The Hero Cycle #3 – The Return

I’ve reached the last stage of the hero cycle in this series.  It is known as “The Return.” This is where all the people who watched the potential hero answer his call and embark on his journey welcome him home with open arms and shower him with gifts.  Really. That’s what this stage is all about.

I wrote about the initial stages here and here. The whole idea of the hero cycle is a helpful pattern to know if you are writing any kind of story with a journey or transformation of the main character in that it can help you figure out what comes next.

The final stage, the Return, is made up of three steps: the atonement, the return, and gifts.  The atonement is the most difficult to understand, but it helps if you break the word up into its parts, as in at-one-ment.  Often, the hero goes through the tranformation and becomes a hero, but they are a reluctant hero. They don’t really like this new role and are not comfortable in it. The atonement is where they literally become “at one” with the idea of being a hero. They accept their new role and are finally ready to return to their known world. It completes their transformation into a hero.

Throughout the entire quest, the hero has accepted the call, overcome all obstacles, and now, they are finally ready to live the life that awaits them as a hero.  This doesn’t have to be a life of fame or as a world leader. It could be that the hero has just overcome a significant challenge which changes their status in some way within their family or community, and they’re finally accepting of that change.

Harry Potter provides a great example of this.  He goes through the initial stages of the hero cycle repeatedly, but he doesn’t really reach the atonement stage until the later books of the series when he accepts who and what he is.  This actually allows him to accept the ultimate call to overcome Voldemort for the last time. His final return is after the giant battle and Voldemort’s defeat.  It is at this point that he receives his gift which is, of course, the girl!

While many writers employ all the stages of the cycle in their longer works, it is possible to focus on just one stage of the cycle.  Examples of this would be stories like Kate Chopin’s classic “The Story of an Hour” which focuses on “The Call” or Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” which focuses on the obstacles and challenges.  Both of these are well known examples, but you can probably think of many works which employ either the entire cycle or focus on specific stages of it.

This series has been a very simplified version of the hero cycle, but it hopefully serves as an introduction.  Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about it, and any internet search will turn up numerous resources.   I’d love to hear how this applies to your own works in progress or if it helps you at all in your writing journey.

Quilt Stories (or Quilters’ Obsessions with Anything Related to Quilts)

After I started quilting, I discovered quilt fiction.  I had no idea until I started reading a few books with a quilt focus, but this is almost a genre unto itself and it actually has been since the mid-1800’s.  Apparently quilters’ obsessions with anything at all having to do with “quilting” has existed for centuries.  The first two quilt stories were published in periodicals in 1844 and 1845.  They were both called “The Patchwork Quilt,” and they both idealize the quilt as a symbol of domesticity.  The second story is by an author who is unidentified other than “Annette.”  It’s a sad little story about a woman who spends her teen years making her masterpiece of a quilt for her wedding.  Sadly, she ends up as a spinster and finishes the quilt for her younger sister who does find a beau to wed.   The quilt in this story represents love, marriage, and security, and the sister who achieves these goals gets the quilt.  These were highly valued for women in the 19th century who existed in the world of the “domestic sphere.”

It is interesting that contemporary quilt fiction also often uses the quilt as a symbol of domesticity, safety, and comfort though in these more modern stories, quilts perhaps don’t represent love and marriage so much anymore as they represent female solidarity and relationships.  In any case, the quilt is still a prevalent symbol in fiction.

We quilters are an interesting group.  We are not only obsessed with building fabric stashes and stitching, but when we take a break from sewing, many of us pick up books novels about our favorite pastime.  There are an amazing number of novels and stories all about quilts which I find fascinating.  There is even an index of quilt fiction on the web though it looks like it hasn’t been updated since 2002.  You can find it here.   In a general search of “quilt fiction” on Amazon, I hit 572 books.  That’s a lot for a pretty specific topic like quilts!  In a quick preview of these novels, it appears they can be broken into several sub-genres of quilt fiction (though this is based on a quick review, not any study):  contemporary fiction, historical, Christian, and murder mysteries.  The last two crack me up – they are so very different but both of them frequently use a quilt as a relevant symbol in the story.

My novel will definitely land in the first two categories; though I realize that contemporary and historical might not mesh, in my case they do.  We’ll see how it actually turns out.  In any case, they are the categories I am the most familiar with and the ones I enjoy reading, so it seems that’s what I’m drawn to write.  It’s also fun to combine two of my favorite pastimes: quilting and words (reading or writing) in this story.

I have no idea if publishers consider quilt fiction as a genre unto itself, but I do, and judging from the searches on Amazon and the shelves of fiction books available for sale in my favorite quilt shops, quilters do too.  If anyone who happens to read this blog is interested in reviews on quilt fiction, let me know, and I can add that as a monthly or weekly feature.

What does one do with a short story?

I wrote a story.  What now?  I am clearly new at this game and writing short fiction is not something I thought I would ever really be interested in as I have taught them for years and recognize that a tight, good story would be, for me, much harder to write than a novel.  I also took a lone creative writing class in college in which I was required to produce a story; I hated it, both the story and the writing of it.  I remember it being really hard, and as a nineteen year old English major, really hard work was not at the top of my priority list.

I wrote a god-awful piece that still makes me cringe.  We were supposed to write about something we knew, and it also had to say something.  Perfect.  Having grown up in a relatively small town, with a relatively uneventful childhood, I had neither the maturity nor the experience to look at my life and understand that virtually any event could fit these requirements.  So I wrote an unfocused piece about a backpacking trip though I did manage to include a not so subtle statement on the environment in it; it failed miserably (which I knew) but my professor still gleefully (to me) let me know all its faults.  I decided at the ripe old age of nineteen that fiction was far too hard and not for me.  I probably should have written a story on how much pressure I put on myself to do everything well, including writing fiction.  But you know what they say about hindsight . . .

Following that experience, any aspirations I had to write short stories went on a shelf.  But then the muses struck again, and by the time I got out of bed this past Saturday morning, I had a whole little story plotted in my head.  I jotted half of it down in my notebook while my daughter was warming up for her soccer game.  And then I jotted the second half down after we got home from the game. I completed a short story . . . and even better, I like it!

It was fun to actually complete a piece of writing.  I think I’ll probably write more of them, especially if they come to me complete and lovely as this one did.  Now I just need to figure out what to do with it.  Do I submit it to a contest?  To a magazine?  A publisher?  What does one do with a 2300 word story?  Do I need to write five more before I do anything?  I guess I’ll have to research that to find out.  Or if anyone out there has any grand ideas, let me know.  But even if nothing comes of this story, it’s nice to have a completed piece in my “writing portfolio.”