Non-fiction authors have a world of colorful choices when it comes to book format, such as this exploration of The Hero’s Journey framework for non-fiction books. However, one adage remains true for both speakers and non-fiction authors alike: Never make a point without telling a story, and never tell a story without making a point.
The trouble many authors face when endeavoring to write a best-selling non-fiction book is putting their material across in a creative, engaging manner. Working-up a compelling story to communicate a message can be daunting.
Ahhh, but there’s a solution! Using what Joseph Campbell termed the Hero’s Journey, you can elevate your non-fiction book to higher ground and deliver exquisite quality. You can tell your story and make your point in a way that draws the reader in and helps them transform into a stronger version of themselves.
Let’s explore how to begin your non-fiction story, based things we can learn from the Hero’s Journey…we’ll call it “The Call to Adventure.”
The Adventure Begins
Now that you know your non-fiction book can be compelling when told in the form of a story, you’re going to need to come up with a really good story idea, or what is called the story arc. Using a few simple techniques, you can craft your message and make it compelling – one that will engage your audience time after time.
The Hero’s Journey is the tale of how the hero pursues a specific goal and in pursuit, the hero is transformed. Modeling your story on the Hero’s Journey provides the structure – the formula – for telling your story in a way that’s reliable, engaging, and makes people think.
In all cases, the story opens with the status quo. The hero is in his own natural setting. Whether it’s through a blunder, pure chance, destiny or a deliberate choice, the hero begins a relationship with forces he doesn’t understand – and the adventure begins!
The non-fiction storyteller uses examples from life, business or a parable. But for the purposes of illustration, let’s take a look at the well-known classic “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. This is a colorful example of an adventure that transforms an average farm girl, Dorothy Gail, and shifts her personal center of gravity to a higher level. As for her realization, the movie version of this tale says it best: “There’s no place like home.”
Dorothy’s journey has the unreal quality of a dream, and she meets up with all kinds of creatures and fantastic forces, both good and evil. But first, she must begin her adventure.
The Oz story opens with Dorothy at home on her family farm in Kansas. The world is a sunburnt place, gray and without color. Even the people are gray. Time, worry and concern for the future have washed have washed the color out of them.
Non-Fiction Writing Tip: In your non-fiction story you can depict the hero’s challenges with the wear-and-tear of everyday life, grinding him down. Imagine Dorothy’s colorless existence as you create the launch-point of your story.
From Out of the Clear Blue Sky
In every Hero’s Journey, there’s a herald or a catalyst to mark the journey’s beginning. An encounter with a mysterious element marks the call to adventure! It means an awakening and a break with the past, a departure from the daily norms.
The herald appears to every hero who is ripe for transformation. In other words, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. The nature of the catalyst depends on the type of story you want to tell.
The hero can decide to make a change, or change can be forced onto him. It can be something as simple as a shift in consciousness, or it can mean following a creature into unfamiliar territory. The herald also may be a force of good or evil. This leaves you with a world of options to pursue, and any choice you make here can be the right one if it is consistent with your message.
For instance, your hero might be pursuing a deer on a hunt, wandering far into the woods and encountering another realm. Whatever the catalyst your hero encounters, the hero has an irresistible fascination with it, and it serves as a guide or a herald.
For Dorothy in Kansas it’s a tornado that sweeps her, the house, a cow and all. She is set down in the colorful Land of Oz, surrounded on all sides by desert. Immediately Dorothy is afraid that she will never see Kansas again, and her quest to return home begins.
Moments like this produce anxiety because as people, we naturally fear change. Change can mean excitement, but usually it means being uncomfortable and uncertain of what lies ahead. It can even mean real danger.
As Dorothy’s adventure ensues, she meets the good Witch of the North who tells her where she is and the consequences of her arrival. The good witch serves as Dorothy’s mentor. She tells Dorothy that if she ever wants to go home again, she must journey to the Emerald City and see the great and powerful Wizard of Oz.
There are many reasons Dorothy may have opted out of the quest, possibly because making those choices would have meant a whole other kind of journey. The hero can either choose to go forward of his own volition, or he may be sent or carried against his will to this other realm. The agent may be benign or malevolent, but the hero goes, nonetheless.
The Writer’s Framework for “The Call to Adventure”
In the larger sense, the journey means a change in the hero’s own perspective. The first stage of the journey – the Call to Adventure – shows us that destiny calls the hero, transforming his center of gravity.
Here are 5 steps you can take to craft the beginning of the adventure in your own hero’s Call to Adventure.
- Status Quo: The story opens in the hero’s everyday setting. Describe the hero of your story and how their world looks to them.
- The Catalyst: An unfamiliar force draws the hero forward into another realm, away from the everyday. Decide on a person, place, thing or event that moves your hero out of the everyday.
- The Goal: The hero has a burning desire to achieve something or reach a destination. Determine what your hero’s goal is.
- The Mentor: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Decide who will point your hero in the right direction.
- The Adventure Begins: Your hero is off on a glorious (or dreadful) adventure.
Your hero begins the adventure because of a change of heart and a call to an unknown place, a foreign land or a dream. When you begin crafting your hero’s journey, let its tide sweep you off your feet and carry you to the distant shores of imagination.
Bryan Heathman is the President of Made for Success Publishing and the host of the Book Publishing Success podcast show. Bryan works with best-selling business authors, including NYT best-selling authors Chris Widener and Tom Hopkins, plus up-and-coming authors including Johnny Covey. Bryan is the author of Conversion Marketing, a marketing book on converting website visitors into buyers. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.
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