This is cool. I feel so seen by this book on writing craft: Gail Carriger’s The Heroine’s Journey.
I’ve struggled to learn how to write a novel and understand story structure. I’ve dug deep and wrestled with so many options. I’ve explored many structures, from Robert McKee’s Principles to Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey to Abbie Emmons’ version of the 3-act structure to Jill Chamberlain’s Nutshell Technique and Jennie Nash’s Inside Outline to Dan Wells’ 7-point structure… There are more. It’s been a lot. I’ve found value in many of these techniques, and I’ve learned a lot, so I’m definitely in a different place now than when I started. I know more about structure for sure.
Through it all, I’ve tried to be true to the story I want to tell. I figured out that I’m not telling a Hero’s Journey fairly early on (you know, just a couple years in). I’ve resonated with various approaches: first Dan Wells, then Jennie Nash, then Jill Chamberlain. Now The Heroine’s Journey has come into my life at a moment where I can understand and appreciate it because I’ve experimented so much to get here.
For you to get a sense of why I appreciate this structure, I’d like you to look at the story beats Carriger lays out in The Heroine’s Journey:
- precipitated by a broken familial network (check)
- heroine’s pleas ignored and she abdicates power (check)
- her withdrawal is involuntary (check)
- family offers aid but no solution (check)
- the heroine’s loss of family yields isolation/risk (check)
- she employs disguise/subversion & alters identity (check)
- she appeals to & forms a surrogate network (found family) (check)
- she visits the underworld, aided by friends/family (check)
- success results in a new/reborn familial network (check)
- this ties to negotiation and compromise that will benefit all (missing link to ending?)
I mean, this is a little insane. See how almost every beat has the word check next to it? That’s because each of those beats exists in my novel.
Somehow, I came to all these beats on my own. Well, sort of on my own. I had the help of many teachers, YouTube videos, craft books, films and novels. But none of them taught, or even mentioned, the Heroine’s Journey. On the other hand, some of the novels and films were using the Heroine’s Journey structure. It’s not an uncommon structure; it’s just not talked about.
Every resistance that I encountered within myself to one plot solution or another now makes perfect sense: none of those fit the Heroine’s Journey, which was apparently what I was writing all along.
Gail Carriger has seen me, and explained the world of structure to me, and given me a writing land to stand on.
Carriger is very clear that a story doesn’t have to check off every story beat to be a Heroine’s Journey. But the crazy thing is that my story does, except for the last beat. I am so excited about this, because (as you know if you’ve been following my blog) I’m still not totally happy with my ending. It’s close, but not quite there. Guess what I’m going to do next? Figure out how to incorporate the final beat of the Heroine’s Journey into my ending, that’s what.
I’m a little giddy right now. Finding a structure that embodies the heart of my story is a little like discovering a new home, which is what Jacquard’s Flight is about—finding home. Bell chimes are resonating across my internal landscape in celebration. Like home, structure is fundamental while also being elusive at times. I’m all warm inside to be have found the Heroine’s Journey.
It’s a little weird, because I already have the structure—I assembled it on my own. But having it named and recorded and existing in the world from ancient times (Demeter, Isis, Inanna) means that I’m not alone, that I belong to a long tradition. It gives me confidence to trust what I’ve created and to honor my instincts going forward.
I’ve shared the beats of the Heroine’s Journey here in case any of you are on a similar journey. If you find that these story beats resonate with you, I highly recommend reading The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger. It’s funny and insightful and smart. From what I can tell, it’s also the only place you’ll get this information.
Even if you aren’t writing a Heroine’s Journey, I recommend reading this book. There is so much to learn, not only about story structure, but about literary history and contemporary culture.
Do you have any experience with the Heroine’s Journey? Do you have a favorite story structure that really resonates with you? I’d love to know!
1. My laptop troubles are over. I have a new one. I couldn’t fix my previous laptop, nor could the geniuses at Apple, at least not without a $500 investment on my part. I decided to move up to a new laptop rather than dump money into the old one.
2. My dream of eating an ice cream cone on the beach with my family came true. Yay for vacations!