My original review:
I absolutely cannot recommend this book enough. Anyone and everyone who has aspirations of writing popular fiction will gain insights from this book, whether affirmation of what they already know about story-crafting or correction of all the wrong things they've been doing. This book is solid gold.
The expanded review:
In 1997, one of my RWA chapters held a conference in Los Angeles. Part of the reason for having it there was to try to generate some kind of interest, on both sides of the issue, for turning romance novels into films. The notion was soundly dismissed by many RWA members and officials, but a few of us in this particular chapter were enthusiastic about it. Yes, I know, we were very prescient. It didn't do us any good, but we can say, "I told you so."
One of our chapter's members had attended another conference previously at which Christopher Vogler was a speaker. She was so impressed by him that she offered to try to contact him and have him speak at our conference. To just about everyone's surprise, he agreed, but contingent upon his potential last minute cancellation in the event his job as story director (or some such high level development position at 20th Century Fox) took priority. We agreed.
We held the conference at the Century Plaza Hotel in Century City. The hotel site was at one time part of the 20th Century Fox production lot, and the studio's offices were still right down the street. We had scheduled Chris' workshop for the first session of the conference on Friday afternoon, and when we inquired about sending a taxi for him, he declined and said he'd just walk over. That's exactly what he did.
He gave a more or less prepared presentation, then opened the floor up for questions. For at least two hours, the 25 or 30 of us in attendance had what amounted to a casual conversation with Chris Vogler. You know those A&E master class things with James whatever his name is, where some big name actor chats with the students? Those are formal lectures compared to the chat we had with Vogler.
Many of us had brought copies of the book, and he graciously signed them. He gave us about three hours of his time, charged us absolutely nothing, and then he just . . . walked back to his office.
I had purchased the book before the conference and had read most of it, so I already knew it was absolutely spot on. The archetypes, the plot points, the whole analogy of The Quest, when it's overt and when it's not: Everything made perfect sense.
There are other books on writing that cover some of the same points. Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel: From Plot to Print had been my primary reference for many years, and it's still valuable, still recommendable. What Vogler does, however, is to take the basic plotting structure and explain how and why it is so universal. He draws on both Jungian theory and Joseph Campbell's analysis of myth, and then applies both to story structure, which includes, of course, characters and motivations and conflict and all the rest of it. It's all part of the journey.
Maybe I just write differently and maybe I get more out of this kind of analysis than others, but if I were to recommend one single book as THE resource for writers, it would be The Writer's Journey. Forget the bullshit of Strunk and White (I hate that book) and all the other stuff. Learn to understand story first. If you can't understand story, all the technique in the world won't do you any good.
A year or so after that LA conference, I made a life-changing decision and went back to college. When I saw that The Writer's Journey was being used as the text for a couple of literature classes, I almost registered for those classes. They never, however, fit into my schedule. I wish they had.
The Writer's Journey has been revised a couple of times since I got in 1997; my guess is that the revisions have improved it. You can pick up used copies from Amazon for a little bit of nothing. I also have Memo from the Story Department, but I bought that a couple years ago just when my writing life was being shoved into the background by day job obligations. Now the day job is gone; my priorities are going to change.
This review hasn't been very much about the book. I'm sorry about that. You'll just have to read it. It's that good. It really is.