Monday Writing Motivation: How to turn a pleasant afternoon into a mighty adventure
Let me develop a scenario, beginning from what really happened and then inventing elements that might turn it into a story, along the lines, you might have guessed from a preoccupation that has revealed itself in my previous musings, of the Hero’s Journey.
The point of doing this is to explore what it takes to turn a series of relatively mundane incidents into a rollicking tale of a hapless adventurer and his companion – and, crucially, how using the scaffolding of the Hero’s Journey can help with that construction.
So here’s what happened:
Trish and I are on a brief holiday on the island of Tresco in the Scilly Isles, 40 miles or so south west of Land’s End in Cornwall. We brought with us our inflatable kayak in which over the past year or so we’ve been exploring the River Great Ouse. For the first five days of our stay we were prevented from launching it by a Force Eight Gale that lashed the islands.
But at last the wind relented and yesterday we inflated the kayak and set out from the beach at Old Grimsby Quay. A breeze was blowing, but the sun was shining, and we happily paddled along, hugging the coast past the Old Blockhouse (built in the 16th Century) and on past a series of small bays, rounding Rushy Point and headed for Lizard Point. Across the channel from Tresco lay St Martins Island, one of the five inhabited islands of the Scillies. A scattering of other islands, some mere rocky outcrops, others more substantial, lay between us and St Martins.
At times we had to paddle into the small swells raised by the breeze, and at times we found ourselves running athwart the swells. At no point did we feel in any danger – although the reports I’d read about unfortunate canoeists losing their lives in these waters did sometimes pop unbidden into my head.
We considered briefly pushing on to the next big crescent beach – Pentle Bay – but then thought better of it, turned and paddled back up the coast to our point of embarkation. The entire “adventure” had taken perhaps an hour, and we’d travelled a mile or so down the coast before returning.
So, no great shakes. It was a delightful paddle – but hardly something one could call an epic adventure.
The experience contained an embryonic Hero’s Journey. Consider:
Before the Hero begins his Journey, he lives in what’s called The Ordinary World, the world he’s familiar with, the world he knows.
That’s us, on the beach. We’re familiar with river kayaking. We know our way about the Ouse.
But there before the Hero lies the challenge of an Adventure: the open ocean, the vast north Atlantic. It’s unfamiliar territory. The conditions are unpredictable. (The wind could rise, those small swells could become rolling mountains of water.) The Hero has his doubts about his ability, and fears for his safety. (I remembered the stories of drowned innocents.)
But he sets aside his doubts and launches himself into the Special World of his Journey. We set off towards Blockhouse Point. As it happens, apart from a sense that these waters were very different from the waters of the Ouse (“It feels a lot livelier, doesn’t it?” I asked Trish), we had no trouble in slicing through the wavelets.
But classically, the Hero encounters a series of tests and trials during this stage of the Journey. So what might have happened to challenge us? Well, a whole number of things are possible. We might have been blown off course by a stiffening wind, ending up not at the mouth to Pentle Bay, but on one of the uninhabited islets in the channel between Tresco and St Martins.
Or we might have capsized and lost our paddles. We’d then have found ourselves at the mercy of both currents and winds that conceivably could have taken us out of the comparatively sheltered waters between the islands into the open ocean.
One possibility could have given rise to others. Each would have confronted us with a challenge that tested our mettle to the utmost (a stormy night on a fragment of rock; a night on the heaving main). We would have faced not simply the elements, but the stark possibility of our own deaths – an experience that in the Hero’s Journey is called The Ordeal.
But of course we’d have survived, rescued perhaps by a passing yacht, or a boat of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution – or thanks to our own initiative.
And we’d have returned to our cottage on Tresco, chastened but invigorated by the knowledge that we’d survived everything fate and the ocean had thrown at us. That’s the Boon the Hero gains from his experience.
Even the tamest paddle along the coast contains the seeds of a mighty adventure that could fill a book with compelling story.
And so it is with many of our everyday experiences that pass unnoticed and unremarked, but that could form the basis for richly imagined tales.