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Tip Tuesday #168

Tip Tuesday features writers' tips on craft, research, querying, blogging, marketing, inspiration, and more. If you'd like to send in a tip, please e-mail agentspotlight(at)gmail(dot)com.

Kristin Lenz is a social worker and writer who blogs at YA Fusion with a group of YA authors. Please stop by and share her good news - she recently signed with an agent! And she has an ARC giveaway to celebrate. But first, here's her tip:
In May, I attended a wonderful SCBWI conference. Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and both Ohio chapters joined forces to host the Wild, Wild Midwest Conference. We had many, many choices of workshops with authors, agents, and editors, and I attended three with Kendra Levin, an editor at Viking. 
I had always planned to study more about The Hero's Journey and Archetypes (Joseph Campbell's books are often recommended by editors and writing instructors), and that was the focus of one of Kendra's workshops. Usually, I understand the Hero's Journey when it's applied to a fantasy like Harry Potter, but it's trickier to apply to a contemporary, realistic story, which is mostly what I write.

If you've studied these archetypes, you'll remember the Hero, the Mentor, the Allies, the Shadow, etc., and Kendra helped us apply these roles to characters in our own stories. My biggest take-away from her talk was to remember that other characters need to have their own story, not just your protagonist. It's not enough to simply be a sidekick best friend - what is their journey?

It's not enough to have a villain who is all evil and bad; Even the Shadow sees himself as the hero of his own story. And it was enlightening to realize that I had intuited much of this into my revisions already, deepening the story. I even realized that I had created a Shapeshifter character - someone who seems to be one thing, but turns out to be another.

I think that's the best way to apply these lessons - intuitively. Study and understand the Hero's Journey, but don't try to follow it rigidly like a plot prescription. And that led right into Kendra Levin's other workshop that I attended: Intuitive Revision. Here's a great post from Writer Unboxed that elaborates on Why the Hero's Journey is a Tourist Trap.

At YA Fusion, I have an ARC giveaway of All the Truth That's in Me, a YA novel that was edited by Kendra Levin at Viking. After attending Kendra's workshops, I had high expectations for this book - you're going to be impressed too! Good luck on your writing journeys-

Kristin Lenz


  1. Great tip, Kristin. So wish I could have gone to the conference. And it's so true that all our characters need to be multi-dimensional--including our villains.

  2. Great stuff Kristin. Glad you got so much out of Kendra's talk. Sounds like a really good one.

    And this is just too coincidental, but look what I just found...The Hero's Journey As Explained By Puppets: http://io9.com/joseph-campbell-and-the-heros-journey-as-explained-by-602633720

    You have to watch it--hilarious!


  3. I love the Hero's Journey structure. It's interesting that you intuited so much of it, but maybe not so surprising ! It is the universal story pattern at its essence, fueling so much of what we read. How great that you tapped into it at the subconscious level!

    And I second Angela's recommendation on the puppets video. It's awesome!

  4. True - all the characters need to have depth and their own agenda.
    Congratulations on the agent, Kristin!

  5. Thanks for the recap, and for mentioning that sidekicks also have a journey. And a big congrats to you!

  6. My wife's a social worker and I'm a writer--so together we're you! Congratulations, Kristin, on signing with an agent!

  7. Complex villains lead depth to any story - and are fun to write - in my case fun learning how to flesh them out!

    Thanks Kristin! Take care

  8. I heard great reviews about that conference! Congrats Kristin on your recent success!

  9. Fantastic tips! And it's a great reminder that each character has his/her own story, not just the main ones.

  10. I find information about character archetypes fascinating. I agree that everyone has their own story. That's why sometimes I get frustrated when I read stories or see movies where it seems that certain secondary characters exist only for serving the main character.

  11. Great point to remember! I try to keep it in mind especially when I write my villain/antags-- they have to have their own motivation too--and believe they're doing the right thing.

  12. Thanks, everyone! I'm late replying - I was out of town for a few days and couldn't get Blogger to work on my phone!