGS, NOT JUST KNOW THAT THEY EXIST AND WHERE THEY SHOULD MORE OR LESS GO… WAIT THAT METAPHOR WAS TERRIBLE… HULK CAN DO BETTER… MAYBE… HULK’S TIRED… UM… FINE, THAT’LL DO HULK. THAT’LL DO.
BACK TO THE TOPIC AT HAND: EVERY YEAR WE SEE MOVIES THAT DESPERATELY CLING TO THE HERO JOURNEY MODEL, AS IF IT IS THE ONLY THING THAT MATTERS.
SERIOUSLY, HOW MANY MOVIES HAVE WE SEEN THAT ARE BEAT-FOR-BEAT THE SAME STORY AS STAR WARS? IT DOESN’T HELP THAT THERE ARE LITANY OF WRITERS WHO SIMPLY EQUATE STAR WARS WITH THE ONLY EXISTING MODEL OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY (HINT: IT’S NOT) AND THEN JUST REGURGITATE IT AS IF THEY WERE PHOTOCOPYING THE SCRIPT AND CHANGING THE NAMES ( ERAGON TAKES THE PROVERBIAL CAKE ON THAT ONE, THOUGH TO BE FAIR, STAR WARS TAKES A STUNNING AMOUNT OF ITS DYNAMICS FROM DUNE). BUT SINCE IT IS SO SEEPED INTO OUR CONSCIOUSNESS, WE SEE IT ALL THE TIME.
THERE ARE ALSO THE NOW UBIQUITOUS COMIC BOOK ORIGIN STORIES, WHICH HAVE BECOME UNIVERSAL IN THEIR CONSTRUCTION (EXCEPT HULK’S ORIGIN. HULK’S IS TRULY UNIQUE… IN THAT IT’S A BLATANT RIP OFF OF DR. JEKLL & MR. HYDE). THERE IS RARELY A SUPER HERO ORIGIN THESE DAYS THAT FEELS INTERESTING OR DIFFERENT. THE ONE EXCEPTION? ONE OF THE REASONS THAT THE IRONMAN MOVIE WORKS SO WELL IS THAT IT KNOWS WHEN TO COMPLETELY AVOID THE BEATS THE HERO JOURNEY THAT DON’T MATTER TO THE STORY IT WANTS TO TELL. THINK OF HOW MANY BEATS IN THE “HERO JOURNEY” WOULD NOT BE CALLED FOR WITH THAT CHARACTER. THEIR SOLUTION? THEY JUST DON’T USE EM! INSTEAD, EACH STEP OF TONY’S JOURNEY TO BECOMING SHELLHEAD IS AN ARTICULATED, CHARACTER-BASED MICRO-STEP; A SINGULAR DECISION THAT DEALS WITH THE MOMENT AND IS DIRECTLY RELATED THE SITUATION AT HAND. WHICH MAKES IT REAL FUCKING WRITING.
LASTLY, THERE’S HULK’S FAVORITE EXAMPLE OF THE PAINT BY NUMBERS VERSION OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY… VIDEO GAMES.
FORGIVE THE FOLLOWING NON-MOVIE DIGRESSION, BUT NOTHING SHOWCASES BACKWARD THINKING QUITE LIKE THE OBLIVIOUS WRITING OF VIDEO GAMES (MORE IMPORTANTLY, THIS SHIT WILL GET FUCKING HILARIOUS).
FIRST OFF, PLEASE KNOW THAT HULK LOVES HULK SOME VIDEO GAMES. THEY’RE FUN, UNIQUE, AND IMMERSIVE. BUT THE STORYTELLING CRAFT IS USUALLY NOT FIT FOR EVEN THE WORST HOLLYWOOD MOVIES. EVEN THE COMPANIES THAT SUPPOSEDLY DO IT WELL, LIKE BIOWARE, ARE REALLY TELLING THE SAME EXACT STORIES WITH THE SAME EXACT CHARACTERS IN THE MOST NON-INTERESTING WAY AS POSSIBLE. AGAIN, IT’S NOT A MATTER OF THINGS MERELY BEING SIMILAR, BUT THAT THEY ARE ALL SO SIMILAR IN THE MOST ROTE, SOUL-CRUSHING WAY POSSIBLE. THEY NAKEDLY USE THE MONOMYTH MODELS AS HOW-TO GUIDES.(3)
THE BIOWARE CHART HULK JUST LINKED TO ABOVE ACTUALLY LED TO VERY FUNNY SITUATION THAT HAPPENS OFTEN ENOUGH TO BE ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE THINGS EVER. SEE, WHEN THE PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR THESE HERO-JOURNEY REGURGITATIONS ARE CALLED OUT ON IT, THEY SOMETIMES HAVE THE GALL TO DEFEND THEMSELVES IN A RATHER PISSY WAY, OFTEN WITH FAUX-INTELLECTUAL SMUGNESS. SOMETHING AKIN TO “UH, SORRY GUYS IT’S CALLED “THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES” AND IT PROVES ALL STORIES ARE THE SAME STORY. PSSSSH. IDIOT.”
SERIOUSLY, HERE IS EXACTLY HOW BIOWARE WRITER RESPONDED [VIA MESSAGE BOARD AT THAT]: “So I’m supposed to believe someone is smart enough to do a big Excel spreadsheet with color coding and stuff but not smart enough to know about Campbellian archetypes? Yeah, guys, every BioWare game has the same plot! See, things are kind of normal, and then things change and you have to go out and do stuff, and you go to crazy weird places! Aaaaaand so yeah, totally the same story. That’s asinine.”
HULK WOULD SIMPLY REPLY: “YES. HULK TOO IS FAMILIAR WITH THIS BOOK YOU SPEAK OF. THAT’S BECAUSE WE ALL READ IT IN, LIKE, 9TH GRADE. AND THAT’S REALLY NOT WHAT THE BOOK IS SAYING, BUT THANKS FOR PLAYING!” AND THANKFULLY A LOT OF WRITERS MADE IT 10TH GRADE WHERE THEY READ SHAKESPEARE OR T.S. ELLIOT OR SOMETHING AND THE WORLD OF NUANCE OPENED UP.
HULK MEAN, THAT IS SERIOUSLY WHAT THE WRITER THINKS THAT CHART IS SAYING? THAT UBER-SPECIFIC CHART THAT DETAILS EXACTLY HOW THEY’RE DOING THE SAME EXACT GAME OVER AND OVER? UGH. HIS PURPOSEFULLY SARCASTIC ARGUMENT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE SENSE. HE STARTS ARGUING FOR THE SAMENESS OF CAMPBELLIAN ARCHETYPES AND THEN PROCEEDS TO SARCASTICALLY ARGUE THE CRITICS ARE OVER-TYPIFYING SAID SAMENESS? WHAT!??! HULK CONFUSED. AND THE FUNNIEST FUCKING PART IS THE WAY HE MAKES FUN OF HOW THEY’RE SUMMARIZING “STORY TELLING” IS ACTUALLY FAR MORE INDICATIVE OF HIS OWN APPROACH.
SERIOUSLY, HERE ARE THE WRITER’S OTHER COMMENTS SUMMARIZED IN AN ARTICLE IN EUROGAMER.
Weekes said the “intro, four planets, finale” structure familiar to BioWare games is picked for a number of good reasons.
Firstly, it’s “easy” in the sense of QA, as areas can be culled if they’re not ready in time for launch with minimal impact on the final product.
Secondly, “players understand it”. Weekes explained that four is a golden number of objectives for an area that may confuse, overwhelm and frustrate once exceeded.
Thirdly, “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“It’s a structure, like any other,” he wrote. “Humorously snarking that our games have a beginning part that is streamlined and introduces you to the game, a middle that allows you the freedom to go to several places and have adventures, and then a tightly focused ending is like riffing on how romance novels generally start out with two people being attracted to each other but having emotional issues, then gradually building trust, then having a complication that splits them up, and then in the end they get together and are happy.
“People who create fiction in any form use a structure appropriate to that form. They do it because their audience understands and responds on an emotional level to that structure,” he concluded.
HULK DOESN’T REALLY MEAN TO SINGLE THIS WELL-MEANING PERSON OUT… BUT SERIOUSLY, THAT IS THE RESPONSE?!??!?!? DO THEY NOT SEE THAT THEY ARE STARTING OFF ON THE COMPLETE WRONG FOOT IN THEIR APPROACH TO DESIGNING A GAMING “WORLD AND STORY”?!?!??!?!
IT’S “EASY”? FUCK RIGHT IT’S EASY. HULK GLAD TO SEE YOUR FIRST INCLINATION IN STORYTELLING IS OPTING FOR THE EASIEST POSSIBLE PATH, YOU KNOW, FOR “PRAGMATISM” OF COURSE. NOTHING INANE ABOUT THAT!
AND “PLAYERS UNDERSTAND IT”? WHAT?! THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND GOING TO VISIT MORE WORLDS OR NOT BEING OPEN TO CHARACTERS WHO DON’T FIT IN WITH THE SAME LAZY ARCHETYPES? ARE YOU ACTUALLY IMPLYING THAT THEY WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND A NEW KIND OF CHARACTER? ESPECIALLY WHEN YOUR GAMES “CHARACTERIZE” BY SIMPLY HAVING SAID CHARACTERS GIVE UNIFORM, LONG-WINDED MONOLOGUES WHERE THEY SPELL OUT THEIR PERSONAL HISTORY, PEOPLE’S CUSTOMS, AND WHAT THE HAD FOR BREAKFAST, ALL BY TALKING DIRECTLY TO THE CAMERA? YEAH, PLAYERS SOOOOOOO WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND SOMEONE CHARACTERIZED IN THOSE COMPLEX, SUBTLE TERMS. GOSH DAMMIT. HOW THE HELL CAN THE DEVELOPERS AIM SO LOW AND THINK THAT’S WHAT MAKES THEM SUCCEED?
AND THEN “THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH IT”? NO, EVERYTHING IS WRONG WITH IT. YOU ARE GOING ABOUT YOUR STORYTELLING ASS-BACKWARDS. YOU’RE LOOKING FOR THE SIMPLEST AND EASIEST WAY TO MAKE WHAT YOU DO LOOK AND FEEL LIKE EVERY SINGLE OTHER THING ON THE PLANET. YOU SAY THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT? READ HULK’S LAST SENTENCE AGAIN. YOU ARE NOT GETTING TO THE HEART OF STORYTELLING. YOU ARE CASUALLY, EVEN CAVALIERLY MILKING IT AND YOU’RE NOT EVEN REALIZING IT. AND FUCK, UNLIKE MOVIES, VIDEO GAMES HAVE AT LEAST 8-30 HOURS OF STORY TO TELL AND THEREFORE SHOULD HAVE TO EMPLOY FAR DIFFERENT STRATEGIES (LOOK AT TELEVISION!). BUT INSTEAD THEY JUST OPT FOR CUT + PASTE NOT ONLY BECAUSE THEY THINK IT’S THE EASIEST WAY PLACATE THE GAMER AND JUST FUCKING GET ON WITH IT, BUT BECAUSE THEY’RE MISINFORMED THAT THIS IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO. AND THE HUMOROUS SNARKING IS PERFECTLY ALLOWED: NOT BECAUSE YOU EMPLOYED THE SIMPLE STRUCTURE YOU DID, BUT BECAUSE THAT’S ALL YOU EMPLOYED. SO UNFORTUNATELY, YOUR BELIEF THAT WHAT YOU’RE WRITING IS “STRUCTURALLY SOUND” AND THEREFORE GOOD, COMPLETELY OPENS UP YOUR LAZY-ASS STRUCTURALISM TO BEING VIEWED BY HULK AS SO OBVIOUSLY AND HIDEOUSLY EMPTY. A;LJSDFL;ASJKDF;AJSD
… SORRY, HULK GOT SMASHY, IT’S OVER NOW, IT’S OVER… YOU CAN COME ON OUT OF THERE.
HULK BROUGHT ALL THIS BIOWARE/VIDEO GAME STUFF BECAUSE THIS IS OBVIOUSLY THE MOST EXTREME EXAMPLE OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY GONE HORRIBLY, HORRIBLY WRONG. THE IRONY IS THAT WHILE BIOWARE IS CLEARLY F-ING UP THEIR APPROACH TO STORY IN ONE WAY, THEY HAVE ACTUALLY HAVE REALLY MADE STRIDES IN THE “INTERACTIVE” PORTION OF STORY GAMING, BY GIVING YOU THE OPTION TO, SAY, KILL CHARACTERS AND RESHAPE THE NARRATIVE. GAMERS REALLY RESPONDED TO IT. IT IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF FORWARD-THINKING THEY SHOULD IMPLORE WITH THEIR STORY STRUCTURE AND WORLD BUILDING, BUT BECAUSE “THE HERO’S JOURNEY” SAYS IT’S A-OKAY, THEY ARE PERFECTLY HAPPY JUST DOING THE EASIEST POSSIBLE THING.
THE HERO’S JOURNEY HURT THEM MORE THAN IT HELPED.
NOW MOST MOVIES ARE NOT SO WOEFULLY OFFENSIVE AS THIS EXAMPLE, BUT THE SAME EXACT THINKING IS AT PLAY. TO WIT, LET HULK FOCUS ON POPULAR MOVIE TROPES AND EXPLAIN THE 7 FUN WAYS PEOPLE USE THE HERO’S JOURNEY TO RUIN STORIES:
#1 – PEOPLE ARE HEROES SIMPLY BECAUSE THEY ARE THE MAIN CHARACTER FOR SOME REASON… AND THEY ARE GETTING CALLED TO ADVENTURE OR SOMETHING
WHAT MAKES A HERO? THERE SEEMS TO BE SOME CONFUSION OVER THE MATTER. WE KNOW ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS IS THAT A HERO COULD BE ANYONE. EVEN YOU! IT’S A NICE THOUGHT AND HAS SIGNIFICANT NARRATIVE VALUE, BUT THE PROBLEM IS THAT WE A MISTAKE IN THE ASSESSMENT AND SAY ANY OLD HUMAN QUALITIES WILL DO… EVEN “NONE.” WE DO APPARENTLY THIS TO ENSURE THAT THE MAIN CHARACTER IS A CONDUIT FOR AUDIENCE DESIRES AND AS A RESULT WE CREATE MAIN CHARACTERS WHO ARE JUST VACUOUS, BLANK SLATES. YOU KNOW THE ONE HULK IS TALKING ABOUT (PSSSST… MOST OF THEM). OR HELL MAYBE IT’S JUST LAZINESS. THESE CHARACTERS ARE PICKED TO BE HEROES BECAUSE, WELL, THAT IS WHAT THEY THINK HAS TO HAPPEN IN ORDER TO TELL A HERO STORY.
YOU REMEMBER THE END OF RATATOUILLE WHERE THE CRITIC ANTON EGO SURMISES THAT HE WAS MISTAKEN ABOUT SOMETHING OF GRAVE IMPORTANCE: IT’S NOT THAT “ANYONE COULD COOK BUT THAT A GREAT COOK COULD TRULY COME FROM ANYWHERE”? IT’S SPEAKS DIRECTLY TO THIS PROBLEM. IT’S NOT THAT ANYONE CAN BE A HERO, BUT THAT A HERO CAN COME FROM ANYWHERE. BUT THE KEY IS THAT THEY HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING INSIDE THEM. A SPARK. A YEARNING. REMY THE RAT WAS SOMEONE WITH AN INNATE ABILITY (SMELL) AND A DESIRE (APPRECIATION OF FOOD BEYOND HIS ENVIRONMENT). HE NEVER HAD A SENSE OF BELONGING. LUKE SKYWALKER? SAME THING. HE HAD THIS SAME HUMAN YEARNING FOR ADVENTURE BEYOND HIS FARM. AND YET WE CONSTANTLY MISAPPLY THIS “ANYONE CAN BE A HERO” TROPE TO MEAN THAT ANYONE WITH A VACUOUS PERSONALITY CAN BE A HERO/MAIN CHARACTER SIMPLY BECAUSE SOME OLD MAN SHOWS UP AND TELLS THEM THEY ARE. WE ARE TREATED TO HERO AFTER HERO YOU COULD BASICALLY RENAME THEM MILQUETOAST MCBLANDERSON.
SO NOW HULK IS GOING TO DO ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE THINGS TO DO ON THIS BLOG AND BRING IT BACK TO INDIANA FUCKING JONES. THE GREAT THING ABOUT INDY IS THAT DUDE’S A FUCKING CHARACTER. FUNNY, SMART, FLAWED, AND AWESOME. YES, YOU WANT YOUR MAIN CHARACTER TO WORK AS A CONDUIT, BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN THEY HAVE TO BE AN EMPTY SHELL, IT MEANS THEY ARE A FLESH AND BLOOD PERSON WHO WE CAN BE HUMAN WITH, NOT HUMAN FOR. IF PROJECTING OUR DESIRE TO BE IN THEIR SITUATION ONTO THEM AS THE ONLY MEANS OF IDENTIFICATION, THE THE CHARACTER IS A COMPLETE FAILURE. THERE HAS TO BE A REASON WE WANT TO BE LIKE THEM. THEREFORE, THEY SHOULD HAVE A FUCKING PERSONALITY. SO DON’T BE AFRAID TO THROW IN SOME DRAMA INTO THAT CONDUIT! DON’T WASTE YOUR PERSONALITY ON SECONDARY CHARACTERS (THOUGH THEY SHOULD OBVIOUSLY HAVE THEM TO). DON’T USE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER AS SOMEONE WHO IS ONLY FUNCTIONAL IN TERMS OF PLOTTING. AND OOH, OOH AND DON’T FORGET! WHEN WRITING HEROIC CHARACTERS ALWAYS REMEMBER: EXASPERATED = GOOD! BUT WHINING = BAD! SO TOE THE LINE!
#2 – REFUSING THE CALL FOR THE ENTIRE DURATION OF THE MOVIE
COUGH* GREEN LANTERN* COUGH. HOW MANY MOVIES, IN AN EFFORT TO SLAVISHLY STICK TO THE HERO JOURNEY MODEL THROW IN AN OBLIGATORY AND WHOLLY UNNECESSARY SCENE(S) WHERE THE CHARACTER DENIES ANSWERING THE CALL FOR NO GOOD REASON WHATSOEVER? THERE IS NOT A MORE HOLLOW EXERCISE IN WRITING. WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN SO MUCH? EITHER BECAUSE (A) THEY ARE FOLLOWING THE HERO’S JOURNEY AND THINK THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO, OR (B) BECAUSE THE WRITER THINKS IT WILL MANUFACTURE DRAMA, WHEN REALLY THEY ARE GIVING US NO SET UP FOR THIS BEHAVIOR WHATSOEVER. CUE IMAGINARY GREEN LANTERN DISCUSSION:
“WE NEED A LANTERN! C’MON RING, PICK A FEARLESS GUY!”
“BUT THIS GUYS IS SECRETLY AFRAID OF EVERYTHING!”
“RIGHT, WE CAN’T JUST HAVE HIM KICK ASS IMMEDIATELY HE HAS TO FIT THE HERO MODEL AND DENY THE CALL! SO HAVE HIM DENY WHAT HE CAN OBVIOUSLY DO FOR SOME REASON… UM…YEAH THIS MAKES NO SENSE, BUT WHO CARES. LET’S GET ON WITH IT.”
“THIS IS GOING TO BE THE PLOT FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE.”
OKAY, OKAY, THIS ISN’T EVERY MOVIE. OCCASIONALLY, A MOVIE CAN HANDLE THE REFUSAL IN AN OKAY WAY AND GIVE LEGITIMATE REASONS WHY THE MAIN CHARACTER WOULDN’T WANT TO JUST ABANDON THEIR LIFE AND GO TO THIS CRAZY ADVENTURE, BUT THOSE OCCASIONS ARE FAR MORE RARE THAN THEY SHOULD BE. BECAUSE USUALLY THE REASONS EXPRESSED ARE BASICALLY: “I CAN’T GO WITH YOU, IT’S CRAZY! THIS IS WEIRD!” OR SOMETHING. HINT: IT’S NOT WEIRD. IN FACT, YOUR AUDIENCE WILL ALREADY KNOW THAT THIS IS EXACTLY WHERE IT IS GOING SO EMBRACE ECONOMY AND GET IT ON WITH IT. DON’T DEVELOP YOUR CHARACTER WITH ONE SINGULAR REFUSAL EITHER, AS IF ANSWERING THE CALL IS THE SOLUTION TO ALL THEIR PROBLEMS. DEVELOP THEIR CHARACTER EVOLUTION INCREMENTALLY INSTEAD.
REMEMBER, ONE OF THE DELIGHTFUL THINGS THAT NO ONE SEEMS TO REALIZE IS THAT IN STAR WARS, LUKE SKYWALKER REFUSES THE CALL FOR APPROXIMATELY 38 SECONDS OF TOTAL SCREEN TIME. SERIOUSLY. WATCH THE FUCKING MOVIE. HE SAYS NO TO BEN KANOBI, IMMEDIATELY REALIZES HIS AUNT AND UNCLE ARE IN DANGER, SEES THEIR CHARRED CORPSES AND SAYS “THERE IS NOTHING FOR ME HERE NOW, I WANT TO BE A JEDI LIKE MY FATHER”… IT’S LIKE, 38 FUCKING SECONDS. LOGICAL A, B, C STORYTELLING, DONE WITH ECONOMY, DOES WONDERS FOLKS.
#3 – OVER-RELYING ON THE WISE OLD CRONE
OBI-WAN KANOBI AND YODA. WONDERFUL CHARACTERS. AND NOW EVERY MOVIE HAS THEIR NOT-NEARLY-AS-GOOD VERSION OF THEM. WORSE, THE THINGS THEY ARE REALLY GOOD AT HAVE NOW BECOME THEIR SOLE, GRATING DUTY IN MOVIES: THEY’VE BASICALLY BECOME EXPOSITION MACHINES. FUCK, BEING A MOVIE’S “YODA” HAS ACTUALLY BECOME SHORTHAND FOR AUDIENCES. OF COURSE ANYTIME THIS IS TOO PAINFULLY OBVIOUS, WE DO THE EQUALLY OBVIOUS THING AND TRY TO BRUSH OFF THIS LAZY WRITING WITH A DUMB JOKE: “DO THIS THING. IT’S YOUR DESTINY.” / “HEY, EASY YODA!” … CAUSE THAT WILL WORK [READ: SARCASM].
HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU SAID TO YOURSELF “I’LL FORGIVE THIS BLATANT APING OF [INSERT POPULAR MOVIE] BECAUSE AT LEAST SELF-AWARE BLATANT APING!” … HULK GONNA WAGER NOT A LOT.(4) AND HULK CAN USUALLY TELL YOU THE EXACT MOMENT EACH ONE THESE CRONE MENTORS WILL BE KILLED OFF TO SEND THE MAIN HERO ON HIS WAY ALONE (JUST BECAUSE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO). LOOK, HULK DOES MEAN TO IMPLY THAT USING A FIGURE IN YOUR STORY THAT IS THE CRONE FIGURE ISN’T SUPER-USEFUL, BUT FOR PETE’S SAKE, TRY TO HIDE WHAT YOU’RE DOING. DO NOT JUST “MAKE A YODA FIGURE.” IN CASE HULK HAS TO KEEP REMINDING YOU THAT WAS NOT WHAT THE CHARACTERS IN STAR WARS WERE SOLELY ABOUT EITHER. REMEMBER THAT YODA WAS FIRST INTRODUCED TO US AS “BATSHIT INSANE LITTLE ANIMAL” AND IT WORKED BEAUTIFULLY. SO IN YOUR OWN STORIES GIVE THEM INTERESTING AND UNIQUE STUFF TO DO. GIVE THEM A ROLE IN THE STORY BESIDES BEING THE CRONE. ASK YOURSELF, “HOW CAN I MAKE THIS CRONE UNIQUE?”
#4 – MISTAKING THE NOTION OF “THE TRIALS” FOR “THE HERO FIGHTING A BUNCH OF THINGS”
HULK HOPES THIS ONE IS PRETTY SELF EVIDENT, BUT HERE GOES: THE TRIALS ARE NOT A SERIES OF FIGHTS. THIS IS NOT TO IMPLY THAT THE TRIALS CANNOT CONTAIN A SERIES OF FIGHTS. IN FACT, A SERIES OF FIGHTS ARE USUALLY PRETTY SWEET. BUT WHAT EACH FIGHT SHOULD DO IS HAVE SOME SORT OF THEMATIC RESONANCE AND REFLECT ON A PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT OF THE MAIN CHARACTER HERO TYPE PERSON. FOR EXAMPLE, ONE FIGHT COULD ADDRESS HIS PRIDE. ONE FIGHT COULD ADDRESS HIS LUST (IN GENERAL THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS WORK GOOD FOR THESE KIND OF PERSONALITY-MADE-PHYSICAL BRAND OF OBSTACLES). ONE COULD ADDRESS HIS ACCEPTANCE OF DEFEAT, TEACH HIM LOSS, HUMILITY, OR WHATEVER HE MAY NEED TO GO FORWARD AS A BETTER, MORE COMPLETE PERSON.
THE POINT IS THAT THE TRIALS CANNOT BE EMPTY EXERCISES IN NEATO ACTION. THIS IS A STORY AND STORIES DEVELOP. GOING BACK TO STAR WARS, REMEMBER HOW FUCKING PYSCHOLOGICAL LUKE’S TRIALS ARE DURING HIS TIME ON DAGOBAH? THERE’S, LIKE, NO ACTUAL FIGHTING. HE’S BATTLING HIS PERSONALITY AND HIS MIND, TRYING TO MOVE ROCKS AND HAVE SELF-CONTROL. AND IT’S ALL SO INCREDIBLY FANTASTIC. SO REALLY EACH TRIAL SHOULD BE TREATED AS IT’S OWN MINI-STORY ADDRESSING THE CHARACTER COMPONENTS OF THE LARGER JOURNEY… AND YES YOU CAN USE ACTION TO DO THAT, BUT INTEGRATE THEM TOGETHER. DON’T JUST MAKE AN EMPTY SERIES OF “COOL” FIGHTS.
#5 – MEETING THE GODDESS / WOMAN AS TEMPTRESS
HULK, YOU GOT YOUR FEMINISM IN MY HERO’S JOURNEY COLUMN! DARN TOOTIN’ HULK DID. DEAL WITH IT CAUSE IT’S FUCKING IMPORTANT.
WHY? BECAUSE WHILEWRITING SO MANY PEOPLE LOOK AT HERO JOURNEY MODEL AND GO: “WHEN IT COMES TO WOMEN WE CAN JUST WRITE THEM AS THE GODDESS/TEMPTRESS (READ: MADONNA/WHORE)? SWEET! THANKS MONOMYTH!” UGH. HONESTLY, THESE TROPES ARE AS OLD AS TIME BECAUSE A LOT MEN HAVE NOT BEEN ABLE TO GET OVER THIS DYNAMIC SINCE THE BEGINNING OF TIME. AND PLEASE KNOW HULK IS NOT DERIDING THIS BAD HABIT OUT OF SOME MODERN, REVISIONIST P.C. INCLINATION. NOT AT ALL. THE TRUTH IS THERE HAVE BEEN INTERESTING, HUMAN DEPICTIONS OF WOMEN SINCE JUST ABOUT FOREVER (PROOF? ATALANTA FOR ONE, NOT A MISSPELLED CITY BUT THAT FIGURE OF GREEK MYTH. ALSO SEMIRAMIS, AND AS FAR AS ACTUAL GODDESS CONDUITS GO HATHOR WAS PRETTY COOL). THE PORTRAYAL OF WOMEN IN MOVIES/MEDIA IS HUGE OTHER BALL OF WAX, ONE THAT HULK CAN’T WAIT TO WRITE ABOUT IN FULL, BUT THE POINT IS THAT THERE IS A CAPACITY TO WHICH THE GODDESS/TEMPTRESS MODEL HAS ALWAYS BEEN OUTDATED. SO IF YOU’RE STILL WRITING WOMEN WITH JUST THESE BASIC ARCHETYPES IN MIND, FUCKING STOP IT.
AGAIN, GOING BACK TO STAR WARS, THAT MOVIE WAS ACTUALLY PRETTY GOOD ABOUT AVOIDING THAT SHIT. WELL… SORT OF. IT’S NOT EVEN LIKE LEIA IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF FEMINISM, BUT SHE WAS AT LEAST PRETTY DAMN GOOD. LEIA IS A FULLY-FORMED AND INTERESTING CHARACTER WHO WASN’T INTERESTED IN BEING EITHER GODDESS OR TEMPTRESS, WHO STILL HAD THE INNATE CAPACITY TO BE BOTH. WHICH MADE HER, YOU KNOW, A HUMAN BEING.
YET THE MADONNA/WHORE IS STILL EVERYWHERE THESE DAYS. YES, A LOT OF TIMES IT’S BECAUSE THE MALE WRITER SERIOUSLY VIEWS WOMEN THIS WAY, BUT MOST OF THE TIME IT’S UNINTENTIONAL! WHY DOES THAT HAPPEN? BECAUSE EITHER A) THAT’S WHAT THE HERO’S JOURNEY SAYS TO DO OR B) BECAUSE THEY JUST HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO DO ANYTHING ELSE. SO WHENEVER HULK READS THIS UNINTENTIONAL HORSESHIT HULK ALWAYS GIVES PEOPLE THE SAME ADVICE: “FUCK IT, JUST WRITE HER LIKE LEIA.” IT SOUND SO STUPID AND SIMPLE, BUT THE PERSON WHO CLAIMS TO HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO WRITE WOMEN INSTANTLY THEN ‘GETS IT. ” LEIA IS THAT MUCH A CENTRAL AND POSITIVE FIGURE. THIS TRICK ISN’T SOME MAGIC CURE-ALL EITHER, BUT IT INSTANTLY MAKES THEIR FEMALE CHARACTERS LIKE 50% BETTER.
HULK KEEPS BRINGING UP STAR WARS FOR A REASON. IT OUR MAIN CULTURAL TOUCHSTONE FOR THE HERO’S JOURNEY AND WE CAN’T EVEN IMITATE IT PROPERLY. WE’RE LOOKING AT THE MOST BASIC CONTENT AND MOTIFS AND NOT THE ENGINES THAT REALLY DROVE IT’S SUCCESS, LIKE ITS SENSE OF ECONOMY, THE POWER OF ITS CHARACTERIZATION, THE HUMOR OF ITS CRONES, THE PSYCHOLOGY AT PLAY IN THE TRIALS, AND ITS STRONG FEMALE LEAD. WE’RE LITERALLY MISSING THE BEST STUFF ABOUT IT BECAUSE WE’RE TOO BUSY LOOKING AT HOW IT FITS THE HERO’S JOURNEY ALONG WITH EVERYTHING ELSE. GUESS WHAT FOLKS? THE SEEKER: THE DARK IS RISING FITS THE HERO JOURNEY EVEN BETTER, BUT NO ONE IS FUCKING INTERESTED IN COPYING THAT. WHAT MAKES THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS TRILOGY SO AWESOME AFTER ALL THESE YEARS IS NOT HOW IT’S THE SAME, BUT HOW IT’S STILL TRULY DIFFERENT.
#6 – BLATANTLY USING THE ELIXIR REMEDY / DEUS EX MACHINA
THIS ONE SORT OF DEALS WITH THE “RETURN WITH ELIXIR” COMPONENT, BUT BASICALLY HULK JUST WANT TO POINT OUT THAT WAY TOO MANY STORYLINES RESOLVE WITH DEUS EX MACHINA. ANYTIME YOUR BIG HERO STORY SOLVES PROBLEMS THE WAY ENTOURAGE DOES, YOU SHOULD PROBABLY JUST STOP DOING THAT.(5) BECAUSE THERE IS NO DEVICE IN POPULAR STORYTELLING THAT, WHEN USED POORLY, CAN FEEL SO DAMN CHEAP TO EVEN THE MOST UNAWARE AUDIENCES.
LOOK. DEUS EX MACHINA IS FUCKING HARD. NO TWO BONES ABOUT IT. HULK RECOMMENDS THAT EVEN MOST INTERMEDIATE WRITERS SHOULD STAY AWAY (HULK INCLUDES HULK-SELF IN THIS). THAT IS BECAUSE CHANCES ARE YOU WILL DO IT IN MEDIOCRE FASHION AND WILL THUS FAIL. BUT THAT’S OKAY. THERE ARE BETTER WAYS TO SOLVE STORY PROBLEMS.
IS THERE A WAY TO DO IT RIGHT? OF COURSE. BUT YOU SORT HAVE TO DIRECTLY ENGAGE THE THEME. FOR MOST OF ITS RUN, LOST WAS A SHOW THAT HANDLED THEIR MOMENTS OF DEUS EX MACHINA IN A KIND OF BRILLIANT WAY. MOST OF THE TIME, THESE “SAVING THROWS” WOULD TIE DIRECTLY INTO SPIRITUAL OVERTONES OF THE SHOW. BUT THAT ALONE IS NOT WHAT MADE IT WORK. IT WORKED BECAUSE THE SHOW SET UP THEIR MOMENTS OF DEUS EX MACHINA WITH THE APPROPRIATE SENSE OF NEED AND LONGING. THEY ADDRESSED THE VERY IDEA AT THE THEMATIC CENTER OF THE DEVICE AND WHETHER OR NOT DIVINE WILL/INTERVENTION/WHATEVER-YOU-CALL-IT PLAYS A PART IN THEIR LIVES. AS A RESULT THEY COULD SEAMLESSLY INTEGRATE THOSE MOMENTS OF DEUS EX MACHINA INTO THE CHARACTER’S CATHARSIS. LIKE AS JOHN LOCKE BEGS AND PLEADS FOR A SIGN FROM GOD, HIS EMOTION SWELLING, AT HIS WIT’S END… CUE: LIGHT FROM THE HATCH. THEY GAVE THE MOMENT CHARACTER-BASED MEANING, NOT PLOT MEANING. THE SUCCESS OF DEUS EX MACHINA NEVER LIES IN THE DELIVERY, BUT IN THE SET-UP AND IT’S IMPORTANCE TO THE CHARACTER TURNS.(5)
LET’S GO BACK YET AGAIN: REMEMBER THE HAN SOLO “YEEE HAW KID! NOW LET’S BLOW THIS JOINT!” MOMENT FROM STAR WARS? OF COURSE YOU DO. IT WORKS BECAUSE THEY SPEND THE ENTIRE MOVIE SHOWING HOW HAN DOESN’T DO STUFF LIKE THAT AND HAVE THE CHARACTERS TUG AT HIS HEART STRINGS TRYING TO GET HIM TO DO STUFF LIKE THAT. THE LAST MOMENT OF SET-UP SETS IT UP PERFECTLY, AS HE SHUFFLES AWAY WITH ALL HIS MONEY GRUMBLING TO A RELUCTANT CHEWY “I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING.” THE FILM THEN SPENDS THE EXACT RIGHT AMOUNT OF TIME AWAY FROM HIM SO YOU COMPLETELY FORGET, UNTIL THE VERY SECOND HE STREAMS IN, STARLIGHT-BEHIND-FALCON, AND SAVES LUKE. IT’S A BEAUTIFUL, GORGEOUS MOMENT BUT IT WORKS BECAUSE OF ALL THE GREAT CHARACTER SET-UP!… GOSH… HULK KEEPS WRITING ABOUT STAR WARS AND KINDA FALLING IN LOVE WITH IT AGAIN… THIS AFTER SWEARING IT OFF… OH WELL, THAT’S WHAT HAPPENS WITH GOOD THINGS.
#7 – “THE RETURN” APPARENTLY JUST MEANS THE CHARACTERS SHOULD JUST COME HOME AT THE END
PERHAPS WE CAN MAYBE BLAME THE ODYSSEY FOR THIS ONE, BUT THERE IS DEFINITE LACK OF UNDERSTANDING FOR WHAT “THE RETURN” ACTUALLY MEANS AND IT IS RESPONSIBLE FOR DOZENS OF HYPER-POINTLESS ENDINGS. WRITERS GET IT STUCK IN THEIR HEAD THAT WE SOMEHOW HAVE TO RETURN HOME AND THIS MAGICALLY BRINGS THINGS FULL CIRCLE… YEAH… “THE RETURN” MEANS A THEMATIC RETURN. NOT A LITERAL ONE. YET WE SEE MOVIES THAT RETURN THE ACTION OF THE HERO TO “HOME” AND THINK THAT INHERENTLY IMPLIES SOME KIND OF MEANING. BUT UNLESS YOU GIVE THE RETURN THEMATIC RESONANCE AND HAVE TRULY CHANGED THE CHARACTER IT MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.
HULK’S PERSONAL FAVORITE FOR THE NONSENSICAL, “LITERAL RETURN” OCCURS IN THE OPPOSITE OF THE ORIGINAL STAR WARS TRILOGY… ALSO KNOW AS THE PREQUELS. THOSE MOVIES ARE ALL TERRIBLE FOR HUNDREDS OF REASONS, BUT IN THIS SPECIFIC CASE THE RETURN TO NABOO IN THE PHANTOM MENACE IS DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE. THAT IS BECAUSE, ASIDE FROM PICKING UP A LITTLE ANAKIN SKYWALKER, THEIR JOURNEY TO CORUSANT YIELDS ABSOLUTELY ZERO RESULTS THAT AFFECT THE PLOT, SITUATION, OR CHARACTER. SERIOUSLY. THEY RETURN BECAUSE THEY HAVE NOTHING LEFT TO FAIL AT AND ABSOLUTELY NOTHING IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THEIR SITUATION WITH THE TRADE FEDERATION, OR THEIR PERSONAL SITUATIONS OR CHARACTER GROWTH. EVEN WHEN PADME SHOWED UP IN THE SENATE AND BEGS HER CAUSE, THE SENATE BASICALLY LIKE “WHAT? NO! OF COURSE NOT. YOU CAME ALL THIS WAY FOR THAT? WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?” SO THEY JUST GO HOME TO REALLY START DEALING WITH THE ISSUE. AGAIN. DOWNRIGHT BIZARRE.(6)
BUT THE SADDEST PART IS WE SEE THE EMPTY “LITERAL RETURN” ALL THE TIME. AT THIS POINT HULK URGE YOU TO NOT EVEN BOTHER. IT DOESN’T FIT WITH MOST STORIES ANYWAY, EVEN FOR SOME BIG EPICS. NOT TO GET TO LITERAL, BUT IT MAKES WAY MORE SENSE IN CLASSIC MYTH OR AN INTERGALACTIC COMMUNITY OR SOMETHING, WHERE GOING ON ANY KIND OF JOURNEY IS SOME GIANT UNDERTAKING. WE NOW LIVE IN A TRANSIENT, NOMADIC, AND WHOLLY INTERCONNECTED SOCIETY SO HULK ARGUES THE THEMES AREN’T AS RESONANT. WE ARE INTERCONNECTED ALL THE TIME. SO THE THEMATIC POINT OF THE RETURN, TO HAVE A CHARACTER “STUCK TWO WORLDS,” IS ACTUALLY OUR MODERN CONSTANT, SO GO WITH THAT.
WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR ENDING JUST HAMMER HOME YOUR DAMN THEMES, IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE THEY ACTUALLY ARE LOCATED. AND AS FAR AS YOUR PLOTTING GOES YOU DON’T NEED TO HAVE IT COME TOGETHER IN SOME UNIFIED MOMENT OF BIZARRE AMALGAMATION (THOUGH IF YOU CAN DO THAT WELL ENOUGH, IT PUTS YOU UP THERE WITH THE GENIUSES. DR. WHO IS A SHOW THAT DOES THIS QUITE WELL, BUT REMEMBER, PULLING IT OFF IS A HIGHWIRE ACT. SO TREAD CAREFULLY). JUST BE SURE ALL YOUR CHARACTERS/BEATS HAVE PLAYED A FULL PART IN THE STORY BY THE TIME OF THE ENDING BE SURE THAT THINGS YOU’VE INTRODUCED HAVE NOT BEEN DROPPED OFF THE FACE OF THE EARTH. ECONOMY AND FOCUS FOLKS. THE RETURN IS A THEMATIC ONE.
PERHAPS A BETTER TITLE FOR THIS ARTICLE WOULD HAVE BEEN “A BETTER WAY OF APPROACHING THE HERO’S JOURNEY” BUT SOMETIMES IT’S BETTER TO JUST DIVE IN AND START SMASHING SHIT. WE HAVE TO LOOSEN UP THE WAY WE DEAL WITH THESE STRUCTURAL MATTERS BECAUSE THIS WEIRD SENSE OF FORMALISM IS CRIPPLING OUR ABILITY TO FOCUS ON MORE PRODUCTIVE FORMS OF STORYTELLING.
WARNING: THIS DOES NOT GIVE US CARTE BLANCHE TO DEVOLVE OUR MOVIES INTO A STORY-LESS, BAY-ESQUE MALAISE OF ACTION, (7) BUT WE HAVE TO REMEMBER THESE ARE INTRODUCTORY FORMS OF STRUCTURE DESIGNED TO HELP US UNDERSTAND THE THEMES AT PLAY. THEY ARE NOT “THE RULES.” SO DON’T BE SO DAMN RIGID WITH THEM OR THINK THEY DO ALL THE WORK FOR YOU. EMBRACE A CHANGE TO THE MODEL WHEN IT SUITS YOUR CHARACTER IN THE STORY. REMEMBER, THERE’S NO “REFUSING THE CALL” IN INDIANA JONES AND HE’S STILL A DAMN HERO. HE’S SIMPLY LIKE “THE ARK OF THE CONVENANT? FUCK YEAH, I’M IN.” AND EVERYONE WAS TOTALLY COOL WITH THAT.
BEYOND THAT, IT IS IMPORTANT AS A CULTURE TO CONSTANTLY EVALUATE OUR TRIED AND TRUE SYSTEMS. THIS IS NOT AN INVITATION TO DISAPPEAR UP OUR OWN ASSHOLE WITH REFLEXIVE ACADEMIC TALK, BUT WE HAVE TO BE MORE PERCEPTIVE TO WHAT ACTUALLY HELPS US DO THINGS. AND THE POPULARIZATION OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY IS SIGNIFICANT TO OUR CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING, BUT NOW OUR OVER-RELIANCE ON IT FOR PRAGMATIC STORYTELLING HAS REACHED A KIND OF CRITICAL MASS.
WE ARE SIMPLY TELLING STORIES WRONG.
“SO HULK, WHAT DO WE TURN TO INSTEAD?”
HULK ARGUE YOU ALREADY KNOW EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE HERO BUSINESS AND THE BASICS ARE INGRAINED. SO HULK GOING TO ASK YOU TO APPROACH YOUR STORY STRUCTURE IN A MUCH SIMPLER, BUT FAR MORE HELPFUL WAY; ONE THAT WILL GET YOU TO WRITE SMARTER, MORE ECONOMICAL STORIES WHILE STILL CATERING TO YOUR PERSONAL IDEAS AND NOT STALE BULLSHIT.
LET’S TURN TO THE SOUTH PARK GUYS. CLICK ON THIS FUCKING LINK, IT’S JUST 2 MINUTES LONG AND IT’S INVALUABLE. CLICK ON IT:
HULK THANKS A FRIEND FOR SENDING HULK THIS VIDEO, BECAUSE TREY PARKER AND MATT STONE JUST DID MORE FOR ANY SINGLE STORY YOU WANT TO TELL THAN ANYTHING THE HERO’S JOURNEY WILL EVER DO.
THAT IS BECAUSE THE HERO’S JOURNEY TELLS YOU THE BEATS IN A GENERAL ORDER BUT IT GIVES YOU NO IDEA HOW TO LINK THEM. IF YOU USE THE HERO JOURNEY THEN THE VAST MAJORITY OF YOUR STORY IS CONSTRUCTED WITH AN “AND THEN”!!!! BECAUSE OF THIS, OUR HERO STORIES HAVE BECOME SEGMENTED NONSENSE. PEOPLE HITTING OBVIOUS AND REPEATED BEATS WITH NO FLOW.
LINKING THINGS TOGETHER IS THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT FACTOR IN CRAFTING A WELL-TOLD STORY. THIS IS WHAT HULK MEANS BY “FLOW” STRUCTURE. IT’S LIKE CLIMBING STAIRS: EACH SCENE SHOULD LEAD TO NEXT AND SO ON IN A WAY THAT ADVANCES THE PLOT, CHARACTER, OR THEME. EVERY PLACE SHOULD MAKE SENSE.
SO IF YOU ALREADY “GET” HEROES AND COME UP WITH YOUR OWN BEATS AND IDEAS (THAT’S THE EASY PART ODDLY ENOUGH), THE THING YOU HAVE TO TO THEN LEARN IS HOW TO LINK THE STORY COHESIVELY.
DO EXACTLY AS THEY SAY: LINE UP EVERY SINGLE BEAT IN YOUR STORY. THEN REWORK THE BEATS IF THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN LINK THEM IS WITH THE PHRASE “AND THEN.” IT SHOULD ALWAYS BE “THEREFORE” OR “BUT.”
DOING THIS CREATES A SINGLE STORY; TIGHT, ECONOMICAL WRITING THAT IS GOOD FOR YOUR IDEAS, RATHER THAN AUGMENTING YOUR STORY TO FIT SOMETHING THAT IS THE EQUIVALENT OF TWO-THOUSAND-YEAR-OLD CLIFF NOTES ANALYSIS, WHICH AGAIN, WAS REALLY SOMETHING THAT WAS MADE TO INVESTIGATE WHY WE CREATED MYTH AND NOT FOR HOW-TO INSTRUCTION. IF YOU ARE TAKING WHATEVER IDEAS YOU HAVE AND JUST PLUGGING THEM INTO THE HERO’S JOURNEY THEN YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
WOW… THIS ARTICLE CAME OUT SARCASTIC AS FUCK, BUT THAT’S OKAY.
SOME THINGS CALL FOR IT.
OUR RITUAL BUTCHERING OF THE ACADEMIC WORK OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL IS ONE OF THEM.
(1) AND DEPENDING ON THE TRANSLATION, GILGAMESH IS KINDA PRETTY TOO… IN CASE IT’S NOT OBVIOUS HULK LOVES GILGAMESH. YOU SHOULD READ IT. SERIOUSLY, IT’S ONLY 128 PAGES… OR IN HULK-TERMS, HALF AN ARTICLE.
(2) GASP! A MONO-PROBLEM! THINGS JUST GOT REFLEXIVE UP IN THIS BITCH.
(3) THIS IS ALSO NOT TO IMPLY THE BIOWARE GAMES DON’T DO SOME THINGS WELL. THEY ACTUALLY DO A BUNCH OF THINGS WELL. BUT FOR VIDEO GAMES IN GENERAL, THE QUALITY OF THE GAME PLAY DIRECTLY EFFECTS THE DEGREE TO WHICH WE ARE WILLING TO ACCEPT SHIT STORY AND CHARACTERIZATION. THE GOOD NEWS IS THAT HULK REALLY BELIEVES THAT THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS. MORE AND MORE ARTICULATE AND INTELLIGENT PEOPLE ARE COMING INTO THE FOLD WHO 1) GREW UP ON STORY-BASED GAMING AND THEREFORE RESPECT THE FORM AND 2) MORE AND MORE WRITERS/FILMMAKERS ARE RECOGNIZING THE UNIQUE STORYTELLING OPPORTUNITIES THAT GAMING AFFORDS (BECAUSE IT IS EXPERIENCED INSTEAD OF WATCHED). WE’VE ALREADY STARTED TO EXPERIMENT (BIOSHOCK, ROCK STAR’S OUTPUT, ETC) AND WHILE WE’RE NOT THERE YET, THINGS ARE LOOKING UP.
… THEN AGAIN, BADASSDIGEST READER “THEMACNAUGHTON” POINTED HULK IN THE DIRECTION OF THIS:
… OKAY, ABANDON ALL HOPE.
(4) THIS DOES NOT INCLUDE FILMS THAT DIRECTLY USE THESE TOUCHSTONES TO INVERT THE MEANINGS FOR COMEDY PURPOSES AND YET STILL INFORM THEIR OWN STORIES. THINK OF EMPEROR ZERG’S “I AM YOUR FATHER” MOMENT FROM TOY STORY 2 OR THE POINT BREAK SCREAM AND FIRE IN THE AIR REFERENCES IN HOT FUZZ. THERE ARE WAYS TO DO EVERYTHING, BUT GUILE AND INTENTIONS ARE KEY.
(5) WHICH FEEDS BACK INTO ENTOURAGE. THE SHOW FAILED FOR MANY REASONS BUT CHIEFLY BECAUSE THERE WERE NEVER ANY REAL SET-UP TO THESE MOMENTS OF RELIEF BECAUSE THERE WERE NEVER ANY REAL STAKES. TRY AS THEY DID, THERE WAS ALWAYS AN AIR OF INVINCIBILITY. PARTIALLY BECAUSE THE MAIN CHARACTER ROUTINELY REMINDED EVERYONE THAT HE DIDN’T CARE IF HIS WHOLE WORLD DISAPPEARED, SO QUESTION ENTOURAGE WRITERS, WHY THE FUCK SHOULD WE? SERIOUSLY, THE SHOW’S GREATEST MOMENT DANGER, HULK SHIT YOU NOT, WAS THE THREAT OF DRAMA AND TURTLE’S WIENERS ACCIDENTALLY TOUCHING DURING A THREESOME…. WHICH IF YOU ASK HULK, WAS WHAT BOTH CHARACTER SECRETLY WANTED ALL ALONG*
*IN SOME BIZARRE UNIVERSE THAT EPISODE ENDS WITH THEIR WIENERS TOTALLY TOUCHING, THUS IGNITING THE BEGINNING OF A SERIES-ALTERING PLOTLINE WHERE THEY FALL IN LOVE, MOVE TO WE-HO AND ADOPT CHINESE BABIES. HONESTLY, HULK WOULD RATHER LIVE IN THAT UNIVERSE BECAUSE OUR UNIVERSE IS ONE WHERE PEOPLE THINK THAT SHOW IS GOOD**
** BY THE WAY, THE SHOW IS ALSO THE MOST SEXIST PIECE OF SHIT ON THE PLANET. JANE LYNCH WILL FOREVER HAVE HULK’S RESPECT FOR PULLING OFF HER WAY-MORE-STINGING-THAN-YOU-THINK “WHY I’M A LESBIAN” JOKE IN FRONT OF MILLIONS (NOTE: THE CAST ACTUALLY THOUGHT SHE MEANT THAT AS SAYING THEY WEREN’T THAT ATTRACTIVE. SHE MEANT THEY WERE HORRIBLE, SEXIST HUMAN BEINGS. WHICH IS PERFECT).
(6) OKAY NOT GO ALL FAN-FIC ON YOUR ASS BUT THEY COMPLETELY MISSED THE BOAT ON STRUCTURING THAT MOVIE IN THE BEST POSSIBLE WAY. ONE SMALL CHANGE COULD HAVE AFFECTED SO MUCH: PADME SHOULD HAVE STAYED ON NABOO AND DEALT WITH THE FACT HER PLANET WAS UNDER FUCKING ATTACK. QUI GON SHOULD HAVE LEFT OBI-WAN THERE TO PROTECT HER AND THEY COULD HAVE DEVELOPED A FRIENDSHIP AND SHE COULD HAVE HAD A SCHOOLGIRL CRUSH. MEANWHILE, QUI-GON WOULD HAVE BEEN THE ONLY ONE TO GO BACK TO THE SENATE AND GET STRANDED ALONG THE WAY ON TATOOINE. HE FINDS A NEW, BETTER PADAWAN IN YOUNG ANAKIN AND THEIR STUPID MISSION TO CORUSANT COULD HAVE STILL FAILED. BUT HERE’S THE REAL KEY, WHEN THEY RETURNED ALL THE TENSION AND GOT ON WITH THE REST OF THE STORY (INCLUDING THE TWO OTHER MOVIES) IT WOULD HAVE ACTUALLY COME TOGETHER IN A WAY THAT MADE SENSE. ANAKIN ENTERS AS THE DARK STRANGER WHO LOVES PADME, THE OBI-WAN CRUSH EVAPORATES, OBI WAN IS PISSED THERE’S A NEW PADAWAN AND EVERYONE WOULD HAVE REAL MOTIVATIONS. BUT INSTEAD THEY GOT TO TRAVEL TOGETHER IN A BIG, NOT FUN AND USELESS GROUP! ALSO GET RID OF JAR JAR. ALSO THEY SHOULD HAVE DONE A MILLION OTHER THINGS. WAIT, WHY THE HELL IS HULK EVEN DOING THIS? YOU CAN’T POLISH A TURD. ASSUMING THERE IS ONE PROBLEM THAT FIXES THE PREQUELS IS LIKE SWATTING A MISQUITO AND CALLING THEM EXTINCT.
(7) IN A SMALL AND TOTALLY-INCORRECT WAY YOU HAVE TO ADMIRE HOW MUCH BAY JUST DOESN’T GIVE A SHIT. IF HE WAS INTERESTED IN ART HE COULD MAKE BRILLIANT ANTI-MOVIES. SADLY, HE IS NOT.
119 thoughts on “HULK EXPLAINS WHY WE SHOULD STOP IT WITH THE HERO JOURNEY SHIT”
I think your explanation of the character as conduit through the line “being human with not being human for” sums up my problem with most writing in popular culture.
Comics is a medium based on iconography, using a cartooning style to lead the reader to impart themselves upon the characters almost as a basic function of our cognitive processing. It’s a beautifully organic process.
Yet this basic part of the medium is used as an excuse to write vacuous characters so often it’s ridiculous.
It occurs because some writers use ease of access as an excuse for ease of writing, which has become the industry standard it seems.
A superb article, thanks for the great read.
HULK THANK! AND YOUR POINT ABOUT COMICS IS SPOT ON. IF YOU THINK ABOUT THE ONES WHO REALLY RESONATED, THEY WERE THE ONES WHO HAD THE MOST PERSONALITY: WOLVIE, ETC. AND EVEN THOUGH PETER PARKER IS THE MOST “REGULAR GUY” ARCHETYPE HE IS STILL A BUMBLING, DOOFUS. WHICH WORKS WONDERS!
i know this is an old post, but i can’t help but chime in (by way of agreement)… thinking about how in WATCHMEN, alan moore made his characters so much more than just icon/archetypes, and in doing so he made (in my opinion) something very special, but also something very “difficult” to turn into film. it’s not supposed to be easy, though. which is a point HULK makes so well.
“Refusing the call” – although I think the word “resist” is more appropriate since we all know refusal is out of the question or there’s no movie – is a consistent source of frustration to me. Recently I screened the movie “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, another in what I’m sure will be a long string of movies looking to strike Potter gold. There is a pretty alarming difference between the titular protagonists of both films. The apprentice is an anti-hero, for sure, but not in that cool Kilmer-Madmartigan-Willow bad-ass kind of way. He’s an introvert, for sure, but in that self-deprecating, awkward kind of way that is neither ingratiating or fun to watch. He resists the call right up until the ultimate battle, where wouldn’t you know it he finds the strength to defeat his enemies in a rather unremarkable fashion. There is no feeling of elation b/c clearly this is a kid who didn’t want to be a hero, no matter how much the movie wanted him to be. It was an unnecessary, boring exercise in futility.
Video game writing has always been a sore spot for me as well. The Square Enix line are particularly nonsensical, although I’m sure much of it is lost in translation from the original Japanese. I try not to invest too much in the writing. For me, video game writing serves the concept of the game because it has to. The least interesting video games, to me, are the ones where my fate is pre-determined, which is why I love sandboxes like the Rockstar line of games that more closely emulate the real world while still offering some semblance of a progressing and interlocking storyline. It is important to note that video games are interactive and movies are not. You are writing the story, with your choices. Advances in technology allow the developers to expand the simulated randomness of the real world. The greatest expression of what I think the future of gaming is can be found in the Battlestar Galactica prequel series, Caprica. If you have yet to see it, I highly recommend it.
WELL PUT! HULK NOT SEEN SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, BUT THAT SOUNDS EXACTLY LIKE HORRIBLE-NESS. RESISTING THE CALL TIL THE CLIMAX AS ONLY SOURCE OF DRAMA. HOW INEXORABLY LAME.
AND WHAT’S FUNNY ABOUT THE SQUARE ENIX LINE IS THE STORY TELLING WORKED BETTER BEFORE THEY HAD VOICES AND YOU COULD DRAMATIZE IT (BETTER) IN YOUR HEAD. WHEN YOU HEAR THEIR “STORYTELLING” OUTLOUD IT HAS HULK REACHING FOR THE GUN. HULK ADORES THE FINAL FANTASY SERIES AND HULK SERIOUSLY COULDN’T PLAY THE LAST ONE.
THE BEST VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING HULK HAS ENCOUNTERED (FOR THE ENTIRE GAME DURATION, NOT JUST SINGULAR MOMENTS) WAS RED DEAD REDEMPTION. IT WAS A REALLY GOOD SIGN FOR GAMING. NOW IF ROCKSTAR COULD JUST IMPROVE THE RANGE AND DYNAMIC QUALITIES OF THEIR SHOOTER ACTION WE’D BE IN HEAVEN.
Yea, I have a theory that games with long non-interactive portions were much more acceptable before voice. I’m mainly thinking of RPGs and adventure games, which are often unbearable these days. Part of my reasoning in addition to what you mention is that when you’re forced to read, at least you’re engaged in some way even if that stuff is mediocre. Whereas when you’re sitting there captive listening to poorly acted, poorly written dialogue with a visually uninteresting presentation, it makes you want to smash something.
I disagree about Red Dead though. It’s one of my top 3 games ever, but that’s in spite of the authored narrative, not because of it. The formula of go to A, back to A, back to A, now to B, now to B or C, now to B, C, or D, etc. hasn’t changed since GTA3 (although the final 5% or so of RDR obviously is a somewhat interesting approach), and RDR’s cutscenes were overly long and dull in comparison to GTA3 and Vice City. It is hard to top Robert Loggia yelling at you in a seedy underground bathroom though.
The “random stranger” missions I thought were generally way more interesting than the main storyline.
I’m happy to be corrected but was there any such slavishness to (or even non-academic affinity for) Campbell before Lucas offered it as a point of inspiration when incessently grilled about how Star Wars came to be back in the day? I similarly wonder about the reach of Kurosawa in our culture before it. It was certainly how I was introduced to both.
You covered this ground above but Lucas is a smart guy and like most smart people is interested in and probably reasonably well read on any number of topics, including anthropology. The idea that Campbell was some kind of (or the only) just-add-water pancake mix for his movies is revealing about how much it is actually read/comprehended and how little little else the people regurgitating it have read or experienced. This is a key distinction between Lucas and all the MBAs and writers seeking to emulate his creation and clutching Campbell like a workplace manual.
It’s natural to gravitate toward things that work and to seek to learn from them but as you say too often the wrong lessons are learned. I’m reminded of the famous “Indianapolis” speech from Jaws. It is an evocative passage and it colors the characters, their situation and the story artfully, but it is a BEAT that serves its movie, not the beginning or endpoint of anything else. The same thing is true of Campbell as per Star Wars. Any time I see discussion about that “Indianapolis” movie being made it makes me crazy for this reason. Inspiration-wise you could write a script from most any evening newscast expending the same creative effort and the :30 segment you based it on would still be more compelling in total.
Matt and Trey’s bit was absolutely brilliant. Therefore and but instead of and then is more instructive than Campbell by a long shot and I bet Lucas would agree. And since you keep going back to Indy (and why shouldn’t you), people should know how much time and effort was put into that character before scripting began. The transcript of the Raiders story conference between Lucas, Spielberg and Kasdan is fascinating in that regard. I’m pretty sure it’s easily searched online for those that haven’t encountered it.
Also appreciated the inclusion of gaming and especially Mass Effect, which I LOVE but is overpraised wildly by myopic gamers. The story is derivative but the characters and production and art design (and score) are top notch. Too many gamers transpose the greatness of those elements on to the actual story and wrongly talk it up like the Hemingway of gaming. I have great admiration for Bioware but gaming has a long long way to go still and it would nice for them to shrug off storytelling constraints that apply even less to their medium than they do to movies.
One other thing – would it be possible to get links in columns to open in new windows or tabs? Thanks Hulk.
STAR WARS DEFINITELY POPULARIZED CAMPBELL (THAT WHY HULK REFERENCE IT SO MUCH IN ARTICLE) AND KUROSAWA FOR SURE.
YEAH THE BIG PROBLEM WITH CAMPBELL IS THAT WHEN YOU FIRST READ IT, IT REALLY TRULY RESONATES. YOU’RE YOUNG AND ALL THESE STORIES YOU LOVE SUDDENLY MAKE SENSE IN A NEW WAY. HULK LOVED FINDING OUT ALL ABOUT IT AS FRESHMAN IN HULK SCHOOL. BUT THE KEY IS JUST GETTING BEYOND THAT BECAUSE IT BARELY SCRATCHES THE SURFACE. THERE IS SO MUCH MORE TO STORYTELLING.
RIGHT ON ABOUT JAWS.
THE BEST PART OF MATT/TREY THING IS IT EVEN IF IT’S OVERLY SIMPLE, IT’S A GREAT STARTING POINT BECAUSE IT DIRECTLY ADDRESSES OUR BIGGEST STRUCTURAL PROBLEM RIGHT NOW: LOGIC + FLOW.
MASS EFFECT 2 WAS DEFINITELY AN IMPROVEMENT, BUT HULK THINKS THE BEST DONE LONG-FORM “STORY” SO FAR IN GAMING WAS RED DEAD REDEMPTION. NOT PERFECT BUT DEFINITELY A HUGE STEP FORWARD. THE WAY HULK MOSTLY GETS AROUND THE BAD VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING IS BY BECOMING AN “ATMOSPHERE” JUNKY. HULK’S FAVORITE GAMES ALL HAVE GREAT ATMOSPHERE WHICH TURNS THE STORY INTO A BIG, OPEN WORLD CINEMA VERITE EXPERIENCE. STUFF LIKE BIOSHOCK, THE BETHESDA GAMES, AND ROCKSTAR. THERE’S VARYING RESULTS THEREIN, BUT THAT’S WHAT HULK LIKES. ALL THE BIOWARE STUFF JUST ISN’T “REAL” ENOUGH FOR HULK TO GO THE VERITE ROUTE, SO HULK GETS HUNG UP ON SOME OF THE STORY STUFF. THAT MAKE SENSE?
THE LINKS DON’T? DOES HULK CONTROL THAT? HULK USED TO UNDERSTAND/MASTER TECH LIKE AS LITTLE AS 5 YEARS AGO… WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?
If you enjoy Atmosphere in games you should check out the Oddworld games. It can suck you right in with it’s weird and interesting designs.
Very interesting article, and it made me think of this article in the latest Wired: http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/09/mf_harmon/ , given your obvious love of Community (and by extension, Dan Harmon), I’d like to get your take on the fact that Harmon, according to the article, uses a Hero’s-Journey-esqe template to craft his show.
HULK READ THAT LAST WEEK! DISAGREE WITH THE ASSESSMENT THOUGH. HULK ARGUE HARMON’S CIRCLE NOT NECESSARILY “HERO JOURNEY” LIKE. HULK ARGUE IT ACTUALLY A GREAT MODEL FOR THE SOUTH PARK GUYS’ “THEREFORE” AND “BUT” CONCEPT, NOTICE THE WAY IT PLAYS WITH DIRECT CAUSE + EFFECT AND FLOW!
THE HERO’S JOURNEY MEANWHILE IS MORE CONCERNED WITH SPECIFICS AND THEME, NOT THE CHARACTER INTERATIONS / DYNAMICS (WHICH FUEL DRAMA).
THAT MAKE SENSE? HULK THANK FOR COMMENT!
Much obliged, Hulk. The critic side of me wants to codify everything I do creatively; but if I want to exercise true creativity, I have to escape notions of what I should do and disappear into what I must do, as dictated by passion.
Man, Bioware. I love most of their games, but after playing Knights of The Old Republic and Mass Effect I got to the bit in Dragon Age where someone explains what the Gray Wardens are and suddenly realised I had played the same story three times. In particular it’s astonishing just how much the plot of Mass Effect is a recycled version of the story from the first Knights of The Old Republic game (what’s that you say? A piece of technology built by an ancient civilization capable of wiping out the galaxy? Do go on!)
On the other hand though, I have to give them credit for usually avoiding the “refusal of the call” thing. In Mass Effect there’s even quite a big emphasis on Shepherd insisting on going on his journey even when other people don’t want him to.
In fact I think the whole idea of the Call To Adventure needs to go away. If you give me a character who isn’t the chosen one or the son of the legendary hero or whatever, but instead looks at the situation and decides to try and fix it of their own free will just because it’s the right thing to do, I have an immediate reason to like that character.
Plus that creates some real tension over whether they’ll succeed- if the wise old mentor tells us the hero can defeat the Dark One we know he will, whereas in the above described scenario we only have the hero’s own assessment of his abilities to go on. He could turn out to be tragically mistaken.
That turned out longer than I thought. I’m looking forward to that post on women in movies.
Another double fisted SMASH of an article. I would like to wave a (teeny tiny) flag here for the oft maligned screen writing skills of M. Night Shyamalan and say that his interpretation of the (Super) Hero (origin) story is the best of the pack. It flirts dangerously with the meta by including the absurdly flamboyant character of Samual L Jackon’s ‘Mr Glass’ who pops up every so often to intone literal pointers from Campbell – framed as comic book lore; which of course it is as well – but everything is so well grafted to Bruce Willis’ established and demonstrated character that it gets away with it with flying colours.
Fully agree with the view that because Campbell’s little schematic can be applied to every hero journey is to miss the point that it shouldn’t be the foundation of a hero journey. The homogenous narrative tone of today’s blockbuster film making is truly thanks to the ‘tick all the boxes’ literal interpretation school of screenwriting. An analogy I’m fond of is what has happened to car design in the last 30 years. A better understanding of aerodynamics, a desire for greater fuel consumption efficiency and ever increasing safety standards means we’ll never again be offered something as aesthetically pleasing or as MOTHERFUCKING cool as the Corvette Stingray or the ’69 Dodge Charger or Cadillac Eldorado.
Sure all the boxes the average consumer is looking for in a new car are ticked but where’s the fucking flair?
A superb book which I recommend to everyone (I suspect Hulk will already have it tucked away in his stretchy purple pants but if not I’m excited to introduce it to him) was written by Alexander McKendrick; http://www.amazon.com/Film-making-Introduction-Craft-Director/dp/0571215610/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0
The best bits are his musings on characterisation and story structure – all the ‘hero’s journey’ type stuff.
A final aside which I would argue just goes to show that a film doesn’t have to be predictable or dull and still conform to all the Campbell stuff is one of my personal all time favourites; http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0065724/combined
Anyone who doesn’t think that film is amazing can jump off a cliff btw. I’ll entertain people questioning whether it’s a ‘hero’s journey’ or that it’s bleak ending would appear to be the antithesis of a ‘return’ but I’d maintain that it ‘ticks all the boxes’ but not in any fashion common to today’s action blockbuster-y type films. The difference being that it is entirely built around complex and believable characters and none of your usual ‘this gets us onto the next story telling rung’ archetypes. It also doesn’t have much in the way of super powers, ‘splosions, or gun fights in it either but that shouldn’t really be the point.
AWESOME STUFF HERE (PER USUAL).
MACKENDRICK IS A MUST FOR ANY FILM STUDEN.! GREAT BOOK AND HULK LOVES HOW HE DOES SUCH A GREAT JOB WITH PRAGMATIC EXPLANATIONS.
ALSO FIVE EASY PIECES IS THE PROVERBIAL SHIT. IN A LOT OF WAYS IT FEELS COMPLETELY AHEAD OF IT’S TIME.
Excellent article! Adhering to formulas produces formulaic stories.
Great article, as always. Funnily, I actually watched “Green Lantern” yesterday and when in the film Hal Jordan suddenly and for no apparent reason decided to quit the training, my exact thoughts were: “Did the writers make him do that just so the storyline would fit into the Campbell’s myth model?”. It was cool to see you use the film as an example 🙂
I think you should write a separate article about storytelling in video games because that segment was a non-sequitur in that it had very little to do with the monomyth. Rather it seemed you had some things you wanted to get off your chest and this seemed like a good place.
Anyway, I too have some things I want to get off my chest and this seems like a good place.
First of all, because of their interactive nature video games are inherently different from linear media such as film, TV or literature – this very difference was the crux behind Roger Ebert’s original argument why video games cannot every be art. I won’t touch the subject of art, but I want to stress that creating a video game and a story to support it is very different from creating a story for a linear medium.
Since you went for the throat and went after BioWare I will respond by defending mostly using BioWare examples. In BW games the player can make choices that affect the story. Writers have to account for every player choice and since there is more there one choice the amount of permutations can become staggering. Creating a seamless story that allows for significant alterations to the plot due to player choice is the holy grail of gaming storytelling. BioWare is trying to do that. Their efforts are in that direction. Every man-hour spent on trying to create a more unique story is a man-hour not spent on trying to reach the holy grail.
BioWare’s recycling of character archetypes is also vastly overblown. I saw that list you linked to, and I also saw about 10 others similar. Some overlap, some don’t. If you paint your archetypes in broad enough strokes you can stretch any character to fit. Take for example Mission and Liara. Sure there are some similarities (not the least of which is that they are both blue skinned, alien females), but some important differences. Mission is a street-wise hoodlum raised in the slums; Liara is a bookworm who spent most of her life doing research. Liara has little experience with humans and so comes off as shy or “awkward” but Mission is anything but “awkward” no matter what the author of that list says. In fact I would describe her as cocksure.
“THAT UBER-SPECIFIC CHART THAT DETAILS EXACTLY HOW THEY’RE DOING THE SAME EXACT GAME OVER AND OVER?” is specific about a grand total of eight items, one of which is, “your every effort is thwarted by an evil or sinister organization,” which basically means that there are adversaries to be fought. Gee, I hope so, considering combat is a large portion of the games. And I would argue that some of those similarities are stretched a little bit (the Underdark is nowhere near being equivalent to lost ancient ruins), while other insignificant (being left with two companions). The four locations thing has only one thing in common across the games – the number four. How the stories unfold in each location is different from game to game. The worst use of this is in KotOR where you must travel to four different planets in order to collect four pieces of the Triforc… I mean starmap.
Finally your Hulk smash only smashed a strawman.
“Firstly, it’s ‘easy’ in the SENSE OF QA.” Let me stress that again, in the sense of QA, not storytelling.
“Secondly, ‘players understand it’. Weekes explained that four is a golden number of objectives for an area that may confuse, overwhelm and frustrate once exceeded.” Your rage was directed at things that were not conveyed in the original quote.
I have no comment about the third statement or your response to it, other than what I said earlier.
In conclusion I will admit that storytelling in video games is very shoddy, abysmal even. Even though I defended BioWare, whenever I play their games I think to myself, “If someone made a movie of this mess of a story, Henry Plinckett would tear it a new one.” However I don’t think the reliance on tropes and archetypes and an overall lack of originality is the reason for their badness. Video games are very new, and video games that try to tell a story are even newer. John Carmack (creator of Doom) said not so long ago (I think it was in the late ’90) that, “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important.” Many developers still have that mindset. Let those that want to create story-driven games first become good at it before we start expecting originality.
SIMPLY PUT, THIS IS THE KIND OF POINTED, WELL-REASONED, AND EXCELLENT COMMENT HULK LOVES TO READ. SO HULK THANK KINDLY.
IT IS INDEED TRUE THAT HULK WANTED TO GET THAT OFF CHEST AND VIDEO GAME RANT WENT ON PRETTY LONG AND RAMBLED, BUT HULK FELT IT’S INCLUSION WAS RELEVANT BECAUSE IT SUITED WHAT CAN HAPPEN WHEN ONE BECOMES TOO DEPENDENT ON SINGULAR STORY TELLING MODELS. AND SINCE WEEKES DEFENDED HIS WORK AS CAMPBELLIAN WITH SUCH VIGOR, HULK FELT IT DEFINITELY VALID TO BRING UP. PARTICULARLY BECAUSE THE WORK SEEMED TO BE AS ELEMENTARILY CAMPBELLIAN AS POSSIBLE.
BUT THE TRUTH IS THAT WHAT HULK WAS REALLY CRITICIZING WAS A TONE OF THE BIOWARE STORIES AND NOT NECESSARILY THE CONTENT. AND THAT WAS BECAUSE IT WAS THE TONE OF INDIGNANT SIMPLICITY (ALONG WITH WEEKES STATEMENTS SEEMINGLY BACKING THIS UP).
BUT ADMITTEDLY THERE WAS AN EQUAL TONE PROBLEMS IN HULK’S REACTION. HULK WENT SMASHY AND AS A RESULT HULK’S CRITICISM WITH BROAD, LAZY, AND UN-POINTED. IT IS EXACTLY LIKE THEIR WRITING AND IT IS EXACTLY WHY HULK TRIES NOT TO GET TOO SMASHY, SO YOU ARE CORRECTLY CALLING ON HULK ON THIS. BUT AGAIN, HULK FEELS JUSTIFIED IN THE LACK OF CREDENCE TO THE TARGET.
AND HULK AGREE WITH YOU THAT THE STORYTELLING IS INDEED A WHOLE DIFFERENT ANIMAL FOR VIDEO GAMES. HULK LIKEWISE COMPLIMENTED THE WORK OF BIOWARE IN TERMS OF IT’S INTERACTIVE STORY, BUT THERE WERE EXTREME PROBLEMS IN REGARDS TO ITS BASE.
AND ALL YOUR OTHER COMMENTS ARE CERTAINLY SOUND, SO THERE NO SENSE ARGUING. HULK DISAGREE WITH THE RULE OF FOUR, THAT’S AGAIN, NOT WORTH ARGUING. THE ONLY THING HULK WILL MENTION THAT WHEN IT COMES TO BIOWARE AIMING COMING FROM HITTING THE DEADLINES, THIS IS CERTAINLY RESPONSIBLE, BUT HULK ALWAYS FINDS THE ENVIRONMENT/ QUALITY OF THOSE WORLDS TO STILL BE LACKING. BUT AGAIN, YOU COULD PROBABLY CHALK IT UP TO DRUTHERS.
HULK THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENTS.
I already point nearly all the writers I work with to your demolishing of the three-act structure; now I can point them here too. HULK, I hope you’re getting paid to educate people somehow, because you’re giving us an incredible education here for free, and I am very grateful.
HULK THANK! HULK GLAD TO HELP!
This and your article on the three-act structure have both helped me pin down many of the problems I had with my work from a screenwriting class last year. The screenplay was just for the grade, I never planned to finish it, but it always bothered me that my story beats never lined up with the basic outline we were supposed to follow (by page ten ___ needs to happen, by page twenty ___ needs to happen, etc.) Not that that was the only problem with it, but it was the main one I couldn’t pin down. So thanks.
HULK THANK! ANYTIME!
Hulk, I love your stuff. I wonder if you’ve played an Obsidian games? They have much better more nuanced writing than Biowares games. Planescape Torment and Knights of the Old Republic II in particular are both fantastic. Check them out if you haven’t!
YEAH HULK LIKE BOTH OBSIDIAN’S OUTPUT, AND BETHESDA’S JUST A NOTCH ABOVE THAT. BOTH ARE GOOD THOUGH. HULK BIG FAN OF THE FALLOUT SERIES
say hulk i know this might sound like a stupid question but beside your ranting on bioware do you still like there games?
HULK LIKE EM OKAY. PART OF THE REASON HULK RANT ON THE STORYTELLING MODELS SO MUCH IS THAT WHEN THEN THE STORYTELLING WORKS IT REALLY ELEVATES THE GAMES. TO GIVE A COMPARISON HULK LIKES THE FALLOUT/ELDER SCROLLS SERIES BETTER BECAUSE THEIR STORYTELLING THROUGH ENVIRONMENT WORKS BETTER THAN BIOWARES STORYTELLING BY SPOKEN WORD/READING IF THAT MAKES SENSE.
I haven’t read all the comments here, so maybe this was covered, but the real issue is that people scream “Campbell!” when they really mean “Vogler!” Christopher Vogler took Campbell’s ideas–which are, as you say, NOT meant to be instructional–and transformed them into The Writer’s Journey, which is blatantly meant to be instructional and is really what all of these flat knock-off films are clinging to. (Well, that and Star Wars.) I suppose clinging to Campbell makes a person sound more intelligent than citing a film executive that never got around to doing a whole hell of a lot.
I went through a 12-month writing program at film school, and the hero’s journey was an omnipresent guest professor. Every lesson was filtered through Vogler’s technique, at least up to a point. I argued with one of my teachers one day that if, as the lesson goes, every good story tends to have the monomyth buried inside of it, then I shouldn’t have to worry about the monomyth at all. By that logic, as long as I focused on writing a good story, the hero stuff should just take care of itself. My teacher had two responses:
1.) It pays to know the rules inside and out before you break them.
2.) Mastery of the monomyth is the best way to get traction with the movie studios as a writer.
I’m not sure about the value in #1, but I think #2 is sadly more true than not. I make my living today writing for video games. I once worked on a project for a simple flash game with repeatable quests and content, and a light (but compelling) story was part of the design plan.
In my first story meeting, it took less than 10 minutes for Campbell to come up.
GREAT COMMENT. HULK SUPPOSES THAT HULK WAS TOO CONCERNED WITH BREAKING THE THINKING THAT THE JOURNEY WAS OPTIMAL, THAT HULK DIDNT APPROXIMATE CORRECTLY. THE TRUTH IS THAT THE HERO’S JOURNEY IS SOMETHING THAT SHOULD BE INTERNALIZED AND UNDERSTOOD BY EVERY WRITER, BUT HULK THINKS IT SHOULDN’T EVEN COME UP IF THAT MAKES SENSE? PROBABLY NOT. BUT AGAIN, GREAT COMMENT.
Re,;”… if, as the lesson goes, every good story tends to have the monomyth buried inside of it, then I shouldn’t have to worry about the monomyth at all.”
You are perfectly right on that. I know many very good short stories, novels or films that were written long before Campbell was born.
Still, as Campbell himself postulates, most of the top works of literature have those 12 points embedded in them.
I learned to know him just a few weeks ago (through Vogler) and I immediatelly compared his rules to my best and worst short stories. And wow! The best ones have those poinsts complete or almost complete inside of them, the worst ones miss a lot of them.
To know Campbell is good and it saves time (less rewriting). But it is certainly possible to be a good writer of any other writing author without knowing him or Vogler.
Damn. Looks like Christopher ‘No fun’ has been sneaking a peek at HULK’s script; http://www.slashfilm.com/votd-christopher-nolan-talks-star-wars-these-amazing-shadows/
PERFECT. HULK SO GONNA TWEET THIS SHIT. THANKS!
Has Hulk played any classic adventure games? I grew up on the LucasArts point and clicks, which thrived on wit and character. They reached their peak with Grim Fandango, a poignant journey through the afterlife, in the style of the Mexican Day of the Dead. Unfortunately this was to be a last hurrah, before the company turned towards churning out Star Wars merchandise (1).
Another great entry in the genre is The Longest Journey. The writer, Ragnar Tornquist, clearly influenced by Whedon, uses a strong female protagonist and tackles themes of sacrifice and faith with an adeptness lacking in the vast majority of videogame writing.
(1) Seriously, look at this shit (2). Strangely enough the rot set in around the time of the Phantom Menace:
(2) Admittedly there are some fantastic SW games, but the bulk of the good ones were actually concurrent with the adventure era.
(3) Any chance you could hyperlink your footnotes? There’s always Ctrl-F, but I’m exceptionally lazy.
HULK WORKING ON BLOG UPKEEP AND HAS A RICK JONES TO HELP OUT NOW. CHANGES COMING.
THE OLD LUCASARTS GAMES ARE FANTASTIC. HULK PARTICULARLY LOVED THE OLD SCUMM GAMES AND THE XWING SERIES WAS INCREDIBLE. JUST INCREDIBLE. HULK PLAYED EM ALL!
Grim Fandango was awesome! I’m sad we’re never getting a sequel.
3) I wrote a userscript (which you can install in Firefox or Chrome), which turns the footnotes into links back and forth, you can check it out here: http://userscripts.org/scripts/show/115454 as a stopgap until Hulk is done smashing out the new website.
At least Tim Schafer is continuing to rock at Double Fine. Psychonauts is one of the greats, although Brutal Legend didn’t quite click for me.
Sweet, thanks for the script. Works in Opera too.
Sup, just found your articles through the Batman outbreak, you’re a damn smart guy with a lot of good points to make that a lot more people should be making.
I’m not a very good writer, but I am an actor so knowing this stuff isn’t a complete waste on me, and I’m always hungry for more.
Oh, right, and the video you linked, labled “Matt Stone and Trey Parker Crash an NYU Writing Class,” is blocked from Canada or something, just thought you should know!
See Kal Bashir’s http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html for hero’s journey – free pdf file and videos on the site. You can slag it, but I think it’s brilliant!
HULK THINK IT BRILLIANT + FASCINATING TOO, BUT NOT AS A DEVICE FOR MAKING YOU A BETTER WRITER. SO MANY NOVICE WRITERS USE IT AS THEIR BIBLE AND IT’S A TERRIBLE BIBLE FOR NOVICE WRITER BECAUSE IT LEADS TO SO MUCH CONVENTIONALITY. IF ONE IS A NOVICE WRITER THAN BECOMING A BETTER A TO B TO C STORYTELLER IS THE PRIME DIRECTIVE. AND TO DO THAT HULK PREFER HULK’S MODEL THAT THE SOUTH PARK GUYS SAID.
AGAIN, HULK THINK THERE SOME ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT STUFF IN THERE TOO. BUT WHEN USED AS A TOOL? SLIGHTLY MORE COMPLICATED.
HULK THANK FOR THE GREAT LINK!
You wouldn’t happen to know where one could find a non-region-locked version of the Trey Stone/Matt Parker video, would you?
Not available to Canadians 😦
HMMM NOT SURE. HULK HAD TOUGH TIME EVEN FINDING THAT ONE. HULK WOULD GUESS ANYTHING WITH “TREY PARKER MATT STONE NYU CLASS” OR SUMPTHIN.
Are there any video game stories that you like? And not just in the sense that they’re “good for a video game”?
Excellent piece. Interestingly, despite having milked the Campbellian cow for years, BioWare actually has broken from the structure– quite recently, with Dragon Age 2… which, unfortunately, it seems like a lot of the fans hated. I sort of wrote a blog post about it here, actually:
YEAH, HULK WOULD MASS EFFECT 2 WAS A BETTER BREAKING OF THE MOLD. IT WAS KINDA “THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT!” BUT AT LEAST FELT A LOT TIGHTER AND LESS ON THE NOSE.
THE PROBLEM WITH DRAGON AGE 2 WAS HULK THINK THEY HAD THE RIGHT INCLINATIONS, BUT JUST DIDN’T KNOW HOW TO REALLY PULL OFF THE CHANGE UP. EVEN IF THE CHANGE UP HAD THE RIGHT SENSIBILITY. IF THAT MAKES SENSE?
Certainly. A few months on from writing the post that I linked to, I realized that the endgame seems to rob you of agency in some ways that are deeply frustrating.
On the other hand, I think that the game might be the first big Western RPG to unshackle itself from the whole “central quest” narrative and focus on character instead. Not even Planescape Torment did that. Hawke’s rise to fame and its tragic consequences were far more compelling to me than any quest to stop a world-shattering threat. For that, and for the courage it took to take that step, I’m willing to forgive a lot.
“this speaks directly to what hulk believes is the great fundamental error of academia. what people don’t seem to realize is that when you academically try to boil narrative elements down to their most basic elements, you are therefore boiling down storytelling to their most basic elements! ”
This is gorgeous, precise, and devastating. Nicely put.
Your bit on “and then” reminds me of Scott Smith’s _The Ruins_ (read the book, skip the movie). Two of the characters early on are playing a story game, in which one of them says “So [character tries to do this]…” and the other says “But [this complicates it]” and the first says “So [character does THIS]…” etc. Which I’m currently trying out as a plotting technique. So far it seems to work really nicely (in idea generation, haven’t tried writing the scenes that resulted yet) if you keep disciplined with concrete character goals.
In any event. Just rambling. Thought-provoking stuff, thanks for it.
HULK THANK! REALLY. THAT NICE TO SAY. AND AGAIN, BOILING THINGS DOWN HAS A REAL VALUE WHEN IT COMES TO EVALUATION AND TALKING ABOUT COMMON BONDS OF LITERATURE. BUT IT REVERSE ENGINEERING FROM THOSE SIMPLE GROUPINGS DOESN’T HELP AT ALL. MORE TO THE POINT, THAT’S NOT HOW CAMPBELL WANTED IT TO BE USED AT ALL. LUCAS FAMOUSLY CITED IT FOR STAR WARS, BUT ALL THE THINGS THAT MAKE STAR WARS FUN HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH IT. IT’S ALL CHARACTERIZATION, AND PACE, AND PLOTTING, AND NEAT STUFF.
AND AGAIN AGAIN, THE BIGGER PROBLEM IS PEOPLE USE IT FOR A CRUTCH.
Jon, the quote you pull from The Ruins reminds me of some of Edward De Bono’s theories; not directly related to story telling notions but still interesting approaches that can be applied to narrative structure. Unfortunately I can’t remember which book of his lays it out, so a bit useless of me mentioning it, but his example states that in a race between two points ‘A’ or ‘B’ will win depending on who is faster but the outcome can be changed if the slower party introduces ‘C’ – a distraction or destination more appealing to the faster party. Etc, etc. all his stuff is a series of variations on his patented ‘lateral thinking’ and often quite facile but… well… I dunno… I guess the point is that ‘obstacles’ can take many forms and don’t have to be a literal barrier; as is invariably the way in generic ‘hero’s journey’ stuff.
Hulk, thank you for that link to the Parker/Stone video. That is the shortest, pithiest, and most valuable writing advice I have heard in a long time.
A few things. First of all, I love this rant. It’s brilliant. Even though I kind of disagree with your 3 act structure rant, this one is spot on.
When used correctly the refusal to call is great because it makes the decision to go into act 2(wherever you place that in your 5 act structure) even more powerful. Indiana Jones does have a refusal to call in both the 1st and 3rd movies. (I don’t even remember half of Temple of Doom). In the first movie he laughs at the idea they could find the ark (I’ve heard these bedtime stories before) or something. Thus when he’s convinced, we as an audience are also convinced. In the 3rd movie he’s like fuck no I don’t care about that damn cup, until they tell him his father is missing. Now he has to go.
One of my favorite refusal/acceptance of the call to action is in Gladiator. Marcus Aurelius is all like YOU MUST BE EMPEROR, Maximus is all NO, I WANT TO BE A FARMER WITH MY FAMILY. Totally refuses the call. Now a lot of people are like “but he doesn’t accept the call until way later in the movie when he tells proximo he’ll give the crowd a show they’ve never seen before!!!!” WRONG. He accepts the call for like 2 seconds when he’s in his tent after his Marcus meeting. He says to his dear friend Cicero “I don’t think we’re going to get to go home”(or something like that) immediately after those words Maximus gets arrested. They gave us the normal refusal and then acceptance of the call to action in the first act, but then totally flipped us into craziness by changing the story and arresting him. So he technically still accepted the call, even though the story throws us into Act 2(3 act structure) against the main characters will. Then they justify that moment by giving us a 2nd refusal and acceptance to the call, which this time is to fight in the gladiatorial games. (Which he totally refuses at first, and then accepts.) Brilliant! (P.S. He also returns home at the end by dying and going to the afterlife with his family (the field)).
The BioWare part is a spot on. Their habit of reusing story structure with a slightly changed setting is the main thing that simply turned me disinterested for every future game they might make. A shame to see gaming greatness smothered by corporate cakewalk of laziness and overused safe approach to game design.
AND HULK WORRY THAT THE FAILURE OF DRAGON AGE 2 WILL ONLY MAKE THEM REVERT BACK TO IT. DA2 TRIED TO DRAMATICALLY ALTER THEIR STRUCTURE, BUT THE PROBLEM ISN’T THAT THEY TRIED TO DEVIATE, AS IT WAS THE RIGHT INSTINCT, BUT THAT THEY MADE A NUMBER OF CRIPPLING BAD CHOICES IN THAT DEVIATION. WHEN HULK THINK ABOUT IT THERE SO MANY GREAT PLACES THEY COULD GO WITH THEIR STORY TELLING, BUT THEY ALWAYS PLAY IT JUST A LITTLE TO SAFE.
I don’t think DA2 tried to dramatically change their lazy storytelling habits. I think the issue there was the extremely short production cycle that forced the studio to use retroactive continuity as a way of alleviating the lack of pretty much every other game content. There simply was not enough time to build the world, let alone have more than a couple of locations to explore. Retcon in DA2 was a necessity born of haste, not instinct, I’m afraid.
I would like to offer a counter example of where “refusal of the call” does work — Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. Covenant refuses to take up the mantle of hero for the entire trilogy.
Have you read China Miéville’s “Un Lun Dun”? The destined “hero of the prophecy” motif is turned on its head. I think you might enjoy it.
NO BUT IT SOUND FASCINATING. HULK WILL CHECK OUT!
It’s not paint-by-numbers storytelling – go see http://www.clickok.co.uk/index4.html
IT IS BECAUSE PEOPLE USE IT FOR STORY STRUCTURE NOT THEMATIC RESONANCE (WHICH IT’S BEST AT). THERE’S ABSOLUTELY NOTHING INVOLVED THE HEROES JOURNEY (THAT POST INCLUDED) THAT INVOKES THE PRINCIPALS OF DRAMA. AND THE PROBLEM IS THAT EVERYONE IS ASSUMING IT DOES THE DRAMATIC HEAVY LIFTING.
GRAGH! The Matt Stone and Trey Parker video is regionally locked and not available in Australia. I could not find an alternate version I could view. After reading the whole article and having it say how awesome the points they make is, that’s very frustrating! (Wow, that sentance structure was terrible! But I am going to leave it there just so you can share how frustrated I am – GRAGH!)
Apart from that this is a great article! I am going to recommend it to a bunch of folks!
HULK SINCERELY THANK! A FEW FOLKS IN COMMENTS HAVE FOUND A FEW OTHER REGIONS FOR IT BUT HULK CAN’T!
BUT HULK THANK AGAIN FOR KIND WORDS!
I just want to point out that many of the most powerful critiques of Campbell come from within the academic world itself.
I have a question on “therefore/but” vs “and then” storytelling. It seems to me that a really easy trap to fall into when writing a story is just replacing the “and then”s with a “therefore/but.” So could you (or anyone, really) present a clear example of when a movie’s outline would use an “and then?” Any time I try to think of one I can mold it into a “therefore/but,” which is making me paranoid that I would do that when thinking about a story I like or when I’m doing any hypothetical writing.
HULK CONFUSED A BIT, BECAUSE AN “AND THEN” CAN’T REALLY BE REPLACED WITHOUT DIRECT MEANING. THE IMPLICATION IS THAT A GOOD STORY FOCUSES ON CAUSATION. THE NEXT BEAT OF A THEREFORE IS A DIRECT RESULT OF THE PREVIOUS BEATS ACTION. OR THE NEXT BEAT IS AN OBSTACLE (A BUT) FOR THE RESULT OF THE PREVIOUS THING HAPPENING. AND AN “AND THEN” IS JUST AN EVENT THAT DOESN’T HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH ANYTHING HAPPENING NEXT.
DOES THIS CLARIFY? OR HULK NOT SURE IF ANSWERING THE QUESTION RIGHT.
I understand the idea of minimizing “and thens”. A story hangs together better when there’s a causation chain. But I think there’s also a place for “meanwhile”, which is a form of “and then”, Sometimes the point of a story is to show what happens when two or more characters with conflicting goals intersect on the paths to those goals. Another example is the typical disaster film, where a bunch of characters with unrelated stories are thrown together in a crisis.
I think “and then” is good for leading into a crisis or conflict; but once the crisis is in swing, there should be more causality in the events.
OH FOR SURE. HULK MEANT THAT THE “THEREFORES” ONLY WITHIN CONTEXT OF THE SPECIFIC STORY OR CHARACTER JOURNEY, WHICH OF COURSE MIGHT BE PART OF A LARGER STORY. THIS IS FOR THE BEATS WITHIN THE MICRO-ARCS.
AND HULK JUST TALKING ABOUT UNDERSTANDING TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING HERE. HECK, ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE BOOKS IS INFINITE JEST WHICH IS THE OPPOSITE OF TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING.
THE POINT ALWAYS THOUGH IS YOU HAVE TO TRULY UNDERSTAND TRADITIONAL STORYTELLING (AND YES, BE GOOD AT IT) BEFORE YOU CAN UNDERSTAND HOW TO INVERT FOR OTHER PURPOSES!
Your confusion is probably just the result of me not knowing what question I’m even asking. I kind of realized reading your reply what a fundamental idea this is to most decent scripts/books/whatevers that get written, to the point where I don’t even think about it when I actually see the movie. So I guess my question really is just “could you provide an example of a plot point that is an ‘and then’ in a movie?” I think I’m just having trouble visualizing what that actually looks like in practice. Yeah, sorry about the first post, I verbally over-complicated what should have been a simple question.
The hero’s return can actually be better looked at as being about taking what you have learned and then RE-INVESTING it back in your community (or your new community — where you end up doesn’t matter as much as that you do end up back in a community again). A reintegration, then, not a physical/geographical full circle.
(Alternately, the journey may use everything the hero has up, and in essence permanently exile the hero from their community, if only psychologically. Not truly a traditional return, in this sense. An averted return, perhaps — but still great story material in it’s own way.)
The Lord of the Rings books understand both of these concepts well. (Unsurprising; living through WWII and aftermath probably heavily influenced Tolkien’s worldview.)
When Merry and Pippin and Sam are out in the wider world encountering evil, taking risks, fighting, and growing into their adulthood, they only see the task ahead of them (their own hero’s journey). They are thinking of any return (if they are lucky enough to survive) as being a return to before — to the life they left in favor of the journey.
In truth, they are changing, and they won’t ever come back to the life they left. Instead, they will come back as a transformative force in their community. The key is that not only have they changed, but they bring that change back to their wider culture in a way that is meaningful and enriches it.
The hero’s return isn’t a return at all if the gifts they come back with just vanish into the ground (or themselves, as the case may be). The gifts of the journey must come back and then go out in a new way — into the community.
Differences between LotR and the Hobbit really emerge here. Both Bilbo and the 4 hobbits go on journeys that change them and force personal growth. Part of what makes LotR epic (and the Hobbit not as epic as LotR) is this aspect of the journey.
Even though the 4 hobbits’ journeys are personal (and often intensely private), those journeys are placed within a social context. In other words, Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin are taking part in something that is relevant to the whole community, not just themselves, even though their own people may never recognize it or know the price that was paid on their behalf.
Unlike Bilbo, when the 4 hobbits come home, it is not a homecoming back to rest and a return to ‘the way things were before,’ but to integrating the gifts of the journey with the community that they had left behind. (A fact Peter Jackson totally missed when he made his final movie with the utopian ending, by the way.)
The ‘purpose’ of Merry and Pippin’s hero’s journey was not for their own personal growth, but so that their personal growth would place them to return and be leaders and change agents in their community. THAT’S what makes it epic, versus merely being a good story well told.
If the hero doesn’t return back to the community in the end, bringing wealth and gifts for the community with them (or even accomplishing it with their death or some other negation, as in the case of Frodo — and even Frodo brings back his own gifts for the community if you read carefully), they probably haven’t truly been on a hero’s journey, even if most of the same components are in place.
Take another example:
The reason that Simba’s coronation in the Lion King doesn’t feel totally fake and gimmicky and ridiculously overblown is that he’s been on a real hero’s journey, not just a mock hero’s journey. His return (and I believe that scene is where the real Return begins) feels like it has genuine meaning because it is not simply about himself, but how his return is enriching the greater community he is returning to.
Think about it. Just TRY taking that community aspect out, and imagine creating a similar scene, purely celebrating his personal growth, but not connected to the greater community. It would look stupid.
Say he comes back, but not because he has to save everyone, and he isn’t going to become a leader of his people. He has still changed from a rash child to an adult that’s running away from himself, and now he’s achieved that personal growth and all — faced his past and come to terms with it. That would be something to feel good about (and still could make a very good story), but it simply wouldn’t support an epic scene like the coronation. It would just look silly.
Why? There is no real reinvestment of that change and growth back into the community.
It doesn’t have to be something as grandiose as becoming king or the scouring of the shire, either. It can be as simple as finding the place in the community where you belong. (This only counts if you didn’t really know what your place in the community was when you started out on the journey.)
In Star Wars, Luke is an unformed farm boy who doesn’t know what his place in the universe is. By the end of his journey, he has found his place as a Jedi Knight. It’s where he belongs within the community. In Parsifal’s Page, by Gerald Morris, Pier’s journey ends with him coming home to his father to become a blacksmith. He knows who he is meant to be, and that places him in his community as a meaningful part of the community.
A hero’s gifts to the community on return may be large (bring peace to your people) or small (become a blacksmith), but they are real. They are not just invested back into the person, but they enrich the whole community that person returns to. They were sent out to come back, and in coming back they bring change and growth and add value to the community, not just to themselves.
So, what does Hulk think of my ramblings?
I thought your article was terrific and spot on. Thank you for really engaging my thinking in this area. You can see what came of it!
“GIVE THEM A ROLE IN THE STORY BESIDES BEING THE CRONE. ASK YOURSELF, “HOW CAN I MAKE THIS CRONE UNIQUE?””
I think an even better strategy is to give “the crone” a personality and then work with that, see what would that kind of character do in situations the story makes and so on.
I have some complaints regarding Hulk’s solution to resolving the Hero’s Journey problem. He suggested that we use the “cause and effect” method of story-telling, namely in the form of Matt and Trey’s “but/therefore” method. Unfortunately, he forgot some of the other following steps:
1. Add many characters besides the hero alone, and make sure they either (a) don’t follow any predetermined stereotypes (i.e. mentor, damsel, etc.), or (b) build upon those stereotypes and become more complex characters for it in the process.
2. Base the Hero’s Journey after real-life situations, rather than “hero leaves rural village to save the universe from his evil father,” or what-have-you. It can be anything, such as getting a new job, developing new friendships, or birthing and raising a new baby.
Does anyone else here have their own suggestions I, myself, have missed as well?
TRUNGOR LIKE HULK POST. LIKE HULK STYLE…STEAL HULK STYLE! HERO JOURNEY USE LIKE RECIPE WHEN REALLY IS LIST OF TASTY INGREDIENTS AT BEST. MASTER CHEF USE SAME LIST AS CRAZY AUNT, BUT MAKE DELICIOUS CAKE INSTEAD OF TURGID DOORSTOP. TECHNIQUE LOST ON SOME PEOPLE ONCE THEY FIND “FORMULA TO SUCCESS” (HINT: NO FORMULA TO SUCCESS. IF WERE, WOULD HAVE ALREADY GIVEN TO COMPUTER, MILLIONS JOB LOST.) VERY GOOD EXAMPLES OF WHY PROBLEM.
THAT STATE, TRUNGOR SEE SMALL ERROR WHAT MIGHT NEED FIX: “IT IS EXACTLY THE KIND OF FORWARD-THINKING THEY SHOULD IMPLORE WITH THEIR STORY STRUCTURE AND WORLD BUILDING. . .” THINK MEAN “EMPLOY” NOT “IMPLORE” UNLESS YOU THINK BIOWARE NEED PLEAD WITH GODS FOR BETTER WRITING. ALSO IS SPELL OBI-WAN “KENOBI” BUT YOU SPELL “KANOBI.” VERY MINOR, BUT WOULD MAKE ARTICLE GEM MORE SPARKLY.
Reblogged this on Type A Little Faster.
I do not know if it’s just me or if everyone else encountering issues with your blog. It looks like some of the written text within your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please comment and let me know if this is happening to them too? This might be a issue with my internet browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Appreciate it
HMMMM. THAT SOUND LIKE AN BROWSER ISSUE.
Kind of very old article, but goshdarnit, I just found this blog and I’m asking anyway:
For a high school student more or less educating herself in everything in literature beyond “recount these plot points in essay form,” do you have recommendations for books that go in depth on literary technique, plot structure, just books that would help introduce me to that vein of learning? (I’m especially interested in how fiction interacts with reality, so yes, Hero with a Thousand Faces is one of my favorite things.)
CHECK OUT HULK’S SCREENWRITING COLUMNS AND THE MYTH OF 3 ACT STRUCTURE ARTICLE!
Linked here via a friend on LJ, seriously enjoyed reading this (even if there were a bunch of IT’S that needed their apostrophes smashed). And the comments had some worthwhile critiques too. Really gave me a lot to think about for the project I’m involved in.
Rest assured I’ll be passing the link forward to my friends as well.
HULK THANK SINCERELY!
AND THIS PRE-BADASS STUFF WAS BEFORE HULK HAD EDITOR!
I actually find this particularly interesting because spec ops the line actually is a strong deconstruction of the impulse to be the hero in video games.
Also, I believe morrowind would constitute a high water mark in terms of being the hero’s journey without taking a paint by the numbers approach a sort of high water mark.
Aw, this was an incredibly good post. Spending some time and actual
effort to generate a top notch article but what can I say I procrastinate a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.
Great post with lots of thought and some good links 🙂
Interesting post. I apologize for not reading all of it, but my old eyes can’t handle tightly-packed, small, all-caps typing for more than a few paragraphs at a time.
First, let me say that the diagram of the hero’s journey that you use is not Campbell’s. It is mine. It was lifted from my high school teacher’s guide “The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life” (my website, http://www.yourheroicjourney.com, has more information). A teacher who bought my book posted the model for her classes, and the model spread all over the internet.
The diagram you have outlines the “generic” journey we all go through repeatedly it life. It has very little to do with myth. If you read my article “The Hero’s Journey: Life’s Great Adventure” that accompanies the diagram in the book (also available on my website), you can see how this diagram speaks to the fundamental process of human experience.
Second, I agree with you that the journey pattern can become a crutch for writing. However, if the journey model is deep enough (i.e., goes beyond myth or a superficial scan), just as it can help students and other readers understand literature, it can help writers better understand the journey’s their characters are taking. In fact, the psychological dynamics of the journey stages can offer writers tremendous insight into their characters, motivation and other elements, which could make their writing deeper and richer.
That said, I know that my journey diagram has been posted everywhere (including Wikipedia) as Campbell’s model, but it not Campbell’s model. Campbell’s model has 12 stages and is mythological oriented; my model has eight stages and is psychologically oriented. In fact, the model you have is not even the most thorough of the journey models I’ve built. I kept this model simple because it was being used for teaching high school students how to use the journey pattern as a tool for understanding and analyzing literature and film.
I’d like to ask that, if you are going to discuss to Campbell’s hero’s journey, you might want to get a diagram that actually refers to Campbell’s journey model. If you want to keep my model in your blog, that’s fine. Just make sure readers know it is not Campbell’s and that it does not represent Campbell’s description of the journey. And if you do keep it, could you put my name on it and that it comes from “The Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Literature and Life,” by Reg Harris and Susan Thompson (1997, revised in 2007). My copyright was removed from the model when it was posted, so everyone uses it.
Thank you for all the thought you put into your post. I agree with much of what you said (in the part that I read). I will work my way through your whole piece a bit at a time, so I may be back with more comments.
Again, thanks for the thought and the insights.
Darkhog’s explains why Hulk should stop with caps lock shit.
Did you ever paid attention to something that has been told to you by YELLING? Me neither. So please stop YELLING at people using FUCKING CAPS LOCK if you want people to read your texts past few paragraphs
HEY THERE DARK HOG.
SO IT MAY NOT BE YOUR THING, BUT HULK ASSURES YOU THAT A WHOLE BUNCH OF PEOPLE DO INDEED READ THIS PAST A FEW PARAGRAPHS. AND AS FOR THE CAPS LOCK, IT’S REALLY NOT YELLING AND HULK EXPLAINS THE USE HERE: http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/8/3611344/film-crit-hulk-interview AND IF THE LOGIC OF THE DEVICE DOESN’T DO IT FOR YA THERE’S ALWAYS http://WWW.CONVERTCASE.NET
CHEERS AND THANKS.
I came here from Hulk’s epic smashing of the three-arc story structure, which incidentally I found after someone reference it in a forum talking about The Walking Dead (the game, not the television series or the comic book).
Has Hulk played The Walking Dead? I would be very interested in seeing Hulk’s take on the story…
NOT YET! IT’S ON THE LIST.
THJ has been used by Hollywood screenwriters for years (and as a structure tool, which you maturely meh about) with little or no input from you, the resident expert lecturing readers of Campbell on how they don’t get Campbell (but you do.) just as you maturely wonder how many people have read beyond the pictures I wonder how many Hollywood screenplays or stories you’ve sold to be lecturing anyone.
EMAIL AT FILMCRITHULK@GMAIL.COM AND WE SHALL DISCUSS THE PESKY MATTER OF “QUALIFICATIONS.”
Oh, goody! A pseudonymous commenter queries the credentials of a pseudonymous blogger! Yeah, that’s a darned powerful refutation there! No need to respond to arguments when you can just imply he has no standing to argue.
Shoemaker, of course ethos is important for an effective appeal to authority. Most young writers want to learn from a successful authority rather than a scholarly authoritarian.
MEDULLAPANCREAS, YOUR QUESTION IS NO DOUBT VALID AND INDEED HOW MOST YOUNG WRITERS WANT TO LEARN… BUT HULK’S TAKE ON THAT ISSUE IS A BIT MORE COMPLICATED. NAMELY IN THE FACT THAT SO MANY OF OUR BEST WRITERS ARE, EFFECTIVELY, TERRIBLE TEACHERS. THEY CAN FIND THE MOST INCREDIBLE IDEAS AND INSPIRATION, BUT THEY DO NOT KNOW HOW TO ARTICULATE THEM TO OTHERS, LET ALONE SHOW THEM HOW TO DO THE SAME.
AND AGAIN, IF YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL ISSUES WITH QUALIFICATIONS. HULK HAPPY TO TALK ABOUT THEM IN EMAIL FORM. SHORT VERSION? HULK’S SOLD PLENTY. AND HULK’S HAD EVEN MORE OF THE GOOD FORTUNE TO HAVE WORKED WITH A-GRADE MATERIAL IN EXTENDED CAPACITIES. BUT AGAIN, THIS CAN BE BETTER EXPLAINED IN PRIVATE CORRESPONDENCE.
Dear FILMCRITHULK, I found your writings surprisingly profound. I have gained plenty to think about after reading this article. While I have been sceptical about the monomyth as an universal storytelling-code for a long time, I haven’t been able to formulate my thoughts on it too well. Having read this article, I now understand it a lot better and hopefully my writing will improve as a consequence. I will read your other article on the three act structure and hope to gain similar understanding or stirring of my brain.
Many thanks. I also like your style. Hope you’ll write similar articles in the future.
Today’s video games are becoming just as complex and realistic as feature films – with the latest hardware allowing developers to push their character models, vehicles, and landscapes to new levels. And as the possibilities continue to evolve, the need for talented artists in video game production is more important than ever.
Reblogged this on it's a bird! it's a plane? aw frick, it's a young adult.
Love the article and the comments. I love when accepted systems are deconstructed (SMASHED). Question, though: if consumers have been conditioned to expect the Hero’s Journey in movies, novels, video games, and comic books does that mean that they will not enjoy those works of art that break the mold (read: M Night and indie stuff).
Shouldn’t an aspiring writer trying to sell a Kindle book “play it safe” and check off the Hero’s Journey boxes?
Film Crit Hulk,
I really enjoyed the article/essay. Like others, I’ve had my problems with the constant use and re-use of the Hero’s Journey as a model of storytelling. The idea that the beats emerge naturally when good themes arise, rather than being crammed in with a post-hoc plot, is simple yet insightful.
Still, I have a question that leaves me feeling twitchy (which you may have answered in your essay, but I, in my stupidity, have overlooked) Its basically the following: Why is it that multiple stories can fit the qualifications of the ‘Hero’s Journey’ model and yet still be considered stand-alone works? What is it that keeps us from saying that some two stories, like Gilgamesh and Beowulf, are essentially the same and thus formulaic? Is it the tiny details they throw in, or perhaps they are being driven by different forces? Please, help me out here…
I found this linked in your “The Force Belongs to Us” “critical review” of TLJ…
now it all makes sense why you enjoyed that movie
and why I can’t stand it