We are recruiting a dedicated and diabolical Nemesis to oppose our protagonist. This is a full-time job with excellent advancement opportunities, perfect for an overlooked henchman or neglected childhood friend seeking their next role.
The Nemesis will be expected to do the following:
Foil the protagonist’s plans to the best of their ability
Maintain a personal interest in the life of the protagonist (romantic interest is not necessary, but not discouraged)
Engage in rooftop battles
Kidnap and/or menace the protagonist’s friends and allies
Step dramatically out of the shadows at critical moments
The successful nemesis will:
Look good in black
Be an excellent duellist (note: we accept all weapons, including rapiers, pistols at dawn, and a mind honed to a razor’s edge by years of careful planning)
Maintain a steady stream of witty banter
Have an unflinching dedication to taking down the hero, even if it’s in their best interests to focus on something else for a little bit
Have high levels of panache
Commit to a suitable aesthetic of their choice
A tendency towards puns (e.g. tying the hero’s girlfriend to a chair and answering her mobile with “Jane can’t come to the phone, she’s a little tied up right now”) is desirable, but not necessary.
The successful candidate will be provided with a lair, a full nemesis wardrobe and a weapon that best fits their aesthetic of choice. In addition to a sufficiently evil salary, this role also comes with an attractive set of benefits, including any trophies that you can take from the hero, the knowledge that they shall never be free of you again, and the certainty that you are forty percent of the audience’s favourite character.
Advancement opportunities, whether for those seeking to command their own set of henchmen or those looking for an enemies-to-lovers romance, can also be provided to the right candidate. For more information please contact our HR department.
How to apply: please send your completed application to the HR department in the most sinister way possible. Note that our offices are locked at midnight, but this should not present a problem to the determined applicant. Should you decide to pin your application to the HR Manager’s desk with a dagger, please note that this will not be returned to you, but any knives vanishing mysteriously in the night will be noted favourably on your application. (Please ensure that your dagger is labelled to prevent confusion.)
One of the most intimidating things for a new writer is structure. That was definitely the case for me, when I started taking my writing seriously. Structure was a big, serious word that implied that I knew what I was doing, and I most definitely did not. But luckily, there’s a lot of helpful structural frameworks for writers looking to step up their game, and these helped me start thinking about my writing in a more careful kind of way.
The hero’s journey is one of these structures. It’s been used a bunch of times, and it quite literally pops up everywhere. But when I was looking for structural support (and no, I do not mean bras), I wasn’t sure if this particular framework was really for me.
Allow me to tell you why, in great detail!
A brief overview of the hero’s journey for those of you who can’t be bothered to google it right now. The hero’s journey is the general term for a very specific outline of a quest narrative. The term was coined by Joseph Campbell in 1949, although a few other thinkers tried to nail down similar concepts. According to Campbell, this template could be applied to pretty much all classic hero stories, including a lot of folklore, myths and some religious texts. (Please join me in a collective yikes at the entire 1940s, but specifically this mindset.)
Campbell’s basic structure goes like this:
Part One: Departure
The Call to Adventure: what it says on the tin. The hero is called to an adventure.
Refusal of the Call: see above re: tins
Supernatural Aid: usually where the hero meets some kind of magical mentor/ally
The Crossing of the First Threshold: aka. the exact moment that we go into the magical world, start the journey, or cut the ribbon on QuestCon 2021
Belly of the Whale: not literally. This is more a final separation from the hero’s ordinary world, which can come in the form of a setback or trigger a metamorphosis. There’s no going back from this point, essentially.
Part Two: Initiation
The Road of Trials: quest shenanigans, on the road with your pals.
The Meeting with the Goddess: our hero gets some kind of magical present to help their quest, often from a magical lady.
Woman as Temptress: it’s all getting very 1940s in this step. There is a woman, she is a temptress, but we all know it’s going to work out because this is only the mid-point. Also sometimes the woman is a metaphor.
Atonement with the Father: this is really about confronting the ultimate power in the hero’s life, not necessarily an actual mentor/father figure, but what a name for this stage. Campbell, your Freud is showing.
Apotheosis: the hero achieves some kind of greater understanding which will allow them to complete their quest. It’s probably magic.
The Ultimate Boon: the hero has got the thing they were questing for! Hooray. Time for cookies.
Part Three: Return
Refusal of the Return: turns out magic is pretty sweet, maybe the hero doesn’t want to go back to being a pig farmer or something
The Magic Flight: look, sometimes the gods don’t want you to run off with their magic apples or whatever and they chase you. Rude of them, frankly.
Rescue from Without: magic takes its toll! The hero needs rescuing even though they’ve achieved their goal. Usually they are v wounded or something.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold: home time!
Master of the Two Worlds: this can be either a balance between physical and spiritual stuff, or literally being master of the ordinary and magical worlds. Myths, man.
Freedom to Live: in other words, they all lived happily ever after
This whole structure has been worked and reworked several different times by a few different people. You see a lot of the substages merged into each other or defined slightly differently, but I’m sticking with Campbell’s for the sake of this blog post. It’s worth noting that some of these options are either/or, and some of them get skipped over. Seventeen steps is a lot, after all, and it’s not even a nice round number. Also, not every step on this list gets the same amount of time devoted to it – The Road of Trials probably forms at least 40% of any given fantasy novel, but you definitely couldn’t say the same thing about The Refusal of the Call, for example.
So that’s the hero’s journey in a nutshell. But what does it mean for you as a writer?
First things first: having a structural framework in mind when you’re writing something is really helpful! Especially something that has been tried and tested, as it were. If you don’t know where to start with big story concepts, this gives you an overall shape to your story that you can try on for size. It lets you identify the important moments in your story before you get to them, and that’ll inform how you set those parts up.
Also, it’s a good framework to use for character growth. The hero’s journey is explicitly about a hero leaving behind their normal life and putting themselves into an unfamiliar situation, and the effect that this has on them. It forces you to think about how this would change them as a character, and for a writer who hasn’t really considered this before, this can be very helpful. It also helps you keep an eye on pacing – although take my advice and pad out that Road of Trials bit if you want to have a book longer than like, three chapters.
But the hero’s journey definitely has its drawbacks as a story structure. As much as Campbell liked to say that this was ‘the monomyth’ that could be applied to pretty much every story out there, that’s not true. This only sets you up to tell one kind of narrative – that of a lone protagonist journeying into and out of a magical world in search of something. There’s a lot of other stories worth telling, and they don’t all fit this mould. What’s more, it’s difficult to transfer this kind of structure across genres. An SFF story would be a great fit for the hero’s journey narrative, but you’d have a much harder time making this fit in the crime or romance genres, for example.
Also, it’s quite a dated way of looking at stories – and not just because the plot points in this structure are so familiar that your readers will be able to see them coming from miles off. Campbell’s approach to story structure was rooted in the work of Freud and Jung, whose theories are now taken with something of a pinch of salt by the scientific community. Just as medical and psychological knowledge has grown beyond what it was in the 1940s, so has narrative and the stories that we tell each other. We speak about stories in a different way than we did eighty years ago, and readers’ expectations have changed along with that. The work of subsequent theorists updating this model only reflects that – in more modern versions of this structure, you don’t see stuff about “the goddess” or “the woman as temptress” as narrative points that must be hit. It’s difficult to write female characters that are engaging and multi-faceted if the structural framework that you are writing them in is already proscribing some very limited roles for them.
Don’t get me wrong, having a pre-made structure is a really useful tool as a writer. It makes you think about parts of your narrative which you might not have thought about before, be that character development, pacing or identifying the big plot beats. You can teach yourself a lot from frameworks like this.
But when I look at the hero’s journey, I can’t help but think of that saying: “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Yes, it can be a useful tool, but it shouldn’t be the only tool that you use. Trying to fit every single story into the hero’s journey mould isn’t always going to make you a better writer. It isn’t going to fit every single story, and sticking rigidly to every single point is just going to make your work seem predictable. You don’t want your reader to feel like they’ve read your story before when they’re only twenty pages in.
A necessary part of developing your skills as a writer is finding tools that work for you. The hero’s journey is one of those tools, but it’s not the only one. It’s important to have a structure, of course, and this is certainly a very famous one. But it’s just as important to identify the right tool you need for the job. Branching out and realising when one particular approach isn’t going to work for you is one of the most vital skills a writer can have. It’s important to go out and find a range of different things to draw on, rather than sticking to just one kind of approach.
I’ve been reading a lot of dark academia lately and I think that, on balance, I probably wouldn’t get murdered if I was dropped into one of those novels? I’m not 100% sure. So I started thinking about how I’d fare if I was stuck in a book about fancy education and wouldn’t you know it, I’ve got another survival guide.
Bring a coat. For some reason dark academia never happens in the summer.
Don’t throw away your laptop. I know all the other compelling-yet-pretentious students are writing their essays on authentic typewriters or leatherbound notebooks, but trust me, track changes and a spell checker will save your life.
Never pick a STEM subject. Dark academia is all about the humanities.
Hope you like earth tones!
Look, you’ve gotta join a couple of societies, as well as getting in with the mysterious-yet-aloof students on your course. That way, when they all start talking about murder, you’ve got some other people to hang out with.
Consider some light witchcraft.
Pick an aesthetic and COMMIT. Bonus points if it is slightly vintagey.
Have an honest and open conversation with your new circle of friends before you all get drunk and start hooking up. It’ll save you a lot of pining.
Speaking of, always eat before you drink and have a big glass of water when you come back home from a night out. Everyone is punishingly hungover in dark academia, but you don’t have to be.
Look, you’d better pick something you’re interested in as your study topic, because I can promise you it’s going to be all you talk about.
Learn how to swim. There’s always a lake, someone always falls in or their boat turns over or something, you’ll need to know.
If your intense yet attractive friends start getting really judgemental, it’s OK to go and hang out with someone else for a bit. You deserve nice people in your life!
Be prepared for something to go down at the big extravagant parties that get thrown every other weekend.
Stock up on tweed.
Employ a trusted friend from back home to tell you when you are being pretentious.
Start saving up for your dark academia wardrobe at least three years before you start doing academia darkly. Tweed is expensive!
Do some exercise. Nobody exercises in these books.
Also take a nap. Nobody gets enough sleep either.
Never agree to wander off to a secluded location with your surprisingly intense friend from like, April onwards. These stories always coincide with the academic year, and April is like two-thirds of the way through the book, aka. MURDER TIME.
Oh, and bring your snow gear. There’s always a snow scene.
Cast your mind back a couple of months, friends. Imagine the halcyon days of, like, April or whenever it was when book Twitter and Goodreads exploded because an author started complaining that they weren’t getting enough five-star reviews. The crux of the author’s argument was that the text of the reviews were very nice, but the reviews were marked as four-star rather than five-star, because many reviewers didn’t feel that the book had left enough of an impact on them to warrant the full five stars.
I’m not going to comment on all of that, because it was two months ago and I am just too tired, but it did get me thinking. Does everything I read really need to be a five-star book?
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good book. I have spent several years of my life reading and have perfected the art of performing simple tasks without needing to look up from the page. I get a lot out of reading and a really good book will stay with me for a very long time. But the thing about a five-star book – the kind of books that leave a genuine impact on me as a reader, that I think about for days and weeks after I put them down, that I will insist on lending to all my friends – is that sometimes, they can be exhausting.
When I get really into a book, I get really into a book. I write fanfic. I theorise. I can’t draw, so there’s no fan art, but you bet I would draw some if I could do more than a stick figure. I pester all my friends until they’ve read it too and then constantly pelt them with veiled messages which make no sense (‘did you get to the bit where that one guy does that thing isn’t it AMAZING’) and it does not stop. And when it’s really, really good, I re-read it multiple times, and after I turn the last page I will sometimes sit and hold the book for a little bit because I just have so many feelings about it all.
See what I mean? Exhausting.
If I experienced every single book I read like that I would be a nervous wreck. So far this year I’ve read twenty-six books, not including stuff I have to read for work. Can you imagine the absolute feelings tornado I would be trapped in if every single one of those books had a profound and life-changing impact on me? I can. I’d explode.
But like many other people who read a lot, I read for different reasons. Sometimes I read to have my mind completely blown, to admire the craftsmanship of an author at the top of their game, to be blindsided by a twist I didn’t see coming. But sometimes, I read because my phone battery is running low and I don’t want to spend an hour-long train journey staring into space, because what if I make direct eye contact with a stranger? Nightmare. Sometimes I read to see what all the fuss is about, sometimes I read because I don’t want to stare at a screen, sometimes I read because I need to switch my brain off for a little bit rather than sending it somewhere else. Readers don’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and I’m no exception. When I pick up a new book I’m picking it up in the context of whatever is going on in my life – and sometimes, that context is “I just want to think about something else”, which I think we can all relate to after the year 2020.
I’ve always tried to avoid approaching each new book as if it could change my life. It’s very freeing; I’d really recommend it. I find I set myself up for disappointment a lot less frequently, because I’m able to treat more books as a blank slate. Sometimes I bounce off books that everyone else is enjoying – there doesn’t have to be anything wrong with it, it just wasn’t for me. And actually, I really like that. By reading a lot of stuff which is just, like, fine, I appreciate the good ones a lot more.
Books can be different things to different people. They can be life-changing, or they can be palette cleansers. Personally, I have space on my shelves for both. I’m able to enjoy books that I don’t love and sometimes, I can enjoy them more than a book that I genuinely love, if I read them at the right point in my life. It’s fine for something to just be – well, fine.
I’ve (mostly) finished the publicity stuff for the release of my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass, and my friends, it has been a wild ride. I have felt all of the feelings, sometimes all at once, and then I spent a solid week just like, lying on the floor. So I’m more or less back to business as usual!
I’ve already talked a little bit about what it’s been like to release a book during the pandemic, so if you want to know more about what that’s like you can click here. But in case any of you are wondering what you should do if you bring your own book out (and I know some of you are), here’s what I learned from this whole process.
You can’t control anything
Seriously. You can’t. It’s the worst. By the time a book is released the marketing and publicity campaigns are all in motion and it’s already been sold into bookshops. Nothing you do will have much of an effect on how your book performs unless you try and make yourself go viral, and we all know that doesn’t always work out well. But that’s OK. If you tried to publicise, market, and sell in your own book as well as write and edit it, you might end up exploding.
2. Don’t read the reviews
I mean, I guess you could if you really want to? But fundamentally, they are not for you. They’re for readers – readers who don’t have the same level of attachment or emotional investment in your book as you do. It’s always nice hearing someone tell you that your book is good, of course, but you can’t cherry pick the kind of reviews you get and not everyone is going to like your work. There’s a chance you could get some good critical feedback, but you’re much more likely to get that from your editor, and listening to too many differing opinions is only going to make things muddier.
3. Get yourself a quality group chat
Releasing your first book is a very emotional time. Do not vent those emotions on Twitter. Look, we all have things we need to get off our chests now and then, but I’m just saying that keeping my appointments with my own WILDLY IRRATIONAL JEALOUSY which then went away in like, thirty seconds, was definitely something better managed in private.
4. Get some ready meals in
Because sometimes you will be too tired to cook and too broke for a takeaway.
5. It’s OK to hide your phone for a little bit
A large part of book promotion is done online these days. In some ways this is really good because it allows you as an author a lot more control and independence over that side of the process. But you can’t be available all the time, and it’s SO easy to start comparing yourself to how everyone else is doing, even if you know you aren’t seeing the full picture. Taking a break from being online will really help to reset your head.
6. Get organised
Look if I didn’t have my bullet journal I would have caught fire. Write down your deadlines and don’t leave them all to the last minute, and if you’ve got a really big project, work out what the minimum amount you’d need to do per day is before you start. Trust me on this.
7. If you can pause on your next writing project, for god’s sake do it
It is an enormous headache trying to write one book and trying to do publicity for another. It’s so easy to get them mixed up, which is a whole other headache, because publishing works so far in advance that you might not actually be able to talk about the project publicly yet. If you can, give yourself a little break. You’ve earned it!
8. Practice out loud
This makes doing any kind of interview so much easier. It feels a lot more natural when you already know what you want to say, and sometimes you can throw yourself off your groove if you catch what you’re saying mid-sentence and realise that you should’ve gone in a different direction. You’ll sound a lot more confident and assured if it isn’t your first time saying it!
9. Plan something nice after the publicity is over
I found the publicity process quite strange. For a few weeks you get a lot more attention than you might be used to, and then quite suddenly it all goes away again. It can feel like a bit of a comedown, so having something else to look forward to when you know that’s over is always a nice idea.
10. Give yourself a sticker
You’ve done a good job! Be proud.
And those are my tips! I hope some of you future authors will find them useful. Especially the one about the stickers.