Welcome to my writing cave, where myth, magic, and mystery collide. Please come on in, step closer to the fire, and let's share some stories...

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Southern Fried Wiccan Release Day with Giveaway, Plus Interview with Editor Mary Waibel

Release day is finally here! Southern Fried Wiccan is live today!

Southern Fried Wiccan by S.P. Sipal
Many moons ago, when I first got the offer from BookFish Books, I was thrilled.  Finally, this story I had worked so long and so hard on would be shared with the readers I'd written it for. I didn't quite realize how much more long and hard work I had ahead of me.

But Mary Waibel, as my content editor, and Ellie Sipila, as my line and copy editor, made that work a fun and learning experience. I'm so thrilled that Mary is celebrating with me today by sharing her experience not only as an editor, but a writer as well.

Don't leave without checking out the giveaway below for a Turkish tea set! And visit Jami Gold's blog where I'm guest posting today.

Southern Fried Wiccan on Amazon!

1) What drew you to editing?
Mary Waibel
Mary: When I started working with beta readers, before I was published, I found I really enjoyed reading for people and pointing out the places that worked really well in their story and the areas where I was confused, or where characters were inconsistent, places they could strengthen to make the story better. So, when Tammy (the founder of BookFish Books) asked me if I would like to work as a content editor for her, I said, I'd love to.

2) How did you get your start as an author?
Mary: I dabbled in writing for my own fun after college. After playing around with a few stories, I thought I'd write something with the intent to publish it. So I wrote. Then I found beta readers, and re-wrote. I researched getting agents, and queried too soon. Then I wrote some more, queried again, and finally I decided to query some small presses. I had fulls requested from 2 places, and eventually was given a contract from MuseItUp Publishing, where I published the first three books in the Princess of Valendria series.

3) What challenges do you face juggling roles as both editor and author?
Mary: Balancing my time. When I work on a project, I'm all in. I have a hard time working for a few hours on one thing, then moving on to something else, so if I'm editing a book for BookFish, I'm not working on my own projects until I am done.

4) What new releases are in store for you?
Mary: I'm currently working on a few projects. A YA romantic comedy where the girl is using romance novel ideas to get the boy she likes to ask her out. I'm also working on a series of short stories set in Valendria featuring the main characters from the first three books. Of course, I also will be writing the second book in the Faery Marked series.

5) What can we have to look forward to from BookFish Books?
Mary: BookFish Books just released Extraordinary Sam, a MG novel by Kevin Springer and your very own Southern Fried Wiccan (which I had the pleasure of content editing!). We are also looking forward to releasing The Boatman, a MG novel by Kat Hawthorne, The Best Kept Secret, a YA novel by Wendi Nunnery, The Travelers, a YA novel by Meradeth Houston, and The Fulfilment, the third book in the Fulfillment series by Erin Rhew.

Thank you so much, Mary, for being here today and for the numerous rounds of edits you put in on Southern Fried Wiccan!

In my story, Cilla, my main character, has just moved back to the US from living in Turkey a couple of years. While there, not only did she discover a fascination with Artemis of Ephesus, but, like me, completely fell in love with Turkish tea and how it is served. The small, tulip-shaped glasses of traditional Turkish tea are simply lovely, especially when filled with the strong, dark amber tea the drink morning, noon, and night.

So what better way for me to celebrate a book partly inspired by my time in Turkey than by sharing a glass of Turkish tea! Enter below to win this tea set with service for 6 (glasses and saucers) with a tin of Turkish tea. And thank you! (United States shipping only).

a Rafflecopter giveaway


About Mary Waibel and Faery Marked:

Twisting tales one story at a time. YA author Mary Waibel’s love for fairytales and happy-ever fill the pages of her works. Whether penning stories in a medieval setting or a modern day school, magic and romance weave their way inside every tale. Strong female characters use both brain and brawn to save the day and win the heart of their men. Mary enjoys connecting with her readers through her website: marywaibel.blogspot.com

Faery Marked on Amazon

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Presenting Workshop on Harry Potter for Writers and Upcoming Blog Tours

 Southern Fried Wiccan
It's finally here! The release month for Southern Fried Wiccan!!! And with the March 24 release comes a lot of activity.

Workshop on Harry Potter for Writers at SavvyAuthors:

First off (and this was actually set before my release date for SFW) -- I will be presenting my Harry Potter for Writers workshop for SavvyAuthors from March 16 - April 12. Here's a brief description:

Using Ms Rowling's phenomenally popular series as a base, we will delve below the surface of her prose to determine what made her writing so magical for so many. Learn about giving the reader more, the value of subtext, using mythic themes and structure to advantage, plotting a trail-of-clues mystery, and the business of self promotion.
Check this link for more detailed information and to sign up. This workshop is always a lot of fun, and I do my best to incorporate new aspects that are of interest to the participants.

As part of the promo for this workshop, I blogged yesterday at SavvyAuthors on Learning Sleight of Hand from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. You can check out that blog post at this link.

 Southern Fried Wiccan Book Tour

Upcoming Blog Tours and Review Copies:

I have two different blog tours coming up for Southern Fried Wiccan. First, my publisher BookFish Books is setting up a tour for the week of March 24 - 30. Also, Nereyda Gonzalez at YA Bound Book Tours is setting up a tour for March 30 - April 10. If you'd like to host a stop on either of these tours, you can respond in the comment section, email me at SPSipal AT gmail.com, contact BookFish Books directly at BookFishBooks AT gmail.com, or contact Nereyda for the YA Bound Book Tours through the information on this page here. There will be prizes!

Review Copies Available:

Finally, review copies are available for Southern Fried Wiccan. NetGalley will be posting release info with review copies in a few days, until then, you can also contact me or BookFish at the above gmails to request a review copy.

I'll be posting some giveaways in the next few days! Some of these are specifically geared to reviewers. So keep check here or my Twitter!

Be sure to check out Southern Fried Wiccan for pre-order at Amazon and add it to your shelf at Goodreads!

And thank you!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Withholding Backstory to Ensnare Readers' Interest with Examples from Harry Potter

I once heard literary agent Donald Maass give a workshop on his Writing the Breakout Novel. One thing he said I will always remember -- backstory is called backstory because it belongs in the back of the story.

Too many beginning writers make one big mistake -- loading their first scene, first chapter, first quarter of the book with way too much backstory. They feel that the reader won't understand their protagonist, their plot, their world, unless they TELL ALL upfront. However, this usually deadens the forward movement, the energy of the story, and leaves the reader without any urgent mystery to propel them onward.

One of the most important mysteries you should be pushing your reader to discover is the compelling backstory you’ve withheld. Think about JKR. Her masterful withholding of backstory is the energy that thrust the reader not only through the first book, but the next several to come as well.

Take a look at these key Harry Potter series mysteries, based on backstory, that readers were dying to know:

  • What actually happened in Godric's Hollow?
  • Which side was Snape truly on?
  • Why did Voldemort want to kill a one-year-old baby ?
  • What did Dumbledore see in the Mirror of Erised?

Online forums and fan conferences were filled with speculation regarding these key questions. Their unanswered mystery flamed readers' interests. Fans just had to know the answers, even if they invented the answers themselves through blog posts or fan fiction.

JK Rowling once said in an interview that she had rewritten the first chapter of Philosopher's Stone at least ten times because the earlier versions gave everything away. If you'd put all those versions together, the whole mystery of the series would have been revealed. Thank goodness she revised! One huge reason Harry Potter was such a phenomenal success was due to JKR's witholding of backstory. She did not release it until her readers were beyond dying to know!

In my own writing, I've found that it's very tricky to hold onto my backstory. It seems more natural to me to just get it all out there as soon as possible. I'm not sure if it's because it's in my nature to tell everything I know. Or if, perhaps, I'm not trusting the reader enough to understand what I'm trying to say without explaining everything in excruciating detail.

Even though Southern Fried Wiccan is not a mystery, I still had a couple of mysterious elements, mostly regarding the backstory of Cilla's grandmother. I held off revealing this backstory until about 2/3 into the book where it would have the greatest emotional impact on Cilla and affect a key decision she's making. However, in my WIP, Call of the Jinn, mystery is a much greater part of the story, and I find myself struggling to walk that tightrope between revealing too much while not leaving the reader confused.

When unloading backstory, at least in the beginning of your story, less is more. Withhold as much as possible without leaving your reader confused. Explain just enough to have the current action make sense but to keep a question pushing your reader onward. Then, dribble the backstory in as necessary, in bits and pieces, carefully woven in. Preferably, release enticing nougats in dramatic ways and only after the reader's curiosity is at a fever pitch.

What about you? How do you approach revealing backstory in your own writing?

Note: This post is revised from an earlier version posted  June 2011.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Love Stories from Irish Myths Retold in Grá mo Chroí "Love of my Heart" by Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty

I am so happy to welcome two very special guests to the blog today. Jane Dougherty is one of the most talented writers I know. Her Green Woman trilogy is a vividly written and fantastically dark post-apocalyptic story that breathes old myths to new life. I'm just getting to know Ali through Grá mo Chroí, and love the passion she brings to the retelling of these classic stories. Together, Jane and Ali have written a beautiful collection of love stories that transported me to an Ireland long ago...and yet still alive. And with Valentine's Day approaching, I can't think of anything lovelier to read. So join me in wishing a:

Happy Book Birthday to Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty with Grá mo Chroí - "Love of my Heart"!

Thank you Susan for letting Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty (that’s us) use your blog today. On February 11th, Grá mo Chroí will be released, a joint adventure into the retelling of some of the great love stories from Irish myth.

 Grá mo Chroí

‘Love of my Heart’

Love Stories from Irish Myth

Long ago in a green island surrounded by protective mists, a people lived among the relics of a bygone age of which they knew nothing, not being archaeologists, but around whom they created a mythology. They were a volatile people, easily moved to love or war, and motivated by a strict sense of honour. They had women warriors and handsome lovers, wicked queens and cruel kings, precious heroines and flawed heroes. Magic was in the air, beneath the ground, and in the waves of the sea, and hyperbole was the stuff of stories. They were the Irish, and these are a few retellings of some of their beautiful stories.

Ali Isaac and Jane Dougherty are writers with a shared heritage. Ali has woven that heritage into the fabric of her stories about Conor Kelly and his adventures in the Otherworld. Jane consistently slips references to the old stories and the old heroes into all of her novels.

This collection of retellings of some of the great love stories from Irish mythology is our tribute to this culture which has so captivated us. Love in the Iron Age, as you will see, did not have the benefit of Disney. The Ancient Irish had to contend with far more violence than modern lovers, and their ideas of what constituted happiness were not necessarily the same as ours. An Irish princess was not going to languish at the top of an ivory tower waiting for a knight in shining armour. She was much more likely to get on her horse and drag him out of his bed with a curse if he hung about too long. But in many ways, love through the ages has not changed one iota. Grief, sorrow and passion are all there in spadesful.

If the only thing you know about Irish mythology is Saint Patrick, serpents, and Leprechauns, it’s about time you read this collection. If you like what you see, this could be the start of a life changing experience.

Here is a short excerpt from the first story in the collection, The tragedy of Bailé and Aillinn.

Bailé, the soft-spoken, left Emain Macha in the north to meet Aillinn, his betrothed. Rare was such a wedding host, and uncommonly joyful. For the king of Ulster’s only son and the daughter of the king of Leinster had made a love match. Even the sun shone bright on Bailé’s journey, the hounds danced and milled about the horses’ legs, fancy bridle bits sang silver songs in the wind, and the company was filled with joy.

Bailé left behind his own lands of Ulster, the blue lochs and gorse-yellow hills where the eagles cried. Before him, beyond the purple peaks of home, lay the low, wooded hills and the rich plains of Leinster. He saw his Aillinn in the contours of the hills, in the white plumage of the swans on the river. She was soft as new grass and spring foals, wild as the March wind, and generous as the blackbird singing to the world. His heart was full of joy that soon they would be wed and their union would bind together her rich beauty of soft hills and birdsong, and his wild majesty of the eagle and the red deer.

If you like the sound of the world of the ancient Irish, treat yourself to a little Celtic romance for Valentine’s Day. You can get Grá mo Chroí here

Normal price 99c/ 99p FREE Wed 11th Feb – Sun 15th Feb

To learn more about the authors:

You will find Ali pottering about most days on her blog: www.aliisaacstoryteller.com, her Facebook author page, or tweeting. Alternatively, you can email her at aliisaacstoryteller.com@gmail.com. Her books are available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

Jane can be found on her blog, www.janedoughertywrites.com, on her FaceBook author page , or tweeting. You can find out more about her on Goodreads, and all her books are available on Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk.

Almost forgot, we have Amazon countdown deals  99c/99p on the first books in our respective series running from February 11th to February 15th!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Symbolism behind the Ancient Magic of the Cauldron

In my area of the South, no proper family reunion would be held without Brunswick stew. And, as everyone knows, a proper Brunswick stew is prepared in a cast iron pot over an outside fire. The stew needs that smoky flavor to attain its true heights of deliciosity. Yum!

I've been thinking about these cast iron pots since I incorporated one into a key scene in Southern Fried Wiccan. There's magic long associated with this old, simple cooking implement, and I began to wonder why.

Humans have always eaten, but only in the last million years or so have we transformed our food from its natural, raw state by the aid of fire. Some scientist credit this new cooking technology with the rapid expansion of the Homo brain into the modern humans we now are.

from spicycinderella.wordpress
Imagine for a moment that you are living in days long ago, before electricity, before solidly constructed homes and a reliable heat source. How amazing would the warmth and protection that a fire offers feel to you? Then to add to this magic, the transformation that occurs when tough, bloody meat is roasted over the crackling flames to bring out the tender, savory goodness. Or later, when technology had progressed enough to put a vessel atop those flames - a pot (of leather or baked clay initially) of hot liquid giving new life to leftover bones and discarded scraps of plants. Surely this was magic.

Gundestrup cauldron, from Denmark
Is it any wonder, then, that one of the most ancient, most universal symbols of magic is the cauldron over a fire? This simple, common pot that has nourished people for millennia? Long considered the domain of women and the goddess, the spiritual aspect of food transformation has been associated with Hestia as the hearth goddess of ancient Greece, to the Celtic Ceridwen and her cauldron, to Kamuy Fuchi the Japanese goddess of the hearth and gatekeeper to the other realm. In the mystical beliefs of Islamic Sufis, only those who attained spiritual enlightenment were fully "cooked."

In Southern Fried Wiccan, I employed the symbolism of this cooking vessel by two women who each use it to perform their own brand of magic. Mother Faith, the Wiccan priestess, uses a small altar cauldron to help her young witches focus their minds and energy on what it is they truly want to achieve, whereas G-ma, the protagonist's grandmother, uses the food and drinks she lovingly prepares to heal and strengthen all those she comes in contact with.

In modern times, women have fought to free themselves from the enforced bonds of hearth and home. Which, as someone who knows full well how time-consuming proper food preparation is, I 100% agree with. But I also believe it important to understand and embrace the original associations of this ancient symbol...for ALL sexes. The cauldron and the fire were born from the awe of those who wielded the magical abilities to transform one substance into something new and delicious. It's a symbol of power and knowledge.

For as long as we live, we need to eat. And as the modern re-movement to whole foods shows, WHAT we eat is important to how we live. I like to think that when I cook, I'm participating in a spiritual magic handed down from the dawn of human history.


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Secret Door Through Platform 9 3/4 into a World of Our Dreams

The portal. The secret door. The entry into an unknown and fantastic world. Is there any more cliched trope of fantasy writing no matter how creative the author may get? For L. Frank Baum, a tornado  acts as the portal, transporting Dorothy from her farm in Kansas to the magical world of Oz.  In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, it was the...well...wardrobe that hid an entrance to Narnia. And as all Potter fans know, it was Platform 9 3/4 that is best remembered as the secret door through which Harry left his Muggle life with the Dursley's to truly enter the magical world (although he'd taken a short dip through The Leaky Cauldron into Diagon Alley).

The Appeal of the Forbidden Secret:

In his book The Writer's Journey, author Christopher Vogler talks about the Law of the Secret Door (p. 112-113) (also related to Carl Jung's "Forbidden Door"). Many myths include a set-up whereby the heroine is told she must never eat from a certain tree, never open a certain box, or never pass through a certain door, upon pain of death. Of course the myths I’m referring to are Eve in the Garden of Eden, Pandora with her box, and Belle in Beauty and the Beast. We all know what happens, what is sure to happen anytime this sort of situation presents itself in a story. If you have children, you probably have this happen quite regularly in your life as well.

The power of curiosity is universal. In the words of the immortal Dumbledore, "Curiosity is not a sin.... But we should exercise caution with our curiosity... yes, indeed" (p. 598, GoF). Whereas later in the series Harry more strongly develops his own driving need to set the world right by stopping Voldemort, in the first three books, curiosity is one of the prime motivators driving on Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Threshold Guardians Challenge the Seeker:

To further drive home the dangerous and important nature of these portals to new worlds or gateways to new challenges, Threshold Guardians are before them to keep the unworthy out. A guardian may be a goodhearted ally of the hero, looking out for his best interest, or he may be an accomplice of the villain, seeking to harm or hinder the hero from completing his quest. Either way, as part of his quest, the hero will be tested by his ability to overcome or win over the many Threshold Guardians he will encounter along the way.

At Platform 9 3/4, it is the guard who, with Muggle ignorance of the wizarding world and his belief that Harry is pranking him, keeps Harry from, initially, finding the hidden door. Harry must not give up, he has to listen for clues and approach the odd family that will provide him entry...the Weasleys.

The Universal Appeal of Entering a Fantastic New World:

From the Portrait of the Pink Lady, to Fluffy, to Moaning Myrtle, Harry encounters numerous thresholds and their guardians throughout the series. But it is this initial entry through the Secret Door that holds a special place in the fans' imagination. Which is why it is being revealed today as the new addition to Warner Brothers' The Making of Harry Potter Studio Tours at Leavesden and was also added onto the World of Harry Potter at Universal.

Most of us Muggles want to go through that secret door onto the hidden platform. We want to get on that train and let the Hogwarts Express carry us to Hogwarts where we can live out the fun and magical adventures that await Harry. I believe the reason why the portal to a fantasy world, the Secret Door, continues to be used in fantasy literature is because it holds such a universal appeal of wish fulfillment. Who doesn't want to escape into a world that is fascinating and exciting and where we hold new and unusual powers...even if danger awaits. It is only through this Secret Door, provided us through the power of imagination in the books that we love that we can live out our wildest dreams.

Using Forbidden Doors in Our Stories:

Forbidden Doors are special thresholds and great tools for writers. They set up reader expectation for something exciting and dangerous to occur once that gateway is breached. They pull your readers in, engaging their own curiosity as they urge your heroine on through the Secret Door, then hold their breath as to what fate will befall her for her trespass.

I think the goal for us as writers is not to ignore the powerful tropes available to us for storytelling, but to make sure we breathe new life into them so that our use is not cliched. Give them your own spin, an imaginative take-off that fits only your story and no one else's. Then maybe one day we'll have readers lining up at a Kings Cross element from our own story to take a picture in front of our version of a cart affixed to a solid brick wall. Or is that just more wish fulfillment?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Why We Can't Let Harry Potter Go

Jane Austen
Margaret Mitchell
JRR Tolkien
George Lucas

How many old stories can you think of that are not only still read, but continue to reside passionately in the heart of its fans? Austen, Mitchell, Tolkien, Lucas are a handful of the rare few who created stories and characters so well loved that people are still passionate about Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, Scarlett and Rhett, Frodo and Sam, and Han and Leia decades and centuries later. While there are numerous works of classic literature deemed worthy enough to be taught in school, only a select few are remembered with passion by dedicated readers well after the last story was told.

With J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, well, it's not been centuries yet, but it has been almost 8 years since the release of Deathly Hallows. And while the fandom has calmed down somewhat since those last frenzied days of July 2007, they have by no means forgotten their Boy Who Lived while pursuing other interests.

Harry Potter Keeps Expanding

Nor have the businesses associated with the Potter empire. Warner Brothers is dropping hints that they are expanding the popular Leavesden Studio attraction of The Making of Harry Potter. Last summer Universal Studios did expand the Magical World of Harry Potter, adding on Diagon Alley. And in November 2016, fans will once again be treated to a movie in the Potter world when the much anticipated Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is released.

How can a character so captivate its fans' imagination that they do not want to let him go? Of course, the answer, if there is one, is subjective. But after having followed this fandom for a dozen years, having written numerous published articles, presented at several fan conferences and workshops, and published my own guidebook, I have a theory.

It's magic.

No. Really. It's the magical alchemy of blending intriguing characters pursuing a mysterious storyline into a compelling world that produces this elixir of immortal memory among its readers. Throughout this blog, I've covered these three aspects in various articles. But I haven't quite yet captured that immortal Philosopher's Stone, the Golden Snitch at the top of the caduceus staff...the ultimate birth of a new creation that extends beyond the pen of its creator.

Story Taking Flight into Myth

When all these aspects of storytelling come together in just the right way, something magical happens. A quintessential element is created. And I think that element is myth. A new myth. A mythology that speaks to the collective unconscious of those who hear it in such a way that the story takes flight into the universal mind.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, a myth is not a falsehood. A myth is a story that reveals eternal truth through characters and deeds that may not be totally based in physical fact. When a story captivates its readers imaginations and passions so strongly that they can't let go, when it strikes so hard on the chord of some universal truth, it is reborn on a higher level as myth.

And to be honest, I think that's where the SFF stories have just a wee bit of an edge over the more realistic ones. They inherently have the element of myth and magic already in their makeup to capture the reader in this manner.

Myths that Capture the Universal Mind

The power of Tolkien's ring and what men will go to to obtain it is just and real and true to people as the energy of Lucas' Force that binds us all. And the emotional devastation and triumph of hate and love played across a backdrop of prejudice and war reminds us of what human nature is essentially all about - loving and dying.

Among these constellations of storytellers who will be handed down generations from now, Austen and Mitchell and Tolkein and Lucas, Rowling has earned her place in the heavens. Surely she'll be placed in the constellation Leo, in the heart of Gryffindor. Because, in the end, her story takes flight inside people's hearts just as Isis and Osiris and Perseus and Medusa did millenia ago. The Boy Who Lived lives on because his story ascended the collective unconscious into a true modern-day myth.

And when a story attains mythic proportions, it can take thousands of years to let it go.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Go Where It's Scary -- Into the Abyss of the Hero's Journey

Years ago, whenever I was creatively procrastinating upon a tough job at work, or doing my best to avoid a task that involved conflict, a guy in my office would give me some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten in life: Go where it’s scary.

The only way to work through the problem, to get to the other side, is to face it head-on. Whimping out and avoiding it, as I liked to do, truly didn’t do me any good. It just prolonged the pain.

I’ve always remembered my colleague’s advice, and that phrase, “Go where it’s scary,” comes to mind whenever I find myself dragging toward something I dread but know I must do. This is especially true with my writing. Being the polite Southern girl that I am, I often hesitate to inflict conflict upon my characters, or even worse, have them confront and deal with their innermost pains and fears. In my recent edits on Southern Fried Wiccan, it meant I had to rework a huge section and totally amp the conflict.

As in life, confronting and traveling through our fears is an essential part of being human, it’s even more so with our characters, our heroes. And no part of story construction addresses “go where it’s scary” more directly than the approach to the innermost cave of the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey and its Abyss, or Inmost Cave, is a concept described within Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking The Hero With a Thousand Faces. A comparative mythologist, Campbell studied myths separated by continents, centuries, and cultures and discovered that most shared a basic framework, the hero’s quest, which he broke down into 17 steps. Christopher Vogler, a scriptwriter and film producer, simplified Campbell’s work into 12 steps in The Writer’s Journey, making it more accessible to writers and the film industry. Campbell’s and Vogler’s Journey have been used in storytelling in everything from Star Wars to About a Boy to Harry Potter to insertyourowntitlehere.

At the heart of the Hero’s Journey is the sending forth of the hero from his home clan and his victory over their adversaries, which culminates in his triumphant return with a reward that enriches the clan as a whole. You can see why this basic story structure would have primordial appeal to the human psyche — it is how any human unit, whether that unit be a clan, a family, or a nation — has survived and prospered throughout millennia.

The Abyss:

The Abyss is the point in this journey where the heroine approaches her most intense conflict, her Ordeal. It is in the innermost cave that she must face and conquer both her outward foe and her own personal demons. Cave analogy harkens back to our days when the darkest places we had to fear held deadly creatures that often lurked deep in the places we called our homes. The abyss, or underworld, was the place of loss, where all bodies must eventually travel…that final, unknowable journey.

Whether in the underground, snake-filled “Well of Souls” where Indiana Jones recovers the ark but loses it to the Nazis, or the lonely, cave-like home of Will Freeman in About a Boy where Will must confront the emptiness of his life, to the underground chamber beneath Hogwarts where Harry confronts Voldemort and the loss of his parents in Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone — modern storytellers are still going underground/cave to set their Ordeal.

In the abyss, the hero meets death and triumphs over his deepest fears, which symbolizes his death to his old life and resurrection to the new. Victory is won — whether that triumph is achieved through vanquishing the antagonist or through atonement with his Shadow. Or, as Joseph Campbell said, “It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”

Real Life:

And if our hero can do it in a story, then we can do it in real life. We live vicariously through our hero’s success. If done well, when the book is closed or the movie concluded, we then feel equipped to go back into our life and confront our own demons and monsters. This is the heart of catharsis, and this is why the bestselling books and best remembered movies are those where the hero triumphs over a tremendous obstacle with deep, personal ramifications. It does not matter whether those obstacles are pitched on the intensely personal level or the high-stakes world-wide scale.

As writers, we must remember to send our heroine into the heart of fear. She must go where it’s scariest for her to venture, face those fears head-on, triumph and be forever changed. Only in this way can she return to her world to enrich her clan and ultimately we the writer and our reader.

What abyss have you or your character recently faced and conquered?

Picture credits: National Geographic, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.


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