Instructor Q&A: Greg Garrett

“By pushing people into a literal or metaphorical journey, we’re pushing them across their usual boundaries. Things happen to them. They meet people. And story follows in its wake.”

-Greg Garrett

Greg Garrett is teaching a class for the Writers’ League of Texas called “On The Hero’s Journey: Discovering Plot, Character, and Meaning for Your Novel” on May 13 at the ACC Highland Campus in Austin, TX. The class will provide writers with an overview of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey and how this model will help a writer with almost any novel. Read the interview below and visit the class page to learn more.

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Scribe: In case anyone is unclear, what exactly is the Hero’s Journey?

Greg Garrett: The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal story told by cultures around the world for thousands of years. In it, a hero goes on a journey, proves her- or himself through a series of adventures and tests, experiences a sort of death and rebirth, and returns home with a boon or gift that, in ways large or small, saves her or his people. The pattern itself was named by Joseph Campbell, a twentieth-century scholar of comparative literature who studied hero and creation myths and found this incredible similarity from story to story. It was almost, he thought, like there was a story pattern to which we were conditioned to respond. I like to say that the Hero’s Journey is hard-wired into our genes, which makes it an essential piece of knowledge for every storyteller.

Scribe: In your opinion, why is the Hero’s Journey such a strong model that writers have been able to rely on for so long?

GG: I think the thing that works about the Hero’s Journey for storytellers is that the journey model is a perfect way to create conflict. If we say there are two great stories—a person goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town—they’re both about cracking open a hermetically sealed system and making story possible. If people remain hidden in their living rooms, then nothing happens to them (normally; the Will Ferrell character in Stranger than Fiction is a funny meta-fictional exception). But by pushing people into a literal or metaphorical journey, we’re pushing them across their usual boundaries. Things happen to them. They meet people. And story follows in its wake.

Scribe: Do you think it’s possible to abbreviate the Hero’s Journey for short form fiction, or is long form necessary?

GG: The short story plot arc is a much narrower arc than in a novel, play, or screenplay, so while you can use fragments of the Hero’s Journey, you can’t walk a character through the full journey in 12 pages. But you might show their Threshold Crossing, Ordeal, and Rebirth moments—that would make a strong short story. So knowing about the Hero’s Journey is a useful device for any story, but it most fully flowers in a long narrative.

Scribe: Is there any part of Joseph Campbell’s original Hero’s Journey model that you don’t agree with, or would like to see changed in some way?

GG: I find Campbell’s model really useful, but his expression of it is hard to digest for most writers. He was a scholar, not a storyteller. The Hero with a Thousand Faces is brilliant, but it’s really hard to read. Very dense. Even the PBS series he did with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth, doesn’t really capture in any useful form the story pattern, the archetypal characters, or any real practical storytelling wisdom. It has taken story analysts and professional storytellers to find ways to make the Hero’s Journey a useful tool.

Scribe: Of the plethora of well-known works that are structured around the Hero’s Journey, do you have a favorite?

GG: Star Wars is the obvious response; George Lucas very consciously used the Hero’s Journey model and brought Joseph Campbell to Skywalker Ranch to talk with him about story. But I think maybe my personal favorite of the works that contains the Hero’s Journey is the Harry Potter epic. Every one of the seven novels contains a discrete Hero’s Journey, and then the 4100-page master narrative also bears the imprint of the Hero’s Journey. You can see how the archetype works in the most-popular story of all time—and it works REALLY well!

Thanks, Greg!

Click here to register for Greg’s class.

Click here for our current class schedule.

 

About the Instructor

Greg Garrett is the author of over twenty books of fiction, nonfiction, and memoir, including the acclaimed novels Free Bird, Cycling, Shame, and The Prodigal. He teaches fiction writing and screenwriting at Baylor University, where he has received numerous teaching honors, and has offered highly-rated classes for the Writers League for over a decade. He lives with his wife and family in Austin.

Instructor Interview Series with Greg Garrett

In anticipation of our workshop, Finding Your Voice — And Point of View, we were able to get a quick word from our great instructor Greg Garrett for a quick Q&A about that search for your narrative voice. Greg’s class is on September 28th from 10 am to 1 pm at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin.

 

How did you develop your writing voice?

Greg Garrett: I was one of those writers who was (and is!) very influenced by the things I read, and so a big part of my learning my most authentic voice was figuring out who I wasn’t. So as I grew as a writer, I tried on John Irving and Stephen King, Margaret Atwood and Anne Tyler, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, and none of them, of course, was a perfect fit. But I was also chiseling away at that block of stone where my own voice was waiting to be revealed, and finding who I was as a writer partly by figuring out who I wasn’t. There were things that I kept, though, from all of those writers, because different as they were, there was something that sounded like me. Finally, I met the works of North Carolina novelist T. R. Pearson, a discursive and truly Southern narrative voice—whose work was so ridiculously over the top that I finally felt I had the permission to be long-winded and digressive if I needed to be—and sometimes in my first couple of novels, I did.

Where do you find your inspiration for connecting with your writing voice?

GG: I normally spend a lot of time in the gestation phase of a novel, and often the novel starts with a line or two that I’ve heard and then wondered what came next. What that means is that for me, fiction is often voice-centered, and grows out of how I hear the story in my head. In Free Bird, my first novel, once I heard the first sentence or two, I wanted to know who was speaking, and what was going to happen to him. I liked that voice, even though I wasn’t sure I could trust the person speaking.

In The Prodigal, which is a radically different voice because it’s my first novel not in first person, I had a similar experience. I got that first line: “Jack Chisholm woke slowly from the old dream that he had been walking the beach with his father, hand in hand.” The Prodigal is a retelling of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, and that first line broke my heart, which is always a good place for a writer to find him or herself at the beginning of the process of composition. I knew I’d found a voice that was honest, and that would serve to honor my co-author, Brennan Manning.

What is one word of advice you have for a writer struggling to find their narrative voice?

GG: W. P. Kinsella told us in a class at Iowa that a good narrative voice should be as distinct as a unique speaking voice: “You should be able to recognize a strong voice across a crowded bar room!”

Could you tell us a little bit about your new novel The Prodigal?

GG: My agent asked me last spring to consider writing a novel with the best-selling writer Brennan Manning. We agreed on the story we wanted to tell, and my responsibility was then to develop something true to our concept and to Brennan’s teachings about grace and forgiveness, which had been taken to heart by over a million readers. Our protagonist is Jack, a megachurch pastor with a national audience who gets caught in a sex scandal and is drinking himself to death in Mexico when his estranged father arrives to take him home to the Texas Hill Country.

 For me the real story is always in what happens AFTER the end of our favorite stories. What happens after Harry declares his love to Sally? What happens after the Father forgives the Prodigal and welcomes him home? So: what do things look like the next day—and the day after that? I wanted to write a novel about the only kind of characters I care about—badly broken—to see how Jack would find a new way of living, loving, and serving, and I could not be more excited about the way the book turned out. The Prodigal is a fall lead title from an imprint of HarperCollins, and received a rare starred review in Publishers Weekly just a few weeks ago. That fine Hill Country brewery Real Ale is sponsoring the launch party Nov. 11 at BookPeople, and we’ll have live music from me and the great Dave Insley, a reading from The Prodigal, and I’ll sign books. I hope my friends from the League will drop by for a Fireman’s 4, words, and music! 

 

Greg Garrett, Ph.D., is a long-time friend of WLT. He is the author or co-author of over fifteen books, including the new novel The Prodigal with Brennan Manning, and is an award-winning professor of creative writing at Baylor University. BookPeople will be holding a launch party for his new book on Monday, November 11th at 7 PM. For more information on the book launch party, please visit http://www.bookpeople.com/event/greg-garrett

February Third Thirsday Wrap-Up: Part 2 of 3

By Lexie Smith

At February’s Third Thursday programW.K. “Kip” Stratton, Greg Garrett, Jacqueline Kelly and Keith Graves gave us lots of food for thought as they answered questions from moderator Cyndi Hughes (fearless WLT leader) about their creative processes. Last week Scribe brought you the highlights of the discussion; this week we’ll dive in deep to recap two of the four questions that the panel answered. Enjoy!

How did you get the idea for your most recent book?

Greg’s latest book started as a screenplay that he had to set aside because it wasn’t working. He returned to it when his heart was broken, applying his theory that “nothing bad happens in life because it can all be used as material.”

Kip’s idea for his Floyd Patterson book came to him so long ago he doesn’t remember what spurred it, other than an interest in Floyd’s story. His book, Backyard Brawl, came about because a fellow writer wasn’t able to do the project, so it was offered to Kip.

The idea for Jacqueline’s book, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, came to her as she sweltered in her 100-year-old house on a summer afternoon. As she wondered how people managed in the heat back then, a little voice in her head answered, dictating two pages to her. Those pages were the beginning of the short story that would become a novel, thanks to the encouragement of her writing group.

As an artist, Keith has loads of drawings and sketches of characters in his notebooks. Picture books were a natural fit for him. Branching out to chapter books gives him the opportunity to use his ideas that won’t fit in picture books. His recent chapter book is based on a favorite character of his that his publishers wanted to use in a longer book.

What is the process of writing a first draft like for you?

Jacqueline goes against the advice of many writing books, including Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: write a bad first draft. She edits herself as she writes. Therefore, she writes quite slowly and requires little revision. For Calpurnia, she did a draft and one polish. She completed her next book with a draft and two polishes.

Kip’s method for doing a first draft depends on the project. Backyard Brawl had a quick turnaround time (90,000 words in six weeks) so he had to write quickly. He got up at 4:30 a.m. each day, wrote 1,000 words, went to work, worked out and then wrote another 1,000 words. He wrote carefully, so the end copy was pretty clean, requiring little revision. With his Floyd Patterson [click the red “Read More” button to continue] Continue reading

Third Thursday Wrap-Up!


By Lexie Smith

Process, process and more process. That was definitely the word of the night for February’s Third Thursday Program, “The First Draft: Let the Words Rip!”

Authors W.K. “Kip” Stratton, Greg Garrett, Jacqueline Kelly and Keith Graves gave us a behind-the-books look at the creation of their first drafts and how they write. Greg even shared his personal magic formula for writing a first draft.

Here are some practical tips the panelists shared:

●        Don’t write a shoddy first draft, despite what you read in some books.

●        Listen to the voice(s) in your head. (Use caution when letting others know about those voices!)

●        Build up a portfolio of work before you expect an advance on your utterly compelling project.

●        Keep a journal of ideas about characters, plots, etc. Paragraphs of explanation aren’t needed. One-liners will do.

●        Develop your plot around a favorite character.

●        Working on your writing doesn’t require a keyboard, pad or pen. It happens [click the red “Read More” button below to continue] Continue reading