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“You enter the extraordinary by way of the ordinary.” ~Frederick Buechner

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reading For Craft

Classic Corner

The Key, by James N. Frey

This timeless book is a must have for anyone who writes fantasy or science fiction. However The Key addresses core issues that impact all genres, because mythic elements are found at the very heart of all stories that have any impact on a reader.

Mythic features are often considered to be the domain of speculative fiction.  But James N. Frey considers them to be the foundation markers for all quality fiction. In The Key, he sets out the reasons, the functions, the techniques and the possibilities.

One reason Frey gives is that every great fiction story experiences a transformation of character, and mythical journeys and heroes provide universal and ongoing dramatic patterns. We, as readers, are emotionally and psychologically hotwired to respond. Using mythical motifs increase reader identification and satisfaction in the story. 

“If the modern writer is made aware of these forms and the cultural role of myth in the lives of modern man, he or she will be able to use them as a powerful tool that speaks to the reader at the deepest level of the unconscious mind.”

To demonstrate, he develops a sample myth-based story. Step by step he introduces the character types, motifs and structures giving clear definitions, and then implements them into the creative draft from idea to outline to rough scenes. And along the way he points out variations and difficulties. This is not a blueprint formula, especially for your hero.

Frey himself warns against the danger of this trap. “Nothing could be farther from the truth. The mythic hero needs to be just as three-dimensional, interesting, passionate, and dramatically driven as any other dramatic character.  You will need to put more work and care—not less—into the creation of mythologically heroic characters.”

Another important aspect he highlights is subtle perceptions that affect out attitude. He proposes a situation in which his daughter is dating a gas station worker.  If he is rude to customers, shortchanges and unreliable, then he’s a jerk. But if he’s employee of the month, courteous and attentive to customer needs, then he’s okay. Frey notices that we respect people who are good at what they do, regardless of the job. Recognizing values plays a key insight into mythic heroes in the everyday. Where Frey also adds we find the conflict—in common-day struggles.

Just as his subject stands up to the passage of time, so does Frey’s analysis of a myth-based novel in development. Definitely belongs on a writer’s classic bookshelf.

Share: Who do you think is the most complex mythic hero that you have read?

Read deep, marcy

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