The Writer's Welcome Mat

Friday, June 21, 2013
I haven’t been studying up on storytelling techniques lately, so I thought it was about time to do some writing homework again.

This week, I dipped my little pinky toe into Joseph Campbell's The Hero’s Journey. I was ready to learn all the stages and patterns I needed to take to make an epic story where my hero(ine) went out and achieved great deeds on behalf of the united whole.

But I kind of got caught up on step one!

Campbell said the greatest stories start out in the ordinary world.  And that made soooo much sense to me.

There is a reason I usually can’t stand to read Science Fiction stories. There’s just too much stuff going on at the beginning that I can’t understand. Characters names are all funky and unpronounceable, and if they’re not human, they’re some crazy being I’ve never heard of. And barely anything takes place on earth. I just feel overwhelmed, intimidated, and in way over my head. So I stop reading.

But ask me to list my top favorite movies and Star Wars, or Superman, or Spiderman will probably be rated up there pretty high. Yet they’re Sci-Fi stories. So what’s the deal?

Well, the deal is...those stories followed Campbell’s rule and started out in the ordinary world, or at least in a familiar place I could comprehend.

Which got me off track even more and reminded me of these Home Interiors decorating parties I used to attend. A decorating tip I learned at one of these things was to put mirrors in your home’s entrance. Why? Because when visitors come in, the first thing they see is a familiar face, someone they recognize and know. It takes away intimidation and helps put them at ease. It welcomes!

So, if we think of our stories as homes, we need to make the opening act something that our readers can see themselves in and feel comforted and welcomed.

Even though Star Wars started on a different planet, the creators made all that stuff minor background details in the very beginning. The only things really cluing us into this being a different, out-of-this-world place were the two suns out in horizon and the style of clothing and houses. 

What they REALLY focused on was Luke Skywalker and his feelings. He’s frustrated with his life and wants more. We can see a reflection of ourselves in these feelings and can easily relate to being young and wanting our voices heard. We know what it’s like for this poor kid.

And so, the welcome mat for this story was laid down well, the mirrors were put up in the entryway and I felt totally comfortable stepping into this house to then enjoy the crazy Sci-Fi adventure that was Star Wars.

No matter what the genre is, I think this is why beginnings are so important to a story. There might be some amazing things later on in the book, but it’ll be hard for anyone to get there if they don’t feel comfortable enough to even cross the threshold.

So...if you're building a house (aka – writing  a story) that you want people to visit (aka – to read), don’t forget to put mirrors (aka – something they can relate to and are familiar with) in the foyer (aka – first five pages)! And that's my writing tip of the day!

What cool writing tools have you accumulated lately?


  1. Excellent! I have no new info. Sad, but true.
    Happy Weekend :)

  2. I love that! I think that's why I really enjoy paranormal stories that are more like magical realism style... they take place in a world that's basically ours, just with super powers or supernatural creatures, etc.

  3. Wow, thanks for sharing that!
    But that is so true (and sneaky). In Star Wars beginning, you really don't even think about it beginning a different planet.

  4. I've heard that tip and completely agree! And like you, I struggle with sci-fi. Too many details for my cluttered mind! LOL