We’re driving the Road Back to our protagonists’ Ordinary World.

As we head into the Road Back of the story we’re writing, how are we doing?

Let’s see:  In the past 80% of story, we’ve

  1. Transformed the protagonists.
  2. Changed their goals into new Dears.
  3. Provided a transformed Dear to the protagonists as Rewards.
  4. Given them worthy allies.
  5. Defeated villains and elements of the antagonistic force.
  6. Overcome fears and evils, exterior and interior.

My goodness, what else must we do?  The hardest thing.  We must truly defeat the antagonist.

And then find our way back home—whatever “home” now represents.

Easy enough.

Well, no.

And not because the antagonist is still out there, a maelstrom of chaotic evil.

Here’s our big question:  How do we find the right Road Back?

Driving with the Old Dear

SPOILERS ALERT:  If you have never seen Castawaygo watch it now.  It will be a pivotal and enriching experience in your life.  I am also warning you that I give away many, many crucial details about the end of the film in the remainder of this blog.  Tom Hanks should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film.  This is his landmark role, not Forrest Gump and not Philadephia and certainly not The Green Mile, all great films but not of the caliber of Castaway.

The official Movie Trailer:

The Dear destroyed at the Call to Adventure is not the Dear of the Reward.  This Dear is transformed, just as the protagonist is transformed.

The transformation is clearly evident in Castaway, the film with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.  Hanks’ character Chuck survives deprivation and extreme loneliness only because returning to his lost love (Hunt enacting Kelly) became his goal. 

Yet he transformed:  he learned to be in the moment—instead of always working toward a future deadline.  He learned to appreciate the smallest of miracles and to heed obscure signs.The protagonist Chuck needs someone as his Dear who is also open to these hidden yet highly significant realities. 

Kelly is not that person, and we discover that in the scene where he is reunited with her.

Two Story Stages:  Road Back and Resurrection

In Castaway the Road Back begins with the celebration at the airport then continues through his visit to her house.  That visit to her house also launches into the Resurrection, the stage of story where evil recurs that endangers the protagonist. 

Since the two stages are so closely intertwined in this film, I’ll discuss both.  Just know that the Road Back is their attempts at re-connection while the Resurrection is the acceptance of the need to part.

Chuck Doesn’t Match to Kelly

  • At Kelly’s house, Chuck is in the moment of their reunion.
    • >> Kelly can’t face their reunion. First, she is not able to meet him at the airport.  Then, when he comes to her house, she is continually “doing” as a distraction—showing him a car and a map, fiddling with housework.  She is focused on him but also on all the things between
      • Twice she looks hard at him, as if not able to believe that this man before her is her old love returned to her. He is physically changed.  He is also mentally and spiritually changed, although these changes are not as easily observed.
  • Chuck comments on the miracle of her child.
    • >> Her response is a criticism. Children are miracles, not things to be managed.  They are the blessing of the future with the wonder of the now.  Instead, Kelly dismisses any conversation about her child by saying something like “She’s a mess.”
  • Chuck heeds the signs.
    • >> Kelly is blind to them.  She must blind herself to them or abandon the life she had built without him.  She makes her decision.  Yet when he drives away, she still clings to her past and calls him back.  She kept “their car”, another sign of her clinging to the past.

The Problem with Kelly

Kelly is static, stagnant, bitter with the losses, not transformed by them.  She abandoned her greatest goal without saying goodbye to it.

We admire Kelly.  We want her to reunite with Chuck.  They are each other’s “love of my life”.  But they’re not right for each other.  Maybe they never were, even before Chuck transformed.

We grieve with them as they part.

Driving the Right Road Back 

We don’t grieve at the end of Castaway when Chuck meets the Angel-wings lady.  We want him to connect with her.

See, we know he doesn’t belong with Kelly.  Look at his brief yet revelatory encounter with the Angel-wings lady.

Chuck is “in the moment”.
  • She is “in the moment”.
    • When giving directions, she focuses on him, she makes eye contact, and then she flows forward like water and time.
Chuck is connected to the miraculous.
  • She appreciates blissful moments.
    • Art is itself a blissful miracle, and she chose as her mark the double-haloed angel wings.  Her FedEx package marked with the double-haloed angel-wings is the only package that Chuck does not open.
  • Even with the break-up of her marriage (exhibited by the sign at the ranch’s entrance, with the ex-husband’s name obliterated from it), the Angel-wings lady maintains her connection to the miraculous.
    • Just as Chuck’s survival was a series of miracles, their meeting here at the film’s end is another example of a hidden significance that could be easily overlooked.
Chuck sees and heeds signs.
  • She heeds the signs. She recognizes Chuck as being direction-less.  Without giving him a direction, she ensures he “knows” the way. 
    • The broken ranch sign bears witness that she saw the signs of her husband’s infidelity and took action.
  • In a neat circular construction, our evidence of the husband’s infidelity occurs at the film’s beginning.
    • A Russian FedEx worker delivers an Angel-wing package to a man in a cowboy hat and bathrobe.  He, however, has a scantily-clad woman with him.  He even comments that the package is from his wife :: bad cad!
Chuck survived deprivation.
  • The Angel-wings lady has faced a similar devastation—although not as extreme or traumatic as Chuck’s.
    • The ranch sign reveals the anger of her husband’s betrayal and their divorce.  Living on the desolate prairie, she understands deprivation and priorities.  Yet she chooses beauty over bitterness.  Chuck will choose it as well.

Castaway deprives the audience of an extended Elixir ~ but do we really need it?  Our imaginations work just fine.

How to Find that Right Road Back

The task is not as difficult as it seems.

  • In The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry just has to return his soul from the white station to his body in the forest: easy peasy.
  • For 13th Warrior, the Wendol come to the Northmen who have prepared with the same courage as before.
    • We do have that lovely Invocation of Blood as they call on preceding generations of warriors, male and female, to strengthen them and to inspire them.  For a clip with the Invocation—“Lo, there do I see my people, back to the beginning”—you can flip back to the previous blog on Rewards: Click here to open that blog in a new tab.
  • With Return of the King, Aragorn releases the Dead Men of Dunharrow, rejecting arrogance and corruptible power—which Gimli doesn’t understand but Legolas views with awed approval.
  • Pride and Prejudice has Darcy force Wyckham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth has the culminating battle with Lady Catherine de Burgh.
The Road Back starts the protagonists’ journey to the Elixir, the ultimate Reward.  What is necessary to gain that Elixir?

1st Step:  Start tying up the loose ends now.  Determine the best sequence: 

  • What needs to remain until the ultimate battle? 
  • What would provide humor after that battle? 
  • For the secondary characters, what angst can they encounter before the last battle begins?  Or going into the last battle?

2nd Step: Never forget that the antagonist believes his way is the right way.  Audiences who become transfixed by antagonists might need a reminder of their particular evil—as well as that evil’s effect on the protagonists, the team of allies, and the Dear goal.

3rd Step:  Has a secondary character taken precedence and deserves the sequel?  Set up the sequel now with little hints of a driving goal.

4th Step:  The arc of the protagonists should be complete.  Has that transformation been completely shown?  Where is the protagonists’ Dear?  Safe?  Or still in jeopardy?

Castaway Breaks the Mold but still Teaches the Pattern

Castaway packs a lot into the extended scene that becomes both Road Back and Resurrection which then shifts to the culminating scene that concludes the film.  The Elixir also breaks into two parts.

Structures
  • The Road Back is Chuck’s workplace reunion at the airport followed by his reunion with Kelly at her home. 
  • The first part of the Resurrection is his rejection by Kelly.
  • In the second part of the Resurrection, Chuck talks with the friend that he didn’t realize was so loyal.  To him, he grieves for his loss of Kelly, and his friend listens and sympathizes and empathizes.
  • Chuck shares that Kelly was his goal.  He lost her, his Dear, when he washed up on that island.  He lost her all over again when she chose her fallback life rather than the difficulties required to restore a life with him. 
    • This presents both 1st and 2nd Steps, the sequence needed to cut the ties to his old life (his Road Back) and the antagonist that deprives him of the Dear he wanted (Resurrection).
  • Then we see Chuck’s transformation:  he apologizes to his friend for not being there when his friend’s wife died of cancer. 
    • This 4th Step (there is no 3rd) shows that he is no longer driven for work.  He had barely acknowledged this information at the beginning of the film.  His transformed self, however, reaches out to the miracle of friendship.

And then Chuck’s on the road, drinking water, heading to his own unexpected and miraculous end where he will have the chance to drink the Elixir of the gods.

The scene with Kelly is Chuck’s Road Back.  Yet it is also the Resurrection of Evil that deprives him of his cherished goal.

For a brief moment, we the audience want Kelly to be with Chuck.  We grieve with Chuck. 

And then Angel-wings lady helps us realize that Chuck and Kelly no longer “fit”.

Wrapping Up

When we consider the protagonists’ transforming journey and the new Dear they now treasure, the Road to bring everything Back home should pave itself.

Like the fabled yellow brick road, the Road Back becomes a curving journey to the Elixir.

Yet a horrible obstacle remains:  the Resurrection of Evil.

Join us on December 10 for an examination of the duality of the archetypal Resurrection.

Endurance Requires Rewards

When Voldemort kills Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry enters a Threshold existence, a “waiting station”.  Dearly beloved Dumbledore is there, and we and Harry discover three things.

  1. Voldemort, the Half-Blood Prince, is half-dead.  His horcrux soul attached to Harry is dead;  only the horcrux in the python remains.  Once that is destroyed, Voldemort’s physical being can be killed.
  2. Death is a transition. Harry can choose to move on or return and fulfill all of his destiny.
  3. Everything that has happened—the tortuous years at Hogwarts and with his aunt and uncle, Hermione’s wiping her existence from her parents’ memories, Dobby’s sacrificial death and the multi-layered loss of Sirius Black—all have purpose. The multiple sacrifices of the Dear will lead to a greater, freer existence.

Friendship, loyalty, and love brought Harry through the battles.  These three are the ultimate reward:  a reward that Voldemort mocks.

Someone said, in reaction to the white station scene with Dumbledore, “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

The Treasure that Helps us Endure

  • For Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth’s renewed love will help her endure the last few days with her atrocious family. Through the Ordeal, she intellectually and emotionally divorced herself from her old life.  In the Reward, she looks to the potential of the future.
  • In The 13th Warrior, the Wendol Mother is dead. The warriors escaped from the inescapable lair.  They lost comrades;  their leader is dying;  they must still battle the Wendol leader.  But they can taste success, and they begin to reap the rewards.  This is especially true for Ibn, who did not understand the Warrior Code.  He understands it now.  When the culminating battle approaches, he now fully understands the purification prayer he was taught and the Northmen’s Invocation of Blood.

As audience, as writers, we relish the moment of the Reward even as we anticipate the last three stages:  the Road Back, the Resurrection (of the Evil and of the Protagonist), and the Return with the Elixir.  It’s time, we may think, for this to be over.  We want that first sip of the Elixir.

Hold on.  Stay in the Reward moment.  Our audience, our protagonists, and we as writers:  we all need that Reward.

The Reward requires the same consideration as the Approach to the Inmost Cave: Click here to refer to that blog in a new window.

In Approach, our protagonists acknowledge their increasing transformation as they reject any return to the Ordinary World and their former Dears.

The Last Reward

Here, in Stage 9, our protagonists achieve the last necessary change to themselves, to their goals, and to their desires.

“Achieve” does not mean a change occurs.  Instead, protagonists can grasp their transformed goal, their new Dear.

In Approach, that goal and Dear were merely contemplated as the once-enticing old ones were rejected.

Now, the lover embraces his beloved, the king steps foot in his restored realm, the fighter sees justice again in play instead of trampled under vengeful foot.

The Reward is tangible, a living and pulsing reality that proves “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

Ordeal vs. Reward

As the Ordeal was all-out hatred, the Reward is all-out love.  The protagonist basks in celebration at achieving the new Dear.

And the new Dear is welcoming, joyful in contemplation of union with the protagonist.

To continue any conflict between the protagonist and the new Dear is to frustrate the audience.

This is the power of Dumbledore in the Reward of The Deathly Hallows part II.  He proves all points of the juxtaposition of Harry with Voldemort in the Ordeal.

This is Anne Eliot’s return home in Persuasion, in the old world as she anticipates the new and quite happy as she reject completely the old.

13th Warrior gives with one hand as it takes with the other.  One great defeat waits upon the next;  one heroic victory waits on an heroic death.  Buliwye is rewarded—oh, not with King Vortigern’s promised treasures and great funeral bonfire that a hero deserves.  “There is more, Little Brother,” as Herger says.  With the queen’s quick look around at the king’s promise, we know more than gold and weapons will pass with Buliwye through that bonfire into Valhalla.

A similar both-handed Ordeal and Reward occurs in The Return of the King with Eowyn.  As she killed the Nazguhl and its rider, she lost her beloved uncle.  In her Reward, she has wounds to recover from and a worthy man to recover with.

The Difficult Reward

For protagonists (like Harry Potter) who did not defeat the antagonist during the Ordeal, the culminating conflict occurs in Stage 11, the Resurrection.

If the protagonists failed spectacularly in the Ordeal, they are now prisoners of the antagonistic force.

Continuing to live is not the Reward.  Sorry, writers;  it’s not that easy.

The Reward provides opportunities for the miraculous, the foreshadowy magical (hinted at but never seen until this moment).

A beloved ally sacrifices himself to save the protagonists (Dobby).

The stone heart finally cracks; the ice finally melts.

Or information so desperately needed earlier becomes available now.

Or the untrusted Shapeshifter becomes trustworthy;  the trickster’s earlier trick percolates for hours, days, weeks and finally works out, exploding the imprisoning cage.

The impossible escape becomes possible through the others that the protagonist gathered earlier:  the thunder cliffs of 13th Warrior.

To Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, episode 7, the professor reminds her that she studied with the finest Constitutional scholar of England.  “You know all the fine points of our Constitution,” he tells her.  “You know more than anyone else.”  And this young woman, whom the world perceived as weak and lesser and not intellectual, realizes that she is more than anyone imagined, anyone including herself.  Elizabeth reaches an understanding that she had but didn’t comprehend:  “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance.”

Wrapping Up

The Reward is for our protagonists, our audiences, and ourselves as writers.

Be in the moment and don’t race through it.

The last three stages belong to the last segment of the Archetypal Story Pattern: Return and Re-Integration.

  1. The key to the antagonist’s ultimate defeat is found.
  2. The protagonists have their Dear and a new resolve and determination to achieve their goal.
  3. The protagonists think as individuals, not as the group taught them to think.

Join us on November 20 for the Road Back, Stage 10 of the 12-Stage Archetypal Story Pattern.  We’re almost done.

First Off:  a new cover for A Game of Spies,

the second book in the Hearts in Hazard series

by M.A. Lee. 

Originally published in November 2015, the cover needed updating after M.A. Lee’s HnH books 4, 5, and 6 came out in Spring 2017.  Here’s a first look at the new cover.

Giles Hargreaves is hunting a French spy who somehow manages to steal government documents.  Josette amuses herself playing whist at salons hosted by her sister-in-law.  When Giles and Josette met, they are attracted immediately. 

But he believes she is connected to the French spy.

And she thinks he will break her heart.

Giles and Josette have their first serious conversation on a settee under a stairway in the Sourantine house.  The cover models perfectly capture that scene from the book.

The cover designer at Deranged Doctor Design combined the old cover with the new in a clever way.  The playing cards and the sealed letters from the old cover along with the dominant color image transfer from the old to the new while the focus is on the couple.

Here’s the former cover image.  I still love it, but I love the new one more.

A Game of Spies by M. A. Lee
After Publishing, What’s Next?

For a writer, it’s freaky hard to go to a site that has THE BOOK for sale, type in the name of the author, and nothing comes up for three or four pages.

A writer with part of my name shows up first in the Amazon Kindle store.  And then, oh the ignominy, the other writer with exactly my name shows up before my books do . . . and this after I did research before my first published book to ensure that no other Amazon writer was using my name.

Oh well.

Okay, all is not lost.  We can do a search for the title.

Digging into Death . . . Bam!  Got it in one.

A Game of Secrets . . . not on the first three pages.

A Game of Spies . . . 2nd page!  Yippee!

A Game of Hearts . . . Wow! 1st page.

The Danger of Secrets . . . 1st page.  Yippee!  Yippee!

The Danger for Spies . . . Success!  1st page, second one listed.  Wait, the first book doesn’t even have The Danger for Spies as a title.  🙁

The Danger to Hearts . . . 1st page, first one listed.  2nd Coming of Happiness!  Bliss Again!

But my author page doesn’t come up quickly unless you find one of my books and then click on my name.

And you can find the Hearts in Hazard series just by typing “Hearts in Hazard”.

Indie Challenges

Indie Writers face many challenges long after they have a story they believe is ready for print.

We want to present the best manuscript, one that is polished and as error free as possible.  100% perfection is not possible . . . so we strive for the highest level that is.

Then we can make a cover for ourselves or find someone who can do it at a cost we can afford.

I knew I couldn’t make a good cover.  I am artistically creative as well as verbally so, but a professional designer knows to look for things and add things in and use balance and proportion in ways that I never thought.

Plus, a professional designer knows the photoshop program they are using.  I would have a huge learning curve.  Shouldn’t I spend my time writing?

It took me 18 months to find a cover designer that fit my aesthetic.  I found Deranged Doctor Design by sheer luck . . . for a “God wink”.  They are life savers, believe me.  During my 18-month search, I worked on other books, which enabled me to put out three books back to back, October and November and December in 2015: my first three books, the first three in the Hearts in Hazard trilogy, a one-two-three punch.

DDD is the BEST!  I love working with them.  Their covers are lovely, no matter in which genre they are working.  They provide options and previews, and they are willing to switch things around.  They are clear in what they can and cannot do.  DDD works within a time frame that I understand.  They have a great template that pulls from the author the information they need to work with.  DDD is brave for working with Indie Writers.

Discoverability

After the writing and the editing and the cover designer, the job of an Indie Writer is not over.  Marketing comes next.  I am still working on this one.

Discoverability is now on my ToBeRead list.  By Kristine Kathryn Rusch, it discusses what a writer needs to know about getting their works to the audience in the current state of the reading marketplace.

Getting the book out there, getting the name out there, attracting attention with the right cover and the right blurb and the right audience, these are the five essentials for all Indie Writers.

But I’ll keep writing, and hopefully the “God wink” will happen soon. 😉

I did drink the water in Greenville, MS!

~ M.A. Lee