Into the Cave

Spelunking:  the exploration of caves

Stage 7 of the Archetypal Story Pattern (ASP) is Approach to the Inmost Cave, the focus of our last blog. (click here to read)

The name itself—“approach” and “inmost cave”—clues us writers to the multitude of caves necessary for our protagonists’ transformative journey.


A cave is under the earth.  Yes, I know I am Miss Obvious, but I have a purpose.

Spelunking tools include crash helmet, boots, gloves, drinking water, food, and three independent light sources.

Common inhabitants of caves include bats (who navigate by echolation) and blind fish (who sense the tremors in the water).  Most other creatures stay near the natural light sources, using the cave only for a refuge or a lair.

For writers, “caves” lets us know that we are venturing deep into the dark unknown of our protagonists’ psyche—and our own.  We writers reveal much about ourselves—unknowingly—in our writing, especially our first ½ million words and often twice beyond those.

Caves—in literal fact and in our subconscious—are labyrinthine.  Monsters may lurk:  Who is predator?  Who is prey?  Who is both?

Okay, enough with Miss Obvious.  Here’s Miss Purpose ::

Such caves require hard choices—and our protagonists have been deciding and discerning and distinguishing since they abandoned their Ordinary Worlds and embarked on their journeys.

  • Through the tasks, they have delved deeply into antagonistic levels that revealed their own strengths and weaknesses. 
  • They don’t know who or what the monsters are, and they fear they themselves are one of those monsters. 
  • They don’t understand the means of navigation. 
  • And they don’t have three independent light sources.

The Inmost Cave of story is not a cage.  It’s not a prison.
A well-tended green maze is certainly not a labyrinthine cave.

The Ordinary World could have been a cage, but the protagonists have escaped it.  Even when the Dear One of the OWie returned to lure the protagonist back, they continued on.

The Inmost Cave is not a maze.

It can be labyrinthine, with blocked or twisted passages. 

A maze, though, is a puzzle that can be easily solved.  It lacks its minotaur, half-man and half-beast, waiting to devour the unwary. 

A maze can be an amazing walk, but it needs no thread to guide our Theseus-like protagonists in and out of the unlighted passages.


Joseph Campbell [Remember him?  From way back in mid-January > click here for a reminder] places the Ordeal in the Inmost Cave.

The terminology of “Inmost Cave” requires a series of caves:  the entrance, the journey into, the first vaulted emptiness, more passages, perhaps more caverns, and finally the deepest, darkest location.

We journeyed through these first locations, didn’t we?  The C2A, the Mentor, the 1st Threshold, the Tests.  Now, finally, we are heading down to our Ordeal.

Subconscious fears arise in even the most seasoned spelunker when equipment fails while exploring a new cave.

  • The fear of being lost, of being left alone.
  • The crushing weight of earth
  • The claustrophobia of enclosed spaces
  • The utter darkness that hides dangers:  creatures, projections, freezing water, and abysses.
  • The complete devastation of losing the way and being forever trapped.

Senses heighten in these situations.  Adrenaline kicks in.  Only the most stoic can hide their emotional reactions;  they still have them.

No one escapes emotions.

Not even our protagonists.


What fears plague the protagonists?

Unforeshadowed fears cannot undermine our protagonists in the Ordeal.  Plan for them.

  • Ibn in 13th Warrior suddenly announces his fear of heights as he must slide down a rope from a higher ledge into water.  The audience cannot appreciate his fear.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark left a snake in Indiana Jones’ seat as he flew away from his first encounter with danger.  The audience, therefore, anticipated and understood his fear as the last torch flickered out in the pyramid.

Fear is not the greatest darkness a protagonist confronts.

Evil is.


The darkness in us all is our greatest struggle.  We have dropped into the abyssal inmost cave that our humanity most struggles against.

And the greatest evil?  It’s the loss of our humanity, the higher and nobler motivations that elevate us above the animal.

How do we lose that humanity and sink into evil?  It’s revenge.

Revenge, rather than justice, is the greatest evil when facing our antagonist.

Revenge is not justice.  The ancient Greeks understood that, when they named justice Themis while they named revenge Nemeis … and the Erinyes, the undeterred Furies … and the Harpies, Zeus’ hounds of Hades.

Medea About to Murder Her Children by Eugène Delacroix (1862)

What can revenge compel the protagonists to do?

The villain in The Incredibles wants revenge based on an early rejection.  Rejection seems a silly motive–until you examine the last Iron Man movie and Girl on a Train and Wuthering Heights and Dido of Carthage and James Bond’s villains and more and more.

In the Hobbit, Bilbo confronts Smaug, intense greed representative of the dwarves’ greed—and mirrored in the greed for the Ring itself that Bilbo and then Frodo (and Golum) must confront.  Smaug wants revenge.  The dwarves want revenge.  Bilbo avoids it.

Medea is rejected, abandoned, and cast out.  For her revenge on Jason, she kills a princess, a king, and her own children.

Hamlet’s father is murdered. He kills Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (deliberately causing their deaths is murder), and Claudius.  Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude are also killed in the maelstrom of his revenge.

Revenge has unintended consequences.  How many superheroes contend with villains motivated solely by revenge? 

Every crime, every terroristic act, and every war—revenge starts all of them.

Remember that as you prepare the protagonists’ Ordeal.


The Ordeal is the greatest suspenseful moment and the darkest action of the ASP.  It occurs at the 75% mark of the story.  Everything has built to this apex.  It is the Crisis, not the Climax.

The Road Back and the Resurrection of the Evil (Stages 10 and 11) are still to come.

How can the Ordeal seed the difficulties in these two stages?  Here’s a clue:

Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together. ~ Goethe

Revenge isn’t kind.  Remember that.  The Ordeal will be all-out hatred.

Join us on the 20th for a discussion of the essentials of the Ordeal.

Socrates challenges our thought processes:  “I only know that I know nothing,” he famously said.

Plato challenges our view of the world.  He chains us in a cave and tells us that we see only shadows.

Aristotle challenges everything.

He wrote volumes upon volumes on physics, biology, botany, agriculture, mathematics, logic, politics, ethics, dance, and theatre . . . to name a few.  😉

Plato called Aristotle “the mind of the school”, and so he must have been.  On all topics he classified and categorized and defined, creating some of the first systems of understanding.

Aristotle on Plot Structure

Much like Freytag (see the previous blog “One Guiding Decision”), Aristotle viewed plot from a dramatic standpoint.  He didn’t initiate the structure.  Instead, he analyzed the best plays–by Sophocles, d. 406 BCE; Euripides, d. 406 BCE;  and Aeschylus, d. 456 BCE–all three of whom preceded him by two or three generations.  These three are the masters of ancient Greek drama, and their intuitive understanding of great story can affect us just as strongly over 2,000 years later.

To Aristotle, the great dramas required 5 essentials:


The continuation of this original blog post from  30 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Professionby M. A. Lee.


White-hot writing–not worrying about plot or characters, just letting the story flow–now that is fun!

At some point, however, that flashover of creativity has to be restrained.  We need to impose order on chaotic thought.

Your Guiding Decision is to determine your PLOT.

Two considerations when dealing with plot are type and method.


The Booker Prize people claimed that—for all the stories in the world, from the most ancient myth to the most disaffected absurdist modern—only seven basic plots exist.

Seven.  7.  Nyah, can’t be.

Let’s try it.

  1. Overcoming the MonsterBeowulf, Jaws, Lord of the Flies, King Lear, Alien, Fried Green Tomatoes, Atonement
  2. Rags to RichesCinderella, Aladdin, Oliver Twist, Great Gatsby, Prince and the Pauper, Good Deeds, Pretty Woman
  3. The QuestOdyssey, Watership Down, Raising Arizona, Willow, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Avatar, Pride and Prejudice
  4. Comedy: anything by Aristophanes, anything by the Marx Brothers, Airplane, The Blues Brothers, Animal House, A Walk in the Woods, Arsenic and Old Lace, Bringing Up Baby
  5. TragedyOedipus, Macbeth, Rebel without a Cause, Frances, Philadelphia, Cool Hand Luke, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
  6. RebirthSleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, A Christmas Carol, Now Voyager, Summertime, Avatar, Persuasion
  7. Voyage and Return: Peter Rabbit, The Hobbit, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Brideshead Revisited, Mansfield Park, Great Expectations, The Tempest

Whaddya know?  The Booker Prize people are right.  Whether concrete or abstract, real or metaphorical, all sorts of stories do fit these seven categories.

Methods for Plotting

Method 1

Every school unfortunately teaches simplistic plot, otherwise known as Freytag’s Pyramid, which can look like the graphic at the left.

The unfortunate truth is that stories are not simple pyramids.

For Kurt Vonnegut, his stories go straight down.

Method 2 . . . .

The continuation of this original blog post from  20 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Profession, by M. A. Lee.

Nulla dies sine Linea. ~~ Leo Tolstoy

No days without lines.

It would take “nulla dies sine linea” to write the massive War and Peace, wouldn’t it?

This little phrase is key.

And it is extremely hard to do.  Life interferes so easily.

Yet we need to make this our mantra: Nulla dies sine linea.  Nulla dies sine linea.  Nulla dies sine linea.  And then we must follow-thru with the action of those words.


That needs to be a shout.  We don’t need to accept any excuses.  This is a profession.  Treat it like one.  WRITE EVERYDAY.  Nulla dies sine linea.

Look, we have to treat writing like the job it is.  It’s not our hobby.  We let other people think it’s our hobby.  After all, we’re at home.

Look at the ways we let them interrupt us:

The continuation of this original blog post from  10 November 2016 can be found in the publication Think Like a Writer: 7 Tips to Change a Hobby to a Profession, by M. A. Lee.

Modifiers:  Misplaced and Dangling

Mistakes need Shades
The Glaring Sun of Van Gogh’s “Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun”, 1889 . . . definitely not a mistake

Communicating ideas is difficult enough without confusing the audience. Misplaced and Dangling Modifiers cause confusion.


Exactly as its name suggests, the MisMod is just out of place.  A simple fix:  move it.

John found a green boy’s sweater.

What’s green?  The boy?  No, we haven’t found a troll.  The sweater?  Yes!

  • simple > the adjective swap > “boy’s green sweater”
  • simple > the prepositional phrase swap > “I mopped the garage with my brother.” No, I didn’t dip his head in the bucket, turn him upside down, and mop the floor.  “My brother and I. . . .”
  • not so simple > the adverb swap. Be careful with adverbs.  While they can move around in the sentence, they can change meaning.

“Only John and Alice went to the cemetery at night.” :: the only ones to go

“John and Alice only went . . . .” :: the only place to go

“J and A went only . . . .” :: sounds like the previous one, but this position suggests that other options were available.

“J & A . . . the only cemetery at night.” :: This town has only one cemetery.  BTW, this use of only is an adjective, not an adverb.

“J & A . . . at night only.” :: because they like to hang out with ghouls.


The DangMod is more than out of place.  We have to add / subtract / divide / multiply?

A not-so-simple fix, the DangMod may hide from us.  We know what we intend to say.  As we write, as we edit, as we run through the final proof, we may never see the DangMod.

Only rarely have I noticed a writing software’s grammar/spelling checker spotting the DangMod for your judgment to correct or not.

First Readers may not spot it, either.  However, some readers of published writing will spot it and inform us.  Dang it.  Be nice.  Thank them.  Point out the DangMod is dang hard to spot, and correct it in your document.  Keep a chart of errors.  When you’ve corrected enough to have the original document substantially better, upload the new version.

What do DangMods look like?

Several moose were seen while traveling by car through New Brunswick, Canada.

DangMods are hard to spot.
A Moose that escaped the car driving through Canada

How does this dangle?  1] Who saw the moose?  2] Who was traveling?

While traveling by car through NB, CAN, several moose were seen.  This sentence is still NOT correct.

The moose are not seeing themselves.  They still are not driving.  Their antlers aren’t sticking out the car windows.

This extreme example helps point out the very problem with DangMods:  the act-er (subject) of the verbs to see and to travel is missing.

While we were traveling . . .  we saw several moose.

After loading the dishwasher, the video gaming continued.  >> Who loaded it?  Who was gaming?

Upsetting the neighbors, the fireworks were set off early. >> Who upset the neighbors?  Who set off the pyrotechnic display?

Careful reading of exactly what we have written will help us avoid the MisMods and those DangMods.

The Crux of the Argument

Proofreading our work is never fun.  After we’re past the thrill of character and situation, after we’ve paced the plot and twisted the scenes to avoid the humdrum, after we’ve tracked symbolic images and tweaked the archetypes, yet another read of the manuscript offers no excitement.  Checking sentences and word use and punctuation is an especially oh-hum yawn-worthy task.

Yet we want to present the best possible product to our audience.  We paint our portraits with words.  Our words should carry the energy that our story needs.  That last proofread is crucial.

How do we do it?
  • Most people advise checking for spelling by reading backwards, word by word.
  • Since we’ve been concerned primarily with sentences, I advise reading backwards, sentence by sentence or paragraph by paragraph. We get the context and can still spot punctuation and spelling.

Awareness alone is often enough to solve the problem. As we become aware of our stumbling blocks, we learn to check for them.

Avoid the dangs.  Proofread.  Troll for the grammar trolls.

~~ Emily