Story Maps.

Blank page anxiety can be a problem for all creatives! You want to make a start on your epic story but when you sit down to write, nothing happens. That's a great time to try a map!

Humans have been telling stories from prehistoric times. That's a lot of stories! Stories have common themes and people have studied these themes, discovered commonalities and made blueprints. The blueprints can help you write a story that resonates! With a map the blank page looks a little less intimidating.

These maps are just skeletons and the process of adding flesh is alchemy not chemistry. You'll need to bring you own awesome creativity to bear. It's down to you to evoke the tension and curiosity of the reader.

The Hero's Journey

Perhaps the most famous of the story maps is the Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell. No one was interested in what Campbell was doing, no University department wanted him, so he picked up his life, grabbed a stack of books and studied alone in a cabin in the woods. With the release of his book "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" he practically invented a new field.

The "Hero's Journey" describes the monomyth as the skeleton of many of humanities great stories.

Lots of stories have used the Hero's Journey to tap into the myths that shaped our human culture. Perhaps the most famous is Star Wars.

Here are the steps.

  • Departure

    1. The Call to Adventure - the hero begins with an ordinary life but some impetuous compels him to set upon an adventure.
    2. Refusal of the Call - the hero refuses the call due to either circumstances, fear or other reason.
    3. Supernatural Aid - a guide or magical helper tells him he must heed the call. Often he's granted a magical item.
    4. Crossing the Threshold - the hero starts the adventure.
    5. Belly of the Whale - the hero is away from all he knows as normal, there's no going back and as he attempts to change the world, he changes himself.
  • Initiation

    1. The Road of Trials - the hero is beset by tests, some of which he will fail.
    2. The Meeting with the Goddess - the hero falls in love.
    3. Woman as Temptress - the hero is tempted by something to stray from his quest. (Not necessarily a woman).
    4. Atonement with the Father - must confront whatever holds power over the hero's life.
    5. Apotheosis - in a spot of downtime the hero gains some enlightenment.
    6. The Ultimate Boon - the goal of the quest is achieved.
  • Return

    1. Refusal of the Return - may not want to share the results of the quest with everyone else.
    2. The Magic Flight - The hero must escape with the boon, a dangerous journey.
    3. Rescue from Without - a magical guide helps the hero back to the old world.
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold - a dream can seem silly by the light of day. The hero must integrate his adventure with normal life.
    5. Master of Two Worlds - the hero has mastery of the normal world and the world of his adventure.
    6. Freedom to Live - Mastery gives the hero freedom to understand that he can change to overcome future challenges.

Save the Cat

"Save the Cat" is a controversial screen writing book by Blake Snyder, that some have said has ruined Hollyood movies. It's a structure used to write a compelling stories so it's well worth studying!

The Save the Cat formula is split in 15 beats grouped in 3 acts. I've have paraphrased them below.

  • Act One

    1. Open Scene - set the mood for the entire story.
    2. Theme Stated - introduce the theme of the story. Ideally spelling it out clearly.
    3. Set Up - introduce the characters, world and what's going on.
    4. Catalyst - trigger that starts the plot and changes the protagonist's life.
    5. Debate - the protagonist struggles deciding if he should do what he knows he needs to do.
  • Act Two - Part A

    1. Break Into Two - the protagonist makes the choice to act and move the story forward.
    2. B Story - a subplot is introduced, often a love interest.
    3. Fun and Games - the protagonist is full-bore on the problem, this is where it's not too serious yet and things are going well.
    4. Midpoint - the stakes go up and the "fun" is over. The hero is either defeated or his victory is hollow in some way.
  • Act Two - Part B

    1. Bad Guys Close In - the stakes are rising, attacks come from antagonist and things start to go bad.
    2. All Is Lost - Another defeat, or hollow victory. The lowest point. Everything is stripped from protagonist.
    3. Dark Night of the Soul - the protagonist looks inside himself to create a solution to the problems.
  • Act Three

    1. Break into three - plot and character arcs merge. The protagonist has a final plan.
    2. Finale - protagonist takes the lessons he's learned and found to solve the problem. He makes the world make sense again.
    3. Closing Scene - opposite of the opening scene. Shows the protagonist's life and state of the world now. Features the characters who helped him along.

It wouldn't take too much work to convert this over to a format suitable for computer role-playing games.

Chuck Wendig's Blueprint

I saw this map on twitter and I like how approachable and less formal it is than the previous two structures.

  1. Hey look a problem
  2. I'm gonna just go ahead and fix that problem
  3. Oh god I made it worse
  4. Oh fuck somebody else is making it worse too
  5. Wait I think I got this -
  6. Shit Shit Shit
  7. Fuck Fuck Fuck
  8. It's not just worse now but different
  9. Everything is complicated now
  10. All is lost
  11. Wait, is that light at the end of the tunnel?
  12. It is but it's a velociraptor with a flashlight
  13. Wait an idea
  14. I have beaten the velociraptor and now I have a flashlight and problems are solved in part but not too neatly because tidy, pat endings make story jesus angry, so angry that story jesus gives everyone mouth herpes.

Using The Maps

These maps help can give a story structure but the final creative spark is going to come from only you! The maps aren't set in stone, tweak them, subvert and invert; make something awesome!

Still at the stage where you're not sure what to write about? Try the 30 Story a Month Challenge.