I’m starting this school year with a review of the method I use to both plot my books and teach story analysis to my students. For the rest of the year, my column will focus on demonstrating how I use this system to analyze plots in picture books, novels, and films. Next month will spotlight the Coretta Scott King winner Bad News for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshal by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson.
The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) is a twelve-step story analysis I created based upon The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell as well as The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers by Christopher Vogler. Though I love both of these texts, I was looking for symbols a little more concrete for the students I work with, and terms that brought images easily to mind for them (and myself).
As a speech-language pathologist in the public schools, I serve students elementary through high school of all ability levels. Understanding the structure of narratives gives kids a framework not just for understanding the stories they hear and read, but also for telling the stories of their lives.
SLOS is broken down into twelve basic parts. Stories don’t necessarily contain all of the components, and they don’t always occur in the order given here. 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.
– Setting and characters are introduced. I often start out comparing and
contrasting the Old World with the New World
2) Call and Response – This may occur during or after the inciting incident. 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
5) New World – The hero faces small challenges as she learns to function in the
6) Problems, Prizes, and Plans – A clear story goal is established and plans are made 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.
(Note: In longer stories, endless cycles of the plan, attempt, response sequence continue to build momentum.)
9) Chase – A twist sends the story off in a new direction. Something is being pursued. The hero may be pursuing the prize or the villain, or the villain may be pursuing the hero.
10) Death and Transformation – This is the point in the story where it appears that whatever is of highest value will be lost. 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.
This is a very brief overview. For more information visit Carolee Dean Books and check out the tab entitled The Secret Language of Stories. If you have questions or if you are interested in writing workshops for your staff or students, please feel free to contact me at my email.
For an example of how I use SLOS to analyze stories, refer to my post in last April’s issue of Spellbinders where I discuss in detail Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones http://spellbindersbooknews.blogspot.com/2013/04/city-of-bones-story-analysis-by-carolee.html.
Dori Fonda - Winner of MAY B, please send your snail mail address to Caroline by email so she may send your book!
On a personal note, I’m very please to announce that my verse novel, Forget Me Not, has just been released in paperback!