Finding Substance In Stories

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There is a scene in Guardians of the Galaxy, which, for me, incapsulates the essence of storytelling. An army, lead by the evil Ronan, has come down upon Peter Quill and his band of misfits. The all-powerful Infinity Stone, which they hoped to sell to a mysterious buyer, has been taken, and Quill is forced to call upon someone from his past who wishes him dead.

Our hero is at his lowest point. He has fallen so far that there is no telling how he can—or if he will—pull himself back up. Every force in the universe seems to be playing its hand against him.

There is a scene in ZT’s Gone to Wonder: The Absent Hero that reminds me of much the same. Wendy is thrown from the Wonder, and back into the real world. Her journey is cut short as she is ripped from her path. She is tossed into the cold and left to wade through snow drifts surrounding the indoor theme park. Wet, cold, and without a way back in she is forced to recognize that this could be the end of her journey.

From The Absent Hero:

She got up and pounded at the door in vain. Tears came, hot at first on her unprotected cheeks, changing quickly to needles as they froze. Soon the only thing she could feel was cold. Her phone, which had still been in her hand, had been knocked out. She was able to find it, buried in a snow bank. Wendy cried in anguish when it wouldn’t turn on.

All at once, she had been thrown back into the world, the real world, the world that confused her. It was like being ripped out of a dream, like stepping out of a door and suddenly being at the edge of a thousand foot cliff. It was like her mom had just died, all over again. And above all, it was cold.

She dragged herself away from the locked emergency exit and began to trudge through the snow. It was up to her knees almost, and her jeans were already soaked through. Wendy hugged herself tightly as gust after gust of wind cut right through to her bones. It was a long way around, on the far side of the massive building, to get back to the atrium. By the time she came around to it, the sky was almost completely dark. Her whole body was so numb, she couldn’t tell if she was crying or shivering or hungry or anything but tired.

In a basic sense it’s a frame work from the Hero’s Journey (albeit, not from the original Campbell version). It’s what is referred to as “The Ordeal”. It is the time when the hero is at their lowest point. They face death (literally and/or figuratively) and must overcome adversity in order to capture their ultimate boon and finish their journey.

The reason that these scenes in particular incapsulate story telling for me is that they hit on many of the points that I love to see in stories. Mainly, the Hero’s Journey monomyth, something that I find interesting, riveting, and comforting.

The Hero’s Journey isn’t the only way to format a story. There are other archetypes to follow, other ways to write your story. There are books like one I am currently reading—The Islanders— which is a combination of travel guide, history book, and minor character pieces. There are stories like the short story I recently put out, Tim and The Breakup of Impending Doom, which is basically a character profile. There are books like House of Leaves, and S, which are . . . something else.

What good stories have are frameworks that will capture an individual and an audience.

Guardians of the Galaxy and Gone to Wonder: The Absent Hero both follow a story arc that lends to character development and world building. Books like The Islanders and World War Z follow frameworks that lend more towards vast world building. Both of these methods, though, will draw in a reader.

The goal of a good story is simple: bring in your reader, interest them in what is happening to the people and the world that they are reading about, and finally, leave them with a feeling of completion, comfort, and longing for more.

The ways to go about creating a good story, though, are vast and numerous.

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