The Heroine’s Journey: Disillusionment, Alchemic Transformation, and Philip Marlowe

The Heroine’s Journey

While researching the Hero’s Journey for my last blog post, I came across an alternative called the Heroine’s Journey. It was devised by psychologist Maureen Murdock, and like Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the Heroine’s Journey was never meant to be a primer on writing novels. Murdock’s book, The Heroine’s Journey, Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, is about redressing our society’s unbalanced value system, which privileges rapaciousness and greed over kindness and compassion. The character going through the Heroine’s Journey will first become disillusioned by the male sphere she has entered, after which she will be reborn as a spiritual warrior with the “male” and “female” aspects of herself reconciled and in harmony (wholeness).

While the Heroine’s Journey is interesting as a concept, using the problematization of the “feminine” as a framework for every female centered story seems too rigid for general use. I also object to story outlines that tell you what your book should be about. By contrast, the midpoint section (the dark cave) in the Hero’s Journey is open enough to let a writer explore any theme as long it is binary Alchemic transformation: “despair to hope, weakness to strength, folly to wisdom, love to hate” (Vogler). While the Hero’s Journey still makes demands on theme, the transformation can be anything you want, including a return to the feminine.

Since the publication of The Heroine’s Journey, Woman’s Quest for Wholeness, many writers have adapted the Heroine’s Journey for fiction much in the same way Vogler adapted The Hero with a Thousand Faces. One version appears in Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s book, 45 Master Characters. I haven’t read it, but it is summarized on the Heroine’s Journey’s Wikipedia entry. Here is a condensed, side-by-side comparison of the two:

Maureen Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey

  1. The heroine actively enters a sphere outside of the domestic (the “masculine” sphere)
  2. The heroine becomes disillusioned
  3. The heroine seeks the feminine
  4. The heroine reconciles both sides of her nature

Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey

  1. The heroine becomes disillusioned
  2. The heroine will react to disillusionment
  3. The heroine’s reaction will be a failure; she will react again by reconnecting with the feminine
  4. The heroine reconciles both sides of her nature with a little help from a friend

Like Murdock’s Heroine’s Journey, Schmidt’s version is also about disillusionment. The chief difference is that the heroine in Murdock’s version becomes disillusioned at the story’s midpoint, while Schmidt’s heroine learns that the world isn’t perfect at the inciting incident point.

I think I prefer the original Murdock version. Because it follows the heroine’s journey into a “masculine” world, the narrative framework gives ample space for world building and the layering of themes. It is also closer to the original Hero’s journey because the return to the feminine feels like a transformation. By contrast, Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey produces a heroine that is very reactive and one that seems to fail a lot.

I also love the idea of characters finding balance and synthesis, but how exactly do you get character to this destination?

This prompted me to think about stories that fit the Heroine’s Journey pattern. I couldn’t really come up with one. I suspect if anyone ever wrote a back story for my favorite detective, Philip Marlowe, he or she might use the Heroine’s journey. He’s very masculine and feminine, a compassionate strongman. But I suppose his transformation into a spiritual warrior would be incomplete. He still has an asymptotic yearning for perfection- the alchemic transformation. The final destination of the Heroine’s Journey wouldn’t be enough.

And that is the secret to writing noir.

AuthorTube Review: Achieve Deep POV (five stars)

Do books compete with films and television shows? Not for my attention. But are books the dominant popular art form they were in the 19th century. Not even close. One means of redressing this irrelevancy is for the novel to ape film. Some authors do this by mimicking the deep structures of screenplays, going so far as to argue that the film lurking inside every narrative ought to be readily apparent to any man or woman working in Hollywood. Others try to beat film at its own game. They write essentially cinematic works- action driven, motion focused- and then give readers deeper access to characters through the use of deep point of view (POV).

Achieve Deep POV (posted on the YouTube channel, Nick’s Lessons on Story) makes just this compelling case before it goes into the nitty-gritty of how a writer can achieve deep POV. Whether you agree with the video’s arguments or not, I think it’s the best video yet posted on the subject.

Here is a list of tips on how to write in deep POV. What makes the video a cut above the rest is that it gives advice on how to stay in deep POV using illustrated examples. It’s a must watch.

  1. Don’t set the scene: Since the main viewpoint character is just a moving camera, a writer must establish the setting while the character is moving through a scene. I’ve seen similar advice before, most recently in a book called Plot & Structure. The goal as stated in Plot & Structure isn’t, however, to achieve deep POV but to create a hook that compels a reader to continue reading.
  2. Write with immediacy: The prose should reflect the character’s existence on a moment by moment level. Two things that disrupt this are (1) narrative considerations (i.e., creating suspense) and (2) digressive character thoughts.
  3. Don’t break the fourth wall: Deep POV requires that you cut out narrative story telling in toto. This means any writing that suggests there is a storyteller spinning a yarn. Here, the AuthorTuber’s example falters. He gives an example of a comic sentence that breaks the fourth wall and then provides a correction. But I think the correction also breaks the fourth wall. It’s possible that comedy, which requires a setup and possibly a detached point of view, may not be compatible with deep POC.
  4. Embrace the viewpoint character’s voice entirely: This means you can’t switch back and forth between third-person limited and third person omniscient in a scene. Writers I love, like Daphne du Maurier, do this often. The mode of storytelling switches as the drama ratchets up. The prose moves from third omniscient to third-person limited and then to deep third person. This technique is best illustrated in her short stories. This is, however, unacceptable in novels written in deep POV.
  5. Write from an inside out perspective: A view point character shouldn’t be aware of their own body language or image, though they should be conscious of such aspects of other characters in the story. When describing a viewpoint character’s experience, it’s best to stick to “primary thoughts,” which take the form of “visceral reactions” and “introspection.”
  6. Limit the amount of point of views: He recommends one viewpoint character for horror or mystery novels and up to three for epics.
  7. Choose introspection over visceral reactions: This was my favorite tip, even though it’s a rehash of tip 5. The example he gives, though, is odd, because his introspection sounds like narrative telling. Deep POV is tricky.
  8. Don’t hide emotions from readers, even for dramatic purposes: Access to a character’s head means access to a character’s head. That means no secrets. His example, however, is about hiding plot points, not emotions. Still, neither is acceptable in deep POV.
  9. Avoid all filter words: This point is the bread and butter of all videos and blog articles on deep point of view. It isn’t a panacea that will lead to deep POV.

At the end of the video, he advertises his novel (you can purchase it here). I was curious about it because I haven’t been successful at finding books written in deep POV. I opened up the sample and read the first page. I’ve pasted a screenshot of the first paragraph below.

Screen shot from the novel, Empty Vessels

The writing is unattractive and feels choppy. I had wondered in an earlier blog post if this would be the case for all books written in deep POV, but as I look at the passage, I can definitely see how you can improve the choppy writing.

In conclusion, I’m rating this video five stars.

Note: My favorite part of the video is his shout out to Gillian Flynn. I love her books too, but none are written in deep POV.

AuthorTube video star rankings:

1 Star Babbling

2 stars Too basic to exist

3 stars Uninformative but entertaining

4 stars Useful but not engaging

5 stars Highly recommended