This week I will be focusing on a review of the twelve steps of the story analysis procedure I call The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS). Many of you signed up for our Spellbinders newsletter after attending conferences where I spoke on SLOS, a system I use both to plot my novels and to teach writing to students of all ages. I have continued to refine the twelve steps of this story analysis process, and some of the material presented below may be slightly new. Some of you may not be as familiar with SLOS, and this will provide a basic introduction.
The Secret Language of Stories is a twelve step story analysis procedure based upon the work of Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Stories don't necessarily contain all of the components, and they don't always occur in the order given here. In longer stories, many of the elements are repeated. Subplots may have their own story threads and novels may include endless repetitions of the Plan, Attempt, Response sequence found in the middle section of the story. The purpose of this analysis is not to micro analyze every element of a story, but rather to help students recognize what is going on in stories and to begin to think like authors.
The beginning of the story is the setup for what is to come. It may be very short or quite long. Back-story and history is described. It may be given before the conflict is introduced or it may be woven throughout the story. This is the section where questions are raised. Will the hero succeed? What will he find out? It includes the following:
1)Old World - Setting and characters are introduced.
2)Call and Response - The Hero receives a call to adventure. Sometimes
he eagerly undertakes this challenge, but more often there is a period of
reluctance or even refusal as the dangers of the adventure are weighed
against possible benefits.
3)Mentors, Guides, and Gifts - A mentor appears to encourage the hero
to accept the challenge of the Call and gifts are often given to help him
on his way.
4)Crossing - The hero decides to act and crosses over into the New
The middle section of the story has also been called the Initiation phase (See Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces) because the hero is learning how to live in the New World and proving himself as he faces a series of increasing challenges. Some questions will start to be answered, but even more perplexing questions may be raised. The middle section is much longer than either the beginning or the end. What makes it longer is a repetition of the Plan, Attempt, Response sequence which can go on indefinitely for hundreds of pages. The middle section includes the following:
5)New World - The hero faces small challenges as she learns to function
in the New World.
6)Problems, Prizes, and Plans - A clear story goal is established and the
hero makes plans for how it will be attained.
7)Midpoint Challenge: Going for the Prize - An attempt is made to
attain the Prize. A shift in the story occurs.
8)Downtime - This section shows the hero's response to what
happened during the attempt. It may be a time of celebration, recovery,
healing, regrouping or sulking, depending on what happened during the
attempt to attain the Prize.
It may seem as if the story is over at this point. In some picture books, fables, and short stories, this may be true, but for most stories, it is only the beginning of the end. The hero may even be back with his friends, thinking he is safe and enjoying his prize, but the ultimate challenge is about to happen. In this section everything is wrapped up and all (or most) of the questions will be answered. Sometimes a book will end on a cliffhanger where a brand new question is raised, suggesting that there might be a sequel. The final section includes the following:
9)Chase - A twist sends the hero off in a new direction. Something is
being pursued. The hero may be pursuing the prize or the villain. On the
other hand, the villain may be pursuing the hero.
10) Death and Transformation - This is the point in the story where it
appears that the hero will lose whatever is of highest value. Often
someone dies at this point in the narrative.
11) Showdown: The Final Test - The hero must face one final challenge to
demonstrate whether the changes that have occurred are lasting or
only temporary; internal or merely external.
12) Reward - The hero gets what she has earned. If she has passed the
final test, it may be a reward. If not, there may be other consequences.
Often there is a celebration and the return of the hero to the group.
The above description is a very brief overview of the story analysis process. If you have questions or if you are interested in writing workshops for your staff or students, please feel free to contact me via my website.
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Carolee Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools, libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and a master's degree in communicative disorders, and she has spent over a decade working in the public schools as a speech-language pathologist. Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading list. She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Acts of Haiku."
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Kimberley Griffiths Little is the recipient of the Southwest Book Award, The Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly acclaimed, The Healing Spell and Circle of Secrets, published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs, as well as two more forthcoming novels in 2012 and 2013. She lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting "The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences. Please visit her website to download free Teacher's Guides and Book Club Guides.
Caroline Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other. She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana. Back in New Mexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture books full time.