Story Telling (Part 3) – The Hero’s Journey (aka, Story Circle).

So this is Part 3 of my seminar / workshop on Story Telling that I did with the Logos Hope On-Board events Team. Here’s Part 1, and Part 2.

There’s an interesting alternative theory called, “The Hero’s Journey” (or “Monomyth”). There’s books written about this, some really cool ideas.  A very approachable version is by Dan Harmon, the creator of Community.  Ant Webb was the guy who introduced me to both Community, and the Hero’s Journey.  We’ve been discussing it and used it as part of Matt’s Blog.

Slide16The Hero’s Journey theory says good stories are circular. You end up back where you started. They’re a journey from home, from comfort, from the concious, down into the subconscious, uncomfortable far away place, and back eventually home again. Of course, changes happen along the way.

Slide17

The full theory has all kinds of Freudian stuff to do with being forced out of the mothers arms by the call of the father, eventually defeating the father, and returning eventually as a mother or father all that… (Seriously, Freud had issues.) Also, there’s loads of details that are reasonably important, and do make the story more compelling, but also, with much added complexity.Slide19So lets go look at Dan Harmon’s Story Circle instead.

Dan Harmon's Story Circle MainHe takes the circle concept, and breaks it into 8 simple parts.

1-youWe start off at “You“. This is where “you” the audience relate to the main character(s). Preferably, the character should be in a place of comfort, or at least, be connected to some kind of easy-to-relate-to “home” situation. This could be a sailor at sea on the bridge, or a little bear playing a balancing game, or Garion at Faldor’s farm, a new student enrolling at community college, etc. It’s a starting point that the audience can relate to, and feel comfortable understanding. They don’t have to dig deep emotionally to connect with the main character. It happens automatically. This is the concious, mental understanding area.

2-need Next is the “need“. Something isn’t right, or some how the stable situation will be pushed off-balance. This is pretty close to the “problem” concept from the 3-act play model. Note, we’re still basically in the stable conciousness.

3-go

So, since there’s a need, I guess we’d better “Go” do something about it. This is where the Hero decides to actually leave their safe familiar environment, and go out into the world to solve the problem. We finally dep3-enter-unknownart the concious, and head into the scary subconscious / unconscious. The going can often be the most emotional part of the story. Or at least, the most emotionally motivated or driven part. Once the Hero is actually off fighting dragons and saving maidens, they’re too busy actually doing stuff to be all soppy and emotional.

Slide27Now that we’ve actually left, comes the big difficult part of the story, the Seeking, or Searching. We may not exactly know what it is we’re looking for yet – but we’ll find out. Many different avenues can be explored, different people met, etc.  This can be long, arduous, and challenging.  The main character should be growing and changing here.

5-findEventually, we Find what we’re looking for. This is where we can start looking at the more interesting parts of the theory.  Up until now, it’s all been pretty pedestrian, but behold: the magic!

Slide32Each point on the circle has an opposite point.  OK, to be honest, that’s more like geometry than magic, but whatever.  They’re kind of similar.

Slide33Find is directly opposite on the circle from You, for instance. All opposites have extremely strong ties to each other. So “You“, signifying conscious comfort and familiarity, can either be used here with direct parallels, or with polar opposites. But either way, it’s linked. Garion is tempted most by Torak by images of family and a safe life with Aunt Pol. Little Bear realises it’s dark and thinks about going home. Frodo and Sam reminisce about home, talking about planting the acorn from Loth Lorian in the Shire, deciding it’s all worth it to stop Sauron’s Hoards pillaging and burning everything they hold dear.

Let’s move on:

Slide29So we’ve found it – but to actually Take it, there’s a Cost. As Rumplestiltskin so repeatedly says in Once upon a time, “Magic always comes at a price!”. Here, again, is a link across to “Need“, the opposite number again.

Slide36If the need doesn’t balance the cost, then why would you pay it? Too high a cost, with too little benefit, and the audience feels like the hero is crazy, or just doing it because the script says to. Too small a price, and the audience feels cheated. It’s too easy.  So again, making links between the two helps strengthen the story.

Note: Often the Find and Take are very close together, the 8 points on the circle don’t need to each have equal screen-time.

Slide30Having paid the price and Taken it, now we need to Return home. This is where we can start to bring home the conscious message of what we’ve taken. It’s the balance point going back into the safe lands again, and can be quite emotional again.

Slide35There’s nothing really left to do, so it’s beginning to relax time, which means all the stress of the journey can begin to surface and be dealt with.

Slide31As the Hero returns home, presumably, hopefully, they’re somewhat Changed. If the hero hasn’t actually changed, then really, what was the point of the whole thing? This is where sit-coms and soap operas cheat like mad. Since they don’t actually want to seriously change the situation, but leave it ready for next week, they have to paint lots of obvious messages about what the characters have learned, even to the point of having characters sitting around saying trite crap about, “I guess now we know that…”, “So next time I won’t do that again…”, so that the audience feels like they’ve seen a change, although actually, next week, they’ll all act exactly the same as before. (Sad, isn’t it?)

Slide34The Link with Changed is Search.  It’s usually through the questing / searching / learning part of the story that the Hero has changed.  This is done extremely obviously in Lord of the Rings (the books, of course) when the 4 hobbits return to the Shire and kick out Saruman and Wormtongue.  The LOTR movies don’t have that section, so they try to show that they’re “changed” through a soppy emotional “Oh Gosh How Deep We All Are Now” load of rubbish with the 4 hobbits making calves eyes at each other.  They do show Samwise actually going to ask his sweetheart to marry him, finally, which is good.  But still.  There is actually a reason for the section they cut out.  And the  movies suffer for lack of it.

Let’s look at our example, Little Bear, again…

Slide45And so that’s the basic overview version of The Hero’s Journey.

Pretty cool, innit?

And that concludes my mini-series from the workshop.  In some ways, I wish I could have just told the Events Team “Go Read Dan Harmon’s Blog Posts, and watch Glove and Boots!”, but the ship’s firewall blocks half of it for profanity, and it would shock the heck out of the team for actually containing said profanity, and doing a workshop is actually a lot more meaningful to many people than simply reading it on a blog.  But since you, dear reader, have read my blog, here’s a link to the stuff Dan Harmon wrote about it. It’s also in several parts.  And probably quite a lot clearer than what I wrote.  My audience was a bit different, and I was simplifying in different ways because of the direction I’m trying to influence them.  Read what he wrote.  There’s good stuff there.

Glove and Boots also did a video about The Hero’s Journey, which covers the more character-centred side of the theory:

Anyway, I should stop waffling now.  I’m writing a lot of this while sitting on a cold floor in Changi Airport in Singapore with my wife and 1-year-old son sleeping next to me at 5:30am.  I think I’ll wait until I get home to proof read it once more before publishing…

Story Telling (Part 1) – Energy

Recently I had the opportunity to do a workshop / seminar with the Logos Hope Events team about Theatre & Storytelling.  I love theatre, and am very passionate about making (especially Childrens’) events into engaging stories, rather than just variety shows with a 5 minute message tacked on the end.

This is kind of a summary of what I covered, with some of the slides I made.  There’s quite a lot of content, so I’m splitting it up into 3 posts.

Warning, guides

Storytime!

To start off, we looked at 3 of David’s books, which I brought along.

  • Mealtime
  • Peekaboo Forest
  • Good Night, Little Bear

Mealtime is basically just a list of items you might find at mealtimes:

Spoon and Fork,
Brocolli,
Sippy cup,
Strawberry...

and so on. Not staggeringly inspiring. Often, however, events are organised in a similar manner. Get a list of things we want to put in (Introduction video, Korean fan dance, Refreshments, Sermon, Singing), have an MC or host link them all together (“Wow, that was amazing. Next we have…”) and suddenly you’ve got a programme.

mealtime-event-order

In terms of energy levels of the audience, it looks something like this:Mealtime-energy-flowEach individual item may be all right, but they’re not really connected, and nothing really keeps the attention.  And it doesn’t get more exciting, and … well. I forgot what I was … er, better check facebook.

 

Peekaboo Forest is quite a bit better. Each page asks a question:

‘Who is hiding behind the spruce?’

there’s then a nice crinkly page to turn over:

Peek-a-boo! It’s the Moose!

So each page has quite a nice “energy” flow:

Slide7

with good anticipation, etc. But in terms of overall story-arc, it’s very dull.

Slide8

It really doesn’t go anywhere, and often programmes are like that too. Each individual item may be great, but you don’t lead the audience anywhere, and don’t have everything tied together.

Good Night, Little Bear is much more interesting. We read this to David almost every night, and even though it doesn’t have crinkly pages, he still seems to really enjoy it. The story is (essentially) little bear not wanting to go to bed, instead he goes off to play, until eventually he watches the sunset, it gets dark, and he realises he should have listened to Mama bear, and in fact he’s lost now and can’t find his way home. But then Mama bear, assisted by Little Bear’s friends, Mouse and Squirrel, come to find Little Bear. He hears them calling him, and runs to Mama Bear’s arms. He’s now feeling tired, and goes to bed. It’s really well told, with lovely pictures, and so on.

Little bear energy

A much more complex rough energy flow chart.

So that’s the “energy flow” concept.  Reasonably simple to grasp.  If we are making an event which is a variety show / sandwhich programme, or a concert, then it’s worth thinking about this stuff, and saying “How do we want to start?  Something big and fun to grab the attention, and then we can settle down a bit, work our way up to a climax, and then slowly bring it to a close…”.

Thinking about the age-group as well is very important.  How long are attention spans, what is important or exciting?  If there is going to be a verbal message / talk, then at what point will the audience be willing to sit and listen?

If we want to make the event into a story, then we’ll need to go a bit deeper.

For that, we’ll have to wait until Part 2…

Hello, WordPress, hello Logos Hope

I use WordPress at work, it’s the engine behind fr.om.org, transform.om.org and most of the other sites that we run for clients.

I’m in two minds as to whether I like it or not. Some things are great. For users (content authors, the people writing blog posts or static pages), it’s fine. Easy to understand and use. For writing plugins and templates, it’s… Well, kind of messy and ugly, but doable. For instance, rather than have 1 HTML template “base” file, with a block saying, “put posts here, and wrap each one in x,y,z”, you have a header.php which has only the start of all the HTML, and a footer.php which closes it all, and a content.php, a content-post.php, and so on, and you have to keep them all synced up. Also, since it’s designed for running on old PHP, it doesn’t use namespaces or other ways of keeping code clean, so all functions in all plugins and all templates are all global scope, so to avoid bumping in to each other, you have to name all your functions stuff like, “madprofs_teapot_plugin_get_resource() and similar. Then at the same time, WordPress has multiple global functions of its own, some called things like, the_post(), others like wp_get_cached(), (so prefixed with wp_), and others in other styles. Messy.

Still, it gets the job done.

So when I wanted to update and clean up the [email protected] blog, I thought I’d just stick with blogger. It works, it’s what I already had. But then, accidentally, while trying to update it, I lost the entire design, and putting it back together was this awful mess of Google-XML/HTML confusion, I thought, “you know, stuff it, I’ll just use WordPress.” So I span up a site on the server (in about 2 minutes), pointed the blogger importer at brummieatsea.blogspot.com, let it chug away for a few minutes, and here we are.

I’m just using a very simple built in design for now, (with my own background), but it seems to work. I now don’t have to worry about Google turning off blogger like they did with Reader and GoogleCode, and since I use WordPress at work, I understand what’s going on pretty well.

That all said, we’re now on the ship, trying to settle in. We have a really nice cabin. Jet lag wasn’t fun, especially with the baby, but we’ll get through it. Yesterday Becky drank a big milky drink by accident – we thought it wasn’t cows milk but plant based, and last night and tonight David has been awful – screaming for ages and refusing to be comforted or to sleep lying down in his bed. So that does seem to confirm that maybe it is a lactose intolerance at the moment – hopefully he’s back to normal in a day or so.

Work so far is just cleaning the various venues. We’ve not even begun to start installing new equipment or doing anything really technical. We’ve got the lights out of their bags and air-blasted them all, cleaned many surfaces and TVs and vacuumed and dusted. It’s going alright. Still sooo much to do.

For Becky and David things are a bit odd still, it’s quite odd not having a fixed job to do, not knowing what to do most of the day, not having cornerstone to visit, not really knowing many people yet, and so on.

Anyway, we’re here, the flights weren’t bad at all. We couldn’t check in online due to some weird computer bug, but at the terminal while we were checking in we asked about getting a bassinet for David to sleep in, and they said they could get us one, but the lady recommended us instead to not get one, as he is quite big, and had a seat booked, and instead found us a row of four seats with no one else on the row, so we could make a bed for David there, which gave us all a lot more room. So on the second flight, both mother and baby could actually lie down and get some proper sleep, and arrive not looking like zombies.

I now have this weird mental image, after that last sentence, of a zombie “madonna and child” (very un-)orthodox icon…

That aside, we’re here!