Saturday, November 29, 2008

An Allegorical View of the Writer's Life (according to The Wizard of Oz)

Lately, I've been teaching about plotting according to the Hero’s Journey. I use The Wizard of Oz to explain all of the phases. However, today I’d like to use this same movie to depict something different.

The writer’s journey.

Let's believe, just for the sake of allegory, that Dorothy symbolizes you, the writer. Perhaps you're stuck in "Kansas," your ordinary world. Because of your day to day routine your story idea is still in the flat stages, as colorless as Dorothy's gray-scaped surroundings. What you need is an instigator. Someone to fuel your passion.

Enter Miss Gulch.

The bicycle riding hag pushes all of Dorothy's buttons. Take away her dog? No way, she'd run away first. That's passion. Where does your passion lie? What would it take to spark that lifeless story line? What pushes your buttons? Is it your critique partner who rides you constantly to turn in that next chapter? Is it your husband reminding you, once again, that if you wrote that best-seller, he could retire? Is it your mother who wants to see you published before she dies. . .and she’s only sixty. Or maybe you need to make money writing. Bills need to be paid. Family needs to be fed. Or, like me, you need to feed your writing conference habit. Listen to your instigator.

Now, with your passion driving you to write, you may still need a catalyst to separate you from your ordinary world. Dishes need to be washed. Your boss is demanding more hours of your day. Perhaps school is your ordinary world. It's going to take a lot to get you to write that story.

How about a cyclone?

Feel the rush of adrenaline. Let it swirl around you. No matter how little time you may have to write, or if the dullness of your life overwhelms your imagination, seek that funnel cloud and stand under it. Let it transport you to where you need to be in order to write the story. And when you land, you will step out into a colorful world, limited only by your own imagination.


Don't forget to grab the ruby slippers. These will be important later.

You may need some mentors to help you on your way through this new world. Find a writer's group, like American Christian Fiction Writers. Pull together a critique group locally. Find an accountability partner, someone who will set you on the right path.

We will call these mentors Munchkins.

Okay, focus here. I know you're singing "We represent the Lollipop Guild" in your head.

Now, I'm going to take a wild leap into allegorical land here. Please stay with me.

As a writer in this strange new world you've created, you are going to need an Overseer, someone to turn to. Someone who helps you learn and grow, even through your mistakes. Could it be possible to think of Glenda, the good witch, as a God figure in your writing journey? I know the term "witch" is off-putting to a Christian, but I wonder if L. Frank Baum had this in mind. In chapter 12 of the book, the winged monkeys are decimating the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. But they refuse to harm Dorothy because of a mark on her forehead where Glenda kissed her. At the risk of sounding theological, I'd like to highlight Revelation 7:3 where a command is set forth to not harm the earth until a seal is placed on the foreheads of the servants of God.

As in every good story, there must be conflict. We seek it out to keep the reader turning pages. However in the writer's life, we'd just as soon avoid any conflict that will keep us from writing. Not going to happen, so learn to roll with it.

Enter the Wicked Witch of the West, Glenda's nemesis.

The Wicked Witch throws everything she has at Dorothy to keep her from her goal. In the real world, these conflicts can be an illness that keeps the brain fuzzy or financial stress causing the writer to set aside her story and find a regularly paying job. It could also be more pleasant things, yet just as time consuming. Grandchildren visiting. Holiday preparations. Television's new fall season. The nemesis throws roadblock after roadblock to keep words off the page. If you recognize her or her winged monkeys just itching to snatch you from your task, cry out to your Overseer.

There will be a moment, (okay, maybe a few moments,) when the writer will question herself. She will sit at her computer, drugged, if you will, with thoughts of inadequacy. Beware, as this stage in your writing journey stands directly between you and your goal. It's yet another technique that the enemy uses to drag you down. . .down. . .down. . .until you can think of nothing else but blessed sleep.

This, my friend, is your poppy field.

Overseer to the rescue! A sprinkling of snow, and you're good to go. Now, march on toward your goal. Dorothy's goal was to go home, but the Emerald City was where the Wizard could grant her wish and ultimately help her achieve her goal. The writer’s Emerald City could be a daily word count or a first draft—something tangible for you to work toward.

Within that city, the writer needs a task-master. This need not be a man behind the curtain, it could be the writer herself. Whatever the case, no one reaches a goal without a plan. Now, let's forget for the moment that the wizard's plan was faulty and purely selfish. He'd hoped by sending Dorothy and her three friends on a quest for the witch's broom, they wouldn't come back. The writer's plan must be concrete, positive steps. How do you reach that daily word count? By setting aside a certain amount of time a day and "clocking in" as if you were working at a real job. Here's an eye-opener. THIS IS A REAL JOB. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you'll take yourself seriously.

I haven't forgotten Dorothy's companions.

The Scarecrow, who longs for a brain, helps us understand that the writer must use her good sense. Even though you're making up a world, logic must rule. For instance, in a romance, don't have a widower of two weeks fall head over heels for a pretty woman.

The Tin Man wants a heart, suggesting that the writer must use compassion in telling her story. A good writer empathizes with her characters, thus drawing the reader in also.

The Cowardly Lion only wants courage. The writer must have courage to stand up for her convictions. If you're writing about a heavy subject, be brave enough to bring the point home.

And Toto? Remember there will always be distractions. Toto was an obedient little dog, until he spotted a cat. This is what got him in trouble with Miss Gulch. Thank goodness there was only one cat in the entire land of OZ or Dorothy may have never reached her goal!

Speaking of that one cat, it is this distraction that nearly derails Dorothy’s plans to go home. Toto jumps out of the basket as the hot air balloon begins to drift off, and of course, Dorothy must go after him. All is lost. The writer must not let anything distract her from reaching her ultimate goal. I want a show of hands. How many of you have an unfinished manuscript in a desk drawer? Yeah. That's what I thought.

But all is not lost. You still have the ruby slippers, right? Click your heels and repeat three times, "There's no place like publication." Come back to Kansas and get that story into the right hands.

(This article was updated on 8/1/2013)

1 comment:

J. N. Hups said...

EXCELLENT article and allegory, Kathy! Pretty sure I'll be thinking of that from here on in,