Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

If I had to choose one book for a student just entering the writing field, I would unreservedly recommend Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. The author is a Hollywood development executive who has worked for Disney, Warner Brothers, and Fox 2000. Although The Writer’s Journey is more popular among screenwriters than novelist, I’m often surprised at the number of writers who’ve never heard of this resource.

No single book has given me as much valuable information as this three-hundred page text. Based on the psychological writings of Carl Jung along with the mythmaking philosophy of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, this book simplifies the basic structure of storytelling.

Some claim The Writer’s Journey is a formula, and applying this formula to your writing will make your stories all appear to have the same structure, which will leave your stories boring. I say all good stories have the same basic elements, which make them interesting. This book teaches those elements. For example, all good stories include at least a rough structure of beginning, middle, and end. Yet we don’t consider that formulaic. Also, good stories usually begin with the main character facing a change in his or her world (inciting incident), and that change prevents the character from continuing life as they always have in the past. As readers, we’re attracted to that upsetting of the normal world and even though we read it over and over in books and see it in movies, we don’t consider it formulaic.

Other stages explored in The Writer’s Journey include the mentor (the wise old man or woman), approaching the enemies cave (often near the story’s midpoint), the ordeal (where it seems the main character cannot survive and this must surely be the end), and seizing the sword, and returning home with the elixir. Each of these stages is an important part in a story, and we like to read about them because they help us make sense of our own disrupted world.

Some suggest a writer should read The Hero’s Journey before reading The Writer’s Journey, but I found The Hero’s Journey difficult to digest. In contrast, The Writer’s Journey was not only an easy read, but also extremely educational.

There is a reason this book is an international best seller and a true classic. The Writer's Journey lays out the relationship between mythology and storytelling in a clear easy to understand manner. It is not only a classic writing book. It’s a way of looking at life.


  1. My writing seems to get to where I want it, but many times it's "catawampus" style....

  2. Kenny, thanks for an insightful and informative post. I'm faced with the age-old paradox of "So many books, so little time." But with your endorsement, I see that I'll have to make time to read The Writer's Journey. Thanks again!