At some point, the beginning writer starts to notice that different stories are different from each other. They don’t all seem to follow the same rules. For a while (and I’ve seen this a lot), the writer tries to stretch “their” system of writing to fit the basics to cover all possible variations. This is where you start hearing people say that the monomyth (Joseph Campbell) covers every possible plot, it just has variations.
But the fact is, the Joseph Campbell monomyth was never meant to cover every possible story–it’s just a story that he noticed cropping up in most cultures. It’s a common story, but it’s not the only possible one.
If you’ve ever wondered why almost every Hollywood movie seems the same these days, it’s because the Joseph Campbell monomyth plot template has been used to whip writers into shape for so long that it’s hard for a screenwriter not to use it.
In other words, the content of a story takes on the form of whatever is used to tell the story. If a Joseph Campbell monomyth plot is imposed on a story, then that story resembles all other Joseph Campbell stories.
It’s a good story, very sound, very popular–but it’s not the only way of fitting form and content together.
So if the monomyth isn’t the only possible story out there (and I know some of you are going to be saying, “But…she hasn’t proven that it isn’t!”), how do you build a story?
I propose that we start with the smallest aspects first–bottom up rather than top down.