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Write Fiction Like Ayn Rand Project

This week or next, I will be putting the finishing touches on a blog I am setting up about fiction writing and launch it. There will be several lines of topics running such as, story hacking (the neuroscience of story), different approaches to fiction writing and the teaching of fiction writing, the story trance, the usual suspects like plot, character, description, world building, theme, style, metaphors, book marketing, and so on.

Here is the link to my blog for those interested:

[To be added after launch]

Incidentally, the world of that blog and the world of OL are completely different. Over there I will not discuss politics, philosophy, etc. Only writing. It's a blog for writers. It's about writing. A community of writers will emerge there. Also, I will sell things there like writing books, courses, writing software, and so on. If you want heated discussions about philosophy, politics or even writing, OL is your place. Over there the emphasis will be on learning, sharing information and experiences, buying stuff, etc.

 

The Project

One of the planned blog topics ties into OL very nicely. I have been interested for some time in Ayn Rand's fiction writing techniques. I noticed that most people who attempt to write Romantic Realism fail to write stories that resonate with the public at large (not to mention most of the stuff outright sucks :) ).

Why? 

I've asked myself this over and over. I have my own aspirations and I, also, have had lots of trouble using Rand's teaching advice. But I kept plowing, reading, studying, experimenting, and I've come to some conclusions.

One reason for such low fiction writing achievements in our subcommunity (with a few exceptions) is because Rand herself was not a very good writing teacher, especially for beginners. To be fair, she has her gems and golden nuggets, but, at least for people like me and many others whose efforts I have read in our subcommunity, she stifles creativity and doesn't teach people how to tell a basic interesting story.

For example, her main purpose of writing fiction is to present a perfect man, but that is not what storytelling is about as a characteristic of the human species. That's not what runs Hollywood and that's not what runs watercooler gossip, yet everybody wanders through life saturated in story like fish swim in water. To overextend the metaphor, beginners need to learn how to find clean water before they swim to where they want to go. Swimming through mud doesn't get them far. And Rand wasn't good at cleaning this particular mud.

In other words, one can use a good story to present a perfect man, but presenting a perfect man in words doesn't necessarily result in a good story, or even a minimally competent one. And when a beginner who doesn't know how to tell a basic story tries it, the result is often so awful, so stilted, so robotic, so boring, it's funny. 

There are other reasons, but I don't want to go into them in this post. I will mention some in this thread as I go along, and there will be more in depth writing on it over at the other site. But my purpose is not to bash Rand as a writing teacher. It is to supplement the understanding of her writing techniques and, in some or many cases (let's see what happens), provide step-by-step instructions and exercises to develop specific skills where people will be able to write good Romantic Realism.

I want to stress that Ayn Rand is a far better fiction writer than the intelligentsia give her credit for being. She is far, far better than many of the writers they admire. After I finish my work on this project, it will be easy to see why.

So, why this thread on OL? Well, sometimes I run across a juicy tidbit about her writing skills and I would like to leave it in a place I can return to later other than private notes. And I don't want to clutter the blog up with unformed tidbits. Also, sometimes an OL member might think of something I have not and that, to me, is quite valuable. Think of this thread as a feeder thread for the Write Fiction Like Ayn Rand Project on my fiction writing blog. That project will eventually turn into a book and/or course.

 

First Tidbit

So, to get this thread started, I do have a tidbit. I have a surprising quote from Stirling Silliphant.

If you don't know who Silliphant is, he was an extremely popular screenwriter for movies and TV. His movies include  In the Heat of the Night, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. His TV series include Naked City and Route 66. In the late 1970's, Rand had approved of him as the screenwriter to adapt Atlas Shrugged into a 10 hour TV series for NBC (some have said eight hours) and he managed to do a 1,240 page treatment. Then Fred Silverman took over the NBC management and ditched the project. 

Siliphant said something quite interesting about Rand. It is quoted in his bio Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God by Nat Segaloff, p. 187 under "Unrealized Projects." The following is Segaloff quoting Silliphant.

Quote

It broke down into 10 hours. Not only is it formidable, but Miss Rand is a little formidable.

She has absolute total creative control over the project; that was the only way she would make her deal with the network. That means she has to initial every page.

She's quite a taskmaster, a brilliant writer, and a lady who won't let you change very much. For instance, let's say there is a line of dialogue, "I think I'll go upstairs." She'll say, "Why did you write that line of dialogue?" I say, "Miss Rand, it's from the book on page 452 if you will look." She said, "I don't have to look. I would never have written that line of dialogue for the character of Dagny." I say, "I'll show you."

Now I open the book and the dialogue is not I think I will go upstairs, but I will go upstairs. I added the two words, I think. She will say, "Why did you do that?" "Well," I said, "because I wanted to suggest that she wasn't too sure whether she would or wouldn't." [Rand] said, "That's wrong. Dagny is a character who always knows what she's going to do, what she has done, what she will do. She would never qualify it with I think or possibly or perhaps."

She said, "On top of that, her dialogue is written in iambic pentameter and when you add I think, aside from destroying the character I've created, you are destroying the rhythm of the sentence." That is how precise she is. As a writer, I learned the craft from this lady. Suddenly you realize you've been writing dreck all these years.

I worked for a year on this one only to have it destroyed in utero the first weekend NBC changed management, ousting the execs who had ordered it and replacing them with that shining genius of the tube, Fred Silverman.

btw - I added the paragraphs and spaces. This passage was run-on in the book, but that is hard to read on an electronic screen.  

Note - Normally in the bio, Segaloff is meticulous about his sourcing, but he left out the source for this quote.

Since he was a personal friend of Silliphant and had access to all his papers, and also interviewed Silliphant extensively during his life, I am confident the quote is accurate, or as reasonably accurate as interview transcriptions allows (if interview it was). I am pretty sure it was a personal interview instead of a magazine, book or God knows what. Why? In that quote, Silliphant changed verb tenses often with "say" and "said." Some people do that when they talk spontaneously. 

Now back to Rand and fiction writing. Note this sentence in the quote: She said, "On top of that, her dialogue is written in iambic pentameter and when you add I think, aside from destroying the character I've created, you are destroying the rhythm of the sentence." 

Question. Ayn Rand wrote dialogue, or at least Dagny's dialogue, in iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter? Rand?

Dayaamm!

This is the first I've ever heard of it.

I haven't yet looked at Dagny's dialogue with this in mind, but this bears checking. Apropos, it is not as inconceivable as it sounds. Modern playwright and screenplay writer David Mamet writes in iambic pentameter. I bet a lot of others do, too.

If iambic pentameter for Dagny's dialogue doesn't bear out and is merely an exaggeration for effect by Silliphant, I'm cool with it. After all, the man wrote for Hollywood and that's what they do over there.

But if Rand did write in iambic pentameter right under everyone's noses, even if only dialogue, and nobody noticed or said anything all these years, I would be all the more cooler with it. :) 

 

Tangent

Here's a side comment as a note to myself. Rand could have used many other screenwriters for this gig, but there is something Silliphant had that others available (probably through Jaffe) at the time most likely didn't. He was a TV writing pioneer and looked up to as a god at the time Rand chose him. From a marketing perspective, this was not just good business, it was great business. Rand admirers don't like to think about this side of Rand, and some even outright deny it, but I see no denigration in her wedding business decisions like the reputation of a co-creator with her artistic creation itself. Without funding, collaborative art doesn't happen. Rand's image notwithstanding, she, of all people, knew this and made good use of it at times. Just look at her career and read some of her Letters.

Michael

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10 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Note - Normally in the bio, Segaloff is meticulous about his sourcing, but he left out the source for this quote.

Since he was a personal friend of Silliphant and had access to all his papers, and also interviewed Silliphant extensively during his life, I am confident the quote is accurate, or as reasonably accurate as interview transcriptions allows (if interview it was). I am pretty sure it was a personal interview instead of a magazine, book or God knows what. Why? In that quote, Silliphant changed verb tenses often with "say" and "said." Some people do that when they talk spontaneously. 

I did some more digging.

Early in the book (page 2, in fact :) ), Segaloff says that in 1974, he was the New England publicist for The Towering Inferno and was in contact with Silliphant at that time. Then they stayed apart for a stretch. During that time, Silliphant moved to Bangkok. In 1992, Segaloff started a hefty fax correspondence with Silliphant for a monograph he write on Silliphant for a book called Backstory (Backstory 3, to be exact)--a book series put together by Patrick McGilligan of interviews with historical and famous screenwriters. That fax correspondence continued and lasted until the end of Silliphant's death in 1997. Silliphant also came to LA in 1994 and spent some quality time with Segaloff where they talked with each other. Unedited interviews of all this are among Segaloff's papers at the UCLA Performing Arts Special Collections.

Here is footnote 8 in the book:

Quote

8. Unless otherwise cited, Silliphant's quotes are drawn from the faxed correspondence with the author for Backstory 3 (Berkley, California: University of California Press, 1997) and subsequent conversations.

So the quote in the opening post about Atlas Shrugged is either from those faxes or later conversations. My guess is the conversations because of the odd grammar.

At least we know where Silliphant's words came from and where to check if ever needed.

In other words, Silliphant said that part about Rand and iambic pentameter near the end of his life.

Michael

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13 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Write Fiction Like Ayn Rand Project

This week or next, I will be putting the finishing touches on a blog I am setting up about fiction writing and launch it. There will be several lines of topics running such as, story hacking (the neuroscience of story), different approaches to fiction writing and the teaching of fiction writing, the story trance, the usual suspects like plot, character, description, world building, theme, style, metaphors, book marketing, and so on.

Here is the link to my blog for those interested:

[To be added after launch]

Incidentally, the world of that blog and the world of OL are completely different. Over there I will not discuss politics, philosophy, etc. Only writing. It's a blog for writers. It's about writing. A community of writers will emerge there. Also, I will sell things there like writing books, courses, writing software, and so on. If you want heated discussions about philosophy, politics or even writing, OL is your place. Over there the emphasis will be on learning, sharing information and experiences, buying stuff, etc.

One of the planned blog topics ties into OL very nicely. I have been interested for some time in Ayn Rand's fiction writing techniques. I noticed that most people who attempt to write Romantic Realism fail to write stories that resonate with the public at large (not to mention most of the stuff outright sucks :) ).

Why? 

I've asked myself this over and over. I have my own aspirations and I, also, have had lots of trouble using Rand's teaching advice. But I kept plowing, reading, studying, experimenting, and I've come to some conclusions.

One reason is because Rand herself was not a very good writing teacher, especially for beginners. To be fair, she has her gems and golden nuggets, but, at least for people like me and many others whose efforts I have read in our subcommunity, she stifles creativity and doesn't teach people how to tell a basic interesting story.

For example, her main purpose of writing fiction is to present a perfect man, but that is not what storytelling is about as a characteristic of the human species. That's not what runs Hollywood and that's not what runs watercooler gossip, yet everybody wanders through life saturated in story like fish swim in water. To overextend the metaphor, beginners need to learn how to find clean water before they swim to where they want to go. Swimming through mud doesn't get them far. And Rand wasn't good at cleaning this particular mud.

In other words, one can use a good story to present a perfect man, but presenting a perfect man in words doesn't necessarily result in a good story, or even a minimally competent one. And when a beginner who doesn't know how to tell a basic story tries it, the result is often so awful, so stilted, so robotic, so boring, it's funny. 

There are other reasons, but I don't want to go into them in this post. I will mention some in this thread as I go along, and there will be more in depth writing on it over at the other site. But my purpose is not to bash Rand as a writing teacher. It is to supplement the understanding of her writing techniques and, in some or many cases (let's see what happens), provide step-by-step instructions and exercises to develop specific skills where people will be able to write good Romantic Realism.

I want to stress that Ayn Rand is a far better fiction writer than the intelligentsia give her credit for being. She is far, far better than many of the writers they admire. After I finish my work on this project, it will be easy to see why.

So, why this thread on OL? Well, sometimes I run across a juicy tidbit about her writing skills and I would like to leave it in a place I can return to later other than private notes. And I don't want to clutter the blog up with unformed tidbits. Also, sometimes an OL member might think of something I have not and that, to me, is quite valuable. Think of this thread as a feeder thread for the Write Fiction Like Ayn Rand Project on my fiction writing blog. That project will eventually turn into a book and/or course.

So, to get this thread started, I do have a tidbit. I have a surprising quote from Stirling Silliphant.

If you don't know who Silliphant is, he was an extremely popular screenwriter for movies and TV. His movies include  In the Heat of the Night, The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure. His TV series include Naked City and Route 66. In the late 1970's, Rand had approved of him as the screenwriter to adapt Atlas Shrugged into a 10 hour TV series for NBC (some have said eight hours) and he managed to do a 1,240 page treatment. Then Fred Silverman took over the NBC management and ditched the project. 

Siliphant said something quite interesting about Rand. It is quoted in his bio Stirling Silliphant: The Fingers of God by Nat Segaloff, p. 187 under "Unrealized Projects." The following is Segaloff quoting Silliphant.

btw - I added the paragraphs and spaces. This passage was run-on in the book, but that is hard to read on an electronic screen.  

Note - Normally in the bio, Segaloff is meticulous about his sourcing, but he left out the source for this quote.

Since he was a personal friend of Silliphant and had access to all his papers, and also interviewed Silliphant extensively during his life, I am confident the quote is accurate, or as reasonably accurate as interview transcriptions allows (if interview it was). I am pretty sure it was a personal interview instead of a magazine, book or God knows what. Why? In that quote, Silliphant changed verb tenses often with "say" and "said." Some people do that when they talk spontaneously. 

Now back to Rand and fiction writing. Note this sentence in the quote: She said, "On top of that, her dialogue is written in iambic pentameter and when you add I think, aside from destroying the character I've created, you are destroying the rhythm of the sentence." 

Question. Ayn Rand wrote dialogue, or at least Dagny's dialogue, in iambic pentameter

Iambic pentameter? Rand?

Dayaamm!

This is the first I've ever heard of it.

I haven't yet looked at Dagny's dialogue with this in mind, but this bears checking. Apropos, it is not as inconceivable as it sounds. Modern playwright and screenplay writer David Mamet writes in iambic pentameter. I bet a lot of others do, too.

If iambic pentameter for Dagny's dialogue doesn't bear out and is merely an exaggeration for effect by Silliphant, I'm cool with it. After all, the man wrote for Hollywood and that's what they do over there.

But if Rand did write in iambic pentameter right under everyone's noses, even if only dialogue, and nobody noticed or said anything all these years, I would be all the more cooler with it. :) 

Here's a side comment as a note to myself. Rand could have used many other screenwriters for this gig, but there is something Silliphant had that others available (probably through Jaffe) at the time most likely didn't. He was a TV writing pioneer and looked up to as a god at the time Rand chose him. From a marketing perspective, this was not just good business, it was great business. Rand admirers don't like to think about this side of Rand, and some even outright deny it, but I see no denigration in her wedding business decisions like the reputation of a co-creator with her artistic creation itself. Without funding, collaborative art doesn't happen. Rand's image notwithstanding, she, of all people, knew this and made good use of it at times. Just look at her career and read some of her Letters.

Michael

Rand's man was the ideal man who for purposes of art was perfect. (Unfortunately she conflated perfect man with man in real life.) This made her heroic characters pretty one dimensional. Roark was mildly interesting. Wynand much more interesting. What was to be noted is how people and adversity bounced off Roark. His big mistake qua character was helping Peter Keating. That wasn't because he was a humanitarian but because he had to save Keating's architecture and because there wouldn't have been a novel without it.

In Rand's Magnum opus the heroes who had seen the light didn't help those who hadn't save if they were salvageable. Thus they were more perfect than Roark. But all they did was show them that light or simply let reality do it with helpful explanations.

Trying to live life as a perfect man or woman is impractical and stupid and posturing. The real trick is living a life of integrity. That makes Roark the best role model, at least for a start.

---Brant

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4 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Trying to live life as a perfect man or woman is impractical and stupid and posturing. The real trick is living a life of integrity. That makes Roark the best role model, at least for a start.

Brant,

This is an ideological approach. What I am doing is more literary and involving writing techniques.

For example, the idea of a perfect man as protagonist falls into the category of "steadfast character." This means one without a character arc. A protagonist with a character arc has an interior flaw or weakness in the beginning and comes to grip with it throughout the story. He sees the light, so to speak, and heals (or sees the flaw, but clings to it and dies in a tragedy). A favorite trick for a hero is to have him or her heal at the moment of climax. (Think Luke Skywalker's insecurity. Then, "Use the force, Luke!" comes to mind at the right time. He lets go of his doubts and let's 'er fly right up the Dark Star's hole. :) ).

A steadfast character is a hardhead. He doesn't change. James Bond is a steadfast protagonist. But generally, steadfast characters are either the villains or those providing the dramatic conflict (Lajos Egri called these last, "pivotal characters," that is, characters who should change, but can't because of jealousy or whatever).

Rand provided a character arc for some of her heroes. Hank Rearden comes to mind. He had to let go of his sanctioning others to punish him due to altruism.

Most are steadfast, though. Some, I would argue, like John Galt are even boring as characters. That's one of the reasons I believe Rand kept him off stage until late in the story. People talked about him, but he didn't talk except for the cameos as a nameless worker with Eddie in the diner.

Michael

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6 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Brant,

This is an ideological approach. What I am doing is more literary and involving writing techniques.

For example, the idea of a perfect man as protagonist falls into the category of "steadfast character." This means one without a character arc. A protagonist with a character arc has an interior flaw or weakness in the beginning and comes to grip with it throughout the story. He sees the light, so to speak, and heals (or sees the flaw, but clings to it and dies in a tragedy). A favorite trick for a hero is to have him or her heal at the moment of climax. (Think Luke Skywalker's insecurity. Then, "Use the force, Luke!" comes to mind at the right time. He lets go of his doubts and let's 'er fly right up the Dark Star's hole. :) ).

There's also the hero's journey sort of tale, where it isn't an issue of an initial "flaw or weakness," unless you want to count being young as a weakness, but instead of growth and maturation.

Rand didn't write that sort of story.  Roark learns "the principle behind the dean" and works out the idea of first- versus second-handed people.  But he doesn't grow.  He is what he is from the beginning.

Ellen

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Ellen,

Believe it or not, Dagny's storyline is very close to a traditional hero's journey. She has a call to adventure to fix the disruption to her world and chase down the disrupter (Galt, as both legend and later physical "destroyer"), resists the call to adventure until she can't anymore, crosses the threshold into the wilderness to make The John Galt Line, and even beats Galt in the first skirmish as a short-lived victory. She has a dark night of the soul where she goes off to a country house to think things through. She went straight into the dragon's lair when she landed in Galt's Gulch. And on and on.

One of Rand's favorite tricks (which I am totally on board with) is to flip a cliché or trope upside down. For instance, the dragon's lair ended up being the hideout of the good guys. Galt was tortured in order to rule the bad guys. And so on. The reason this is powerful for storytelling is that it weds the familiar with the new and adds a moment of surprise--a great little payoff that can be set up extensively.

Roark's tale is almost a standard coming of age story. It took me a long time to realize that. Roark sheds his youthful innocence about how bad society is (which is his inner flaw, so to speak), that being the first-hander and second-hander thing that he doesn't know but has to figure out, finds out how to deal with it, then takes his place in the world fully matured (for that stage of his life).

Rand loved her some bad mediocre society. :)  That collective is almost always present in her stories as a villain. A Randian world at the beginning of her stories is not a good place to be. :) 

And instead of a romantic triangle, Rand uses a romantic quadrangle, but not all at once. Her heroines find true love one triangle at a time. :) She did that in The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.

I could go on and on about this stuff all day for years.

I think budding fiction writers who come from a Randian orbit have to start thinking in these terms when they look at Rand for inspiration as a writer. They tend to get themselves caught up in the religiosity of it all and not realize how badly they need to pour interesting trouble on the hero to keep the reader interested. And they need to learn some of the basics of story writing (especially who-when-where framing at the beginning, the rules of set ups and payoffs, unfolding their pacing like the popular fiction editors of the 1800's used to say, make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, make 'em wait, etc.).

I think they need to study the work of people like Terry Goodkind (who is a marvelous exception) more than Rand just to learn storytelling basics if they don't want to leave the Objectivist orbit.

Their efforts often remind me of goody-goody two shoes Christian stories where the stakes just don't seem real and the resolution always entails learning that God forgives and watches over them, all in proper jargon, and how sorry they are they strayed. Except in the Objectivist stuff I've read, when bad, the stakes are philosophical or nonexistent, abstract instead of tangible, thus mostly irrelevant to suspense, and the characters outdo the Christian literature in stiltedness and rotten dialogue.

Sometimes they get belly-slapping hilarious. I don't know if you have ever heard of a guy named David Gulbraa. He wrote a book called Tales of the Mall Masters. This thing is so awful, it reminds me of Amanda McKittrick Ros's work, except with an Objectivist twang. My experience reading his book is the same as the Inklings with Amanda Ros. The Inklings (a kind of informal literature group at Oxford back in the day) had members like C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and several other lesser luminaries. They would hold competitions to see who could read one of her works out loud the longest without breaking into guffaws. I'm like that with this guy Gulbraa. I haven't been able to pass more than three minutes. Who can resist the charms of a dude heroically striving to chase down abandoned shopping carts strewn over the torturous blistering asphalt of the parking lot, reflecting that "the mall is a temple and the grocery store is the center of the temple...":) 

I gotta stop or I'll be writing to you all night. :) 

Michael

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Everybody's got a journey. The hereo's is merely to inform hoi polloi what's going on with an inspirational twist.

--Brant 

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4 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

Everybody's got a journey. The hereo's is merely to inform hoi polloi what's going on with an inspirational twist.

--Brant 

Brant,

The hero's journey is a technical term in literature.

It's basically a plot outline that has universal resonance across a large swath of stories, from mythology to great literature to pulp fiction to local gossip. I'm not sure if Joseph Campbell coined the term, but he sure as hell popularized it once George Lukas let everyone know his story outline for the first Star Wars movie followed Campbell's book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces almost to the letter. (Indecent amounts of money tends to get people's attention. :) ) A lot has been written about it since.

A synonym for the hero's journey is monomyth. To overuse the metaphor, the monomyth form is like the water fish swim in. The fish don't notice the water, just like we don't notice the air, but they and we are all stuck in it. To get at the subtext of your post, the hero's journey has been around since storytelling began in the caveman era. In other words, it was around before Ayn Rand. :)  So it is present in a lot of her writing, although I doubt she ever thought in those terms explicitly. 

Like I said, you are thinking ideologically instead of in terms of fiction writing techniques. Nothing wrong with thinking ideologically. It's just outside the topic.

Here's a vastly simplified outline just so you know what we are talking about.

The protagonist starts the story in his everyday situation with his everyday people. Something disrupts that default situation and he has to go to the Great Out There to get the solution. Off he goes, fighting what and who he has to fight, learning what has to be learned, and he returns with a "boon" (to use Campbell's term) that not only fixes the disruption, but enhances the original situation.

This form is present from Gilgamesh to Jesus to rites of passage from middle school to high school in America. It's all over the place. (But it's not the only universal story form. It's just one of the greats.)

Michael

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Michael,

I should have said, "except, arguably, in the case of Dagny.  And m-a-y-b-e Dominique."

10 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

 

Roark's tale is almost a standard coming of age story. It took me a long time to realize that. Roark sheds his youthful innocence about how bad society is (which is his inner flaw, so to speak), that being the first-hander and second-hander thing that he doesn't know but has to figure out, finds out how to deal with it, then takes his place in the world fully matured (for that stage of his life).

It will take me longer.  But keep talking.  I'm plenty interested by your exposition.

Ellen

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16 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

I should have said, "except, arguably, in the case of Dagny.  And m-a-y-b-e Dominique."

Ellen,

I'll go even further than that. John Galt's own character throughline looks an awful lot like a hero's journey. He was at a factory that got taken over by boneheaded heirs. (This is the hero in his normal surroundings at the beginning of his storyline.) We infer--since Rand didn't flesh out this part--that when the heirs took over, Galt detected that something was off about them and he knew something had to be done about it, yet he stayed on in his position. (This is the call to adventure and refusal of the call.) Then the factory meeting took place, he stood up and declared he was going to shut down the nonsense and stop the motor of the world, then he leaves. (He accepts the call to adventure and takes off--crosses the threshold.) I could probably go through his entire throughline pegging different events to different parts of the hero's journey. I need to flesh this out later. It only occurred to me during this discussion right now, so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

This leads to something budding fiction writers need to learn and learn well.

There are two kinds of plots from an organization of events perspective. In the first kind, the sequence of events happen in chronological order. In the second (often called story structure), the sequence of events unfold in the order the author presents them/audience receives them. In the first kind plot, unless it is a story about time travel, the story happens along one timeline and only that timeline. In the second kind of plot, a chronological plotline can be chopped up and presented out of order.

This second is the way Rand presented the throughline of Galt. In order to get his full story (and then peg it to a story template like the monomyth), we have to string together pieces that are given, hinted at and so on during the novel. Who his is and why he is doing what he is doing gets clearer and clearer as we go along reading--like slowly moving from an image taken with an out-of-focus lens to a sharply defined picture. Clarifying Galt in light of others and the society around him was the arc of coherence Rand used to present his story, not chronology.

You only get the beginning of Galt's story in the middle of the novel, although he has been present since the beginning--starting as a catchphrase, then moving to being an unnamed worker talking to Eddie Willers, then being hinted at as an unnamed student of Hugh Akston and Robert Stadler (and equally unnamed classmate of Francisco and Ragnar during that time), and so on. At the climax, he reveals himself under his own name to the world in the mother of all radio rants.

btw - This kind of speech is often called a "you suck and here's why" scene in storytelling. :) These often follow a big reveal (the husband discovers his wife has been cheating on him and confronts her, etc.), but not always. Ellsworth Toohey did one of these to Peter Keating when Peter came to ask for help, although the message was entirely different. But the intent was to tell Peter he sucked and here's why. :) 

Roark did one in the courtroom, but he flubbed it the first time around by only presenting pictures of his work without the "you suck" part. :) 

Anyway, back to the monomyth. I bet we can find it all over Rand's writing if we just look and step back from her own explanations of what she did. 

16 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

It will take me longer.  But keep talking.  I'm plenty interested by your exposition.

When we think of a coming of age story, we generally think of moving from childhood to adolescence or adolescence to adult. In Roark's case, he moved from young adult to mature adult. That particular timeframe in a coming of age story often happens as a subplot (or gap being filled in for the reader with a backstory in flashback)--or with a focus on business like in a rags to riches story, not as the major plot template.

Come to think of it, The Fountainhead does include strong elements of a rags to riches story. :) It's kind of a hybrid of rags to riches along with coming of age story.

Don't yet believe the coming of age part? Just think of Roark's adult lessons in learning how to deal with true love. In younger coming of age stories, the emphasis is on butterflies in the stomach, unbearable insecurity and jealousy, first sexual experiences, etc. Since Roark is older, he deals with more mature adult-level coming of age issues like raping his true love or watching her marry his worst nightmare--not once but twice. :) 

That last is a quip, but there's truth underneath it. Also, his start in romance was actually with a different woman he didn't love (Vesta Dunning), but Rand cut that part out before publishing the novel. To be honest, it didn't do much--not even for the coming of age part, so she was right to cut it.

Notice how Rand turns clichés upside down in these events? Even in the resolution. In the end of the love throughline, Roark wins his true love over, with total commitment and submission by her, not by seduction, conquest and fighting for her in battles, but by simply leaving her alone. :) 

Rand makes normal storytelling situations very, very interesting. She takes standard scene situations, turns them on their head, then fleshes them out to make them plausible. And she peppers in surprise, suspense, and, most of all, the intensity of what the characters want and why--as she showers them with all kinds of trouble to not let them get it (or not let them keep it if they do).

That's probably just as much of a reason (or even more of one) for her continued popularity than the substance of her ideas. I'm not denigrating her ideas and the power of them (how could I? :) ), but her fiction, not her nonfiction, is what drives her popularity if we use book sales over decades as a standard. She presents her ideas in both fiction and nonfiction, but only her fiction taps into the storytelling mind as its prime focus. And she does the storytelling part superbly.

Michael

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Of course Galt had no idea in college he was going to go on strike.

With the passage of a fair amount of fictional time there will be character arcs else why have it?

What's in Galt's head is explained existentially. AS is not a psychological novel. What we really have is story arc, not character arc.

--Brant

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1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

I assume this thread will be copied over to the blog.

--Brant .

Brant,

Some of it. Not all.

Consider this thread as notes for the work I will do there on one of the projects.

1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

What we really have is story arc, not character arc.

You're getting the differences. Notice that I said "throughline," not ""character arc" for Galt. A throughline is a string of connected events that runs throughout a larger story. It may be a plot or arc or something that gradually reveals the theme or any other logical unfolding.

There is a whole series of story and writing concepts that are not taught in the Objectivist subcommunity and should be. Instead, we're taught about how bad writers Rand didn't like are because of Naturalism or incomprehensible modern stuff, and her gushes over Hugo, Dostoevsky, etc. 

And, of course, her sui generis use of writing jargon like her notion of theme being a noun (similare to what is called "subject matter" in nonfiction writing), her own idea called a plot-theme, and so on.

I know all this because I started my own fiction writing journey based on Objectivist writing theories, I went out and learned the other stuff after discovering just how much I needed to.

In a fit of desperation, I once wrote a theater play in Brazil (I wrote it in Portuguese)--a piece called "The Decadence of Asclepius Rex, or, There's a Mummy in My Bed!" It's a comedy set in today's world about a batshit cray philosopher (Asclepius) who's live-in girlfriend (Helen) works at a museum. She takes a mummy that got delivered at night home because she didn't have the key to the museum at the moment. It turns into a beautiful woman (Atma) and starts walking around and talking to the philosopher, but only when Helen was not around. Asclepius used to go into trances, time travel to visit with ancient philosophers and rub their noses in their errors as he promoted his own theory about The Ultimate Significance in the Space Between Everything and Nothing.

There's a lot more, a brother who's a famous painter (Hermius), Helen posing nude for him as he constantly berated her about his useless lame-ass brother (she made a deal that they would split the proceeds from the painting so she could pay the rent :) ), several intrigues, some suspense and a lot of weirdness. Most of the people who read it generally laughed nonstop as they went along.

(There's even some raw tasteless slapstick in it. After the philosopher sleeps with the mummy, then snaps out of the trance where it was a pretty woman, he realizes he just had sex with a mummy. He wonders if he might catch a disease or something, so he takes a bottle of whisky and dumps it all over his thingie to sterilize it. That, of course, burns like hell and he hops all over the stage... :)  btw - There's a later scene when Helen got mad that her hubby defiled a mummy and, man, was she pissed... :) )

I worked out a stage thing where a stage hand spins the furniture around and the scene would change because the back of the furniture was the front of new things. I was thinking about taking the play on the road and that would simplify the amount of scenery we had to carry.

It was one of the best things I ever wrote back then even though it was a far, far cry from Romantic Realism and I still didn't know what the hell I was doing. :) I wrote it in about three weeks out of sheer frustration--I was constantly bumping up against things being different than I had learned from Rand and I went spiraling down. I wrote the play when I was dropdead drunk. Every goddam day from morning to night. What a bender... :) 

I ended up putting it in a government program for funding plays through tax exemptions and it got accepted. But I was too drunk every day at the time to get the thing properly produced. I even had several famous people intersted in doing it. There was no Internet back then and my crack cocaine addiction was still to unfold, so I lost all the copies. The only one I know of that still exists is with an ex in Switzerland. And there's probably a copy in the archive at the funding place, although they may have destroyed their old files from back then.

One day I might dig it out of my memory and rewrite it. Or get in touch with my ex. Probably not, though...

1 hour ago, Brant Gaede said:

AS is not a psychological novel.

sigh...

Rearden...

:) 

Michael

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I want to make something clear.

My new writing blog will not be about Objectivism except for one project. And I will shut down bickering.

The main reason has nothing to do with anything except the reality of the purpose. The situation is perfectly illustrated by a famous brick of a book on writing called The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories by Christopher Booker. This has become a minor classic. 

But one of the intellectual underpinnings of Booker's theories is Jung's archetypes, especially as applied to family roles. He analyzes one story after another through this lens.

In his original work, he analyzed the Jesus story and a shitstorm happened. So he took it out. The religious people could not separate their worship of Jesus from a dissection of his role according to Jungian psychology and traditional storytelling.

I have the same problem with Rand. Some of her followers and fans are religious about her (or hate her with the same religious zeal). Since the blog will be devoted to the craft of writing, I just don't want to hassle of constantly bickering over things whose subtext always comes back to Rand is different and better than anything and everything in human history, or the contrary, that she was a nasty-tempered goofball and terrible writer yada yada yada.

I don't want to have to delete her from my interest in writing techniques (like Booker did Jesus) due to the fanatical religiosity of some of her followers.

So, for me, OL is a place for dealing with that.

This is also why some of the stuff in this thread will go on the blog, but not all of it. Furthermore, some of the stuff here is in initial blurt-out form. I want the stuff over there to be a bit more thought out (even when it is in a raw first-draft-like state).

Michael

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1 hour ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Brant,

Some of it. Not all.

Consider this thread as notes for the work I will do there on one of the projects.

You're getting the differences. Notice that I said "throughline," not ""character arc" for Galt. A throughline is a string of connected events that runs throughout a larger story. It may be a plot or arc or something that gradually reveals the theme or any other logical unfolding.

There is a whole series of story and writing concepts that are not taught in the Objectivist subcommunity and should be. Instead, we're taught about how bad writers Rand didn't like are because of Naturalism or incomprehensible modern stuff, and her gushes over Hugo, Dostoevsky, etc. 

And, of course, her sui generis use of writing jargon like her notion of theme being a noun (similare to what is called "subject matter" in nonfiction writing), her own idea called a plot-theme, and so on.

I know all this because I started my own fiction writing journey based on Objectivist writing theories, I went out and learned the other stuff after discovering just how much I needed to.

In a fit of desperation, I once wrote a theater play in Brazil (I wrote it in Portuguese)--a piece called "The Decadence of Asclepius Rex, or, There's a Mummy in My Bed!" It's a comedy set in today's world about a batshit cray philosopher (Asclepius) who's live-in girlfriend (Helen) works at a museum. She takes a mummy that got delivered at night home because she didn't have the key to the museum at the moment. It turns into a beautiful woman (Atma) and starts walking around and talking to the philosopher, but only when Helen was not around. Asclepius used to go into trances, time travel to visit with ancient philosophers and rub their noses in their errors as he promoted his own theory about The Ultimate Significance in the Space Between Everything and Nothing.

There's a lot more, a brother who's a famous painter (Hermius), Helen posing nude for him as he constantly berated her about his useless lame-ass brother (she made a deal that they would split the proceeds from the painting so she could pay the rent :) ), several intrigues, some suspense and a lot of weirdness. Most of the people who read it generally laughed nonstop as they went along.

(There's even some raw tasteless slapstick in it. After the philosopher sleeps with the mummy, then snaps out of the trance where it was a pretty woman, he realizes he just had sex with a mummy. He wonders if he might catch a disease or something, so he takes a bottle of whisky and dumps it all over his thingie to sterilize it. That, of course, burns like hell and he hops all over the stage... :)  btw - There's a later scene when Helen got mad that her hubby defiled a mummy and, man, was she pissed... :) )

I worked out a stage thing where a stage hand spins the furniture around and the scene would change because the back of the furniture was the front of new things. I was thinking about taking the play on the road and that would simplify the amount of scenery we had to carry.

It was one of the best things I ever wrote back then even though it was a far, far cry from Romantic Realism and I still didn't know what the hell I was doing. :) I wrote it in about three weeks out of sheer frustration--I was constantly bumping up against things being different than I had learned from Rand and I went spiraling down. I wrote the play when I was dropdead drunk. Every goddam day from morning to night. What a bender... :) 

I ended up putting it in a government program for funding plays through tax exemptions and it got accepted. But I was too drunk every day at the time to get the thing properly produced. I even had several famous people intersted in doing it. There was no Internet back then and my crack cocaine addiction was still to unfold, so I lost all the copies. The only one I know of that still exists is with an ex in Switzerland. And there's probably a copy in the archive at the funding place, although they may have destroyed their old files from back then.

One day I might dig it out of my memory and rewrite it. Or get in touch with my ex. Probably not, though...

sigh...

Rearden...

:) 

Michael

Rearden doesn't quite make the novel. Like Dagny he was fighting incompetence with competence not understanding why he was losing. Finally it was just too much. I don't see a psychological arc but a philosophical one.

--Brant

of course the psychological/philosophical bifurcation is artificial 

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34 minutes ago, Brant Gaede said:

I don't see a psychological arc but a philosophical one.

Brant,

Either sanction of the victim induces enough guilt for a person to be willing to sacrifice himself, or it is merely a word trick to entrap suckers with stars in their eyes.

I don't see Rearden as easily falling for a con like the second since he took his values seriously. I see him as the first.

He married a woman he ended up despising and still slept with her, and still stayed married for the longest time, not because of word games. He truly believed he deserved what he was getting from her and she deserved his submission. He felt guilty as all hell.

Just look at his mini-speech after he slept with Dagny for the first time, calling her the equivalent of a whore and telling her he despised her and despised himself for good measure. Here's the start of Rearden's pillow talk with Dagny to remind you:

Quote

What I feel for you is contempt. But it’s nothing, compared to the contempt I feel for myself. I don’t love you. I’ve never loved anyone. I wanted you from the first moment I saw you. I wanted you as one wants a whore—for the same reason and purpose.

That is not the musings of a person trying to figure out a philosophical puzzle. :) It's the outpouring of a man consumed with guilt that is conflicting with something noble inside him.

Internal conflict that does not resolve + strong painful emotion = psychological problem.

A psychological problem may be philosophical, too, but you can't take the psychology out of it. You can't do that and mean what I understand as the human mind.

On a different note, a writing technique note, a character arc isn't always psychological. Sometimes it's a lie the character tells himself for whatever reason and the arc is about what he goes through to finally fess up. Sometimes the flaw is just a wound and the arc is about the steps he goes through to healing the wound. There are others...

On this last, I want to mention a comment by Paddy Chayefsky (the screenwriter who wrote Network, the movie about the "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore," guy.) He hated character arcs based on psychological wounds, especially Freudian ones. He called the work of those who did this "the rubber ducky school of writing." Someone stole my rubber ducky when I was three, that's why I'm a serial murderer. :) 

Michael

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4 hours ago, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

I could probably go through [Galt's] entire throughline pegging different events to different parts of the hero's journey. I need to flesh this out later. It only occurred to me during this discussion right now, so it will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

It you take the structure of Galt's timeline story as the frame, then the hero myth structure (as per Campbell) can be applied - departure, initiation, return.

But my understanding of the hero myth casts it as a psychological alchemical process, an inner change process although told in the trappings of external adventure.

The problem I have with Galt in that frame is that I see him as what you called a "steadfast" character, a character who doesn't change.  You even suggested he's kept mostly off stage because he's so unchanging he'd be boring.

I'm not understanding how you're meshing "steadfast" with "hero myth."

Ellen

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51 minutes ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

I'm not understanding how you're meshing "steadfast" with "hero myth."

Ellen,

The same way I would do Jesus as steadfast and monomyth.

Joseph Campbell put a Jungian spin on it, but as he shows, this pattern is extremely flexible and goes back to the beginning of human history. It reflects a basic pattern of living, it's not just a form to pour story content into.

The form came from life, from patterns of action that people and other living things do, not the other way around (although, like neuroplasticity where the mind changes the brain, it's a two-way street nowadays and the form, in addition to arising from life, now generates its own impact on human culture and forms the way we live).

As some humans are steadfast and others change, the steadfast ones do this pattern in a steadfast way (think James Bond for an easy modern example--he never changes and his villains even resemble dragons at times :) ) and inner change people do an inner hero's journey so to speak, instead of an external journey.

Or both combined.

Or partial mixes

Or any combination thereof.

Even though a story of a hero's journey has a kind of innate resonance with people at large, it's possible for a protagonist in a hero's journey story to be quite boring. The story can be exiting and the character no so much. In fact, notice the difference between James Bond and John Galt. Bond is super elegant ("shaken not stirred") and deadly like a wild cat with a license to kill and everything. He's quite the lady's man. Galt, except for being a genius inventor and, apparently one hell of a persuader of a certain kind of person--although we never see him actually doing that, is mostly ordinary. Rand put the colorful stuff in Ragnar and Francisco.

Maybe this will make it clearer. Most screenwriting instruction books these days tell you to run two plots--an inner one and an outer one. The inner one deals with the mental flaw to fixing the flaw arc and the outer one deals with pursuing a tangible goal. Both plots could conceivable be different monomyths running at the same time. Or one could be simplified.

There is no reason to believe this is the only way to write blockbusters, though. (You wouldn't know it from the bulk of instruction literature, though. God, how these people imitate each other and speak garbage at times with absolute certainty. :) )

In the case of the steadfast character, the inner journey can be eliminated altogether. 

The opposite of the steadfast character story is a type of story Rand loathed, mostly an inner change story with little to no action. She couldn't stand depictions of emotions without presenting the physical thing that prompted the emotion.

Apropos, she wrote an inner change story once, but with a steadfast character--"The Easiest Thing In The Word." I read someplace where she blasted her own story, saying there is no plot in it, just a man sitting and thinking.

Go figure...

:) 

Michael

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On 4/1/2019 at 1:18 AM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

Write Fiction Like Ayn Rand Project

This week or next, I will be putting the finishing touches on a blog I am setting up about fiction writing and launch it. There will be several lines of topics running such as, story hacking (the neuroscience of story), different approaches to fiction writing and the teaching of fiction writing, the story trance, the usual suspects like plot, character, description, world building, theme, style, metaphors, book marketing, and so on.

 

Is your fiction debut about ready to go?  Scott Adams did a show on this topic today:

Nothing to do with Rand of course.

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21 hours ago, 9thdoctor said:

Is your fiction debut about ready to go? 

Dennis,

Close.

Close enough to announce the blog.

:) 

Good stuff in the Scott Adams video.

I might mention it when I discuss the Save the Cat! method. That's a screenwriting book, but it's mostly about how to structure a story. (It's a story structure in the same manner that the hero's journey is a structure, and it's a good one.) The author, Blake Snyder, unfortunately died far too young.

Although Scott didn't go into it, he put it way up there in his recommendations. If you (or the reader) are interested in this method, a follower of Blake, Jessica Brody, wrote a great book: Save the Cat! Writes a Novel. She also does several courses online. She's young, but quite good.

There are other Save the Cat! books out there and they are all good. I have devoured them all except the one on indie films.

Outside of this, Scott's video had a lot of standard writing tips, but they are very good tips. The best tip he gave for me was the main non-standard one. He said to write to cause a physical reaction in the body of the reader. This is excellent advice, especially for people who come from the O-Land universe and are lost about how to present emotion (due to Rand's ranting against it in writing) like I was. 

You can take that too far, though. One of the most viscerally nauseating pieces of writing I ever read was by Chuck Palahniuk called Guts. He also wrote a famous writing article, Nuts and Bolts: “Thought” Verbs, where he basically said to write the way Ayn Rand said to write. He didn't mention her name, but the stylistic advice he gave was so similar (concrete action only, no inner feelings, although he even took out thoughts), I liked it and started reading all his online essays. You can get the others at that link. I stopped reading them after I read "Guts," though. In fact, I stopped reading everything by him after that (although I might go back later). This knucklehead brags about how many people have fainted during public readings of "Guts." 

That story has only one redeeming value. It shows how far one can go in making the reader feel something viscerally through words alone. And he does it in the same stylistic way Rand does, so it's worth the read if experiencing that to see an example of how it's done is the purpose. Otherwise, stay away. The emotions he prompts have nothing to do with the emotions Rand prompts.

Michael

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On April 3, 2019 at 12:48 PM, Michael Stuart Kelly said:

In the case of the steadfast character, the inner journey can be eliminated altogether. 

Michael,

I'm having trouble getting a handle in your elucidations for what's bothering me about the idea of classifying Galt's progression as an example of the "hero's journey" of Campbell's monomyth.  Your understanding of what that journey is apparently differs from mine.

As I understand what Campbell's talking about, the core issue is a spiritual initiation process under the guidance of a supernatural or quasi-supernatural power which is stronger than the hero's ego and overshadows the hero's will.

But where's the supernatural or quasi-supernatural power which is greater than Galt's ego and overshadows his will?

Galt is in charge of the show.  The show isn't in charge of him.

The reason I said that, arguably, Dagny's development could be considered an example is because Galt himself could be viewed as a quasi-supernatural power directing her initiation.

(With Roark and Dominique it's more iffy because Roark's method of directing Dominique's initiation is to leave her alone to find out for herself.)

Ellen

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The one thing, Ellen, over-shadowing Galt is reality itself.

--Brant

or, to be more accurate, Galt is perfectly congruent with reality--He came to Earth so we could transcend our sins through moral and esthetic appreciation or run from His presence like Robert Stadler did (all the way to Project X, which was John Galt in different clothes)

Galt is reality and is to be respected, not worshipped, but Rand herself came to within 99 percent of worshipping Him calling it "man worship" and, in my estimation going off the rails

Man worship is a female (Rand) thing but us guys think men thing or female worship BUT men defend the women who are in turn nurturing (protecting) the children

So we need someone to write a novel the first line reads: "Who is Jane Galt?"

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10 hours ago, Brant Gaede said:

The one thing, Ellen, over-shadowing Galt is reality itself.

--Brant

or, to be more accurate, Galt is perfectly congruent with reality--He came to Earth so we could transcend our sins through moral and esthetic appreciation or run from His presence like Robert Stadler did (all the way to Project X, which was John Galt in different clothes)

Galt is reality and is to be respected, not worshipped, but Rand herself came to within 99 percent of worshipping Him calling it "man worship" and, in my estimation, going off the rails

man worship is a female (Rand) thing but us guys think men thing or female worship BUT men defend the women who are in turn nurturing (protecting) the children

so we need someone to write a novel the first line of which reads: "Who is Jane Galt?"

of course, that author MUST be a man

HE can be sorta a woman; after all, Rand was sorta a man

next, a transgender . . .

 

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17 hours ago, Ellen Stuttle said:

As I understand what Campbell's talking about, the core issue is a spiritual initiation process under the guidance of a supernatural or quasi-supernatural power which is stronger than the hero's ego and overshadows the hero's will.

Ellen,

That happens in some myths Campbell studied, not all.

Besides, the way you are going about this is not the way a budding writer does (or writer in general).

Here's a variation of the hero's journey by Dan Harmon in use for TV shows:

Story Structure 101: Super Basic Shit

(Dan recently got in trouble for staging the rape of a baby, which is inexcusably disgusting, but his thing on structure has guided a lot of TV and story writers, and it is extremely clear. So there's that. I wish someone else had written it, but he did.)

Here's a book by Christopher Vogler that more strictly follows Campbell's outline, but helps sever the mythology from the structure. This one might help you see what I see. Lots of movies have been based on this book.

The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers

Here's another by James Frey. I don't know of any works written using Frey's book as basic guide, but he has quite a following among writers, so I have no doubt there are lots of novels.

The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth

All of these works are based on Campbell's initial structure.

The trick is to differentiate the structure component from any preconceived ideology, religion or other body of work. The structure itself is an extremely flexible structure. I bet you can even find some scientific papers written in this form.

:)   

When I learned to play the trombone in my youth, I essentially went on a hero's journey. Ditto more recently for learning to write fiction. I started from a default situation, became disrupted by a strong desire, went out into the "unknown" to fight my inner and outer dragons with helpers and enemies along the way, received the thing I sought (in this case, training, or as you might say, initiation), and returned to my normal life with this skill as part of my new default as a benefit to myself and my peeps. Like I said, the structure comes from patterns of life, not the other way around.

Michael

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