A great addition to screenwriting literature
Any form of writing has its rules, protocols, and tacit agreements. Screenwriting has more than most, demanding as it does something readable on the page, which also instantly translates to something watchable on the screen. Guides to this process have been published in abundance over the last few decades, none of which has perhaps had more influence than The Writer’s Journey. Christopher Vogler took the mythic concept of the hero’s journey, made famous by such commentators as Joseph Campbell, and translated it into a supposedly foolproof framework for the structure of screenplay.
Award-winning Australian screenwriter Anthony Mullins challenges the hero’s journey, and its standard three-act/five-act structures, in his delightfully readable Beyond the Hero’s Journey.
In saying that Mullins challenges the hero’s journey, he doesn’t so much subvert the dominant paradigm as add significantly to it. In theatrical improvisation terms, he says “yes … AND”. The conceptual foundation for this work is the simple notion that film itself has changed over the 30 years since Vogler’s work was first published. Audiences have become more sophisticated in their acceptance of the non-linear narrative, and non-English language film has become more widely distributed and appreciated. As Mullins himself says in his introduction:
“This book is about how to look for those other types of stories …The ones about the messier corners of life, where things are not so simple, or always tied up in a bow.”
Mullins moves away from strict narrative structure, using instead the concept of the character arc. This is certainly not a new concept, but Mullins expands on it, and makes it the central pillar of a writing practice, rather than the ivy wrapped around the pillar of the three-act structure. He then takes those arcs and applies them to two character typologies: the character who changes through the narrative, and the character who remains constant. In each section, he explores two or three screen narratives that illustrate that particular arc with that type of character, as well as explaining the arc. His selection is a wonderful mixture of blockbuster and independent, English and non-English language, and film and TV scripts. TV is important to this work both as a driver and a provider of material. After all, it is the long-form television character that has helped move us away from the standard hero and the relatively fast-paced three-act structure.
After his exploration of arcs and characters, Mullins provides some great advice about actually writing your screenplay, and refreshingly, some excellent guidance on how to develop a writing PRACTICE.
Beyond the Hero’s Journey is a very enjoyable book, useful for experienced and emerging writers alike. But it could also be a terrific text for media/film studies, and any general writing course.
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by: NewSouth Books
Released: July 2021