REVIEW The Ultimate Hero’s Journey by Neal Soloponte

In the third of our review series, Marie-Claire Imam-Gutierrez reveals how a broken wrist lead to improved plotting of her WIP

Just before Christmas, I slipped on black ice and broke my wrist. I was pretty much out of action – no present wrapping for me - but also no writing! Deb Court, my lovely SCBWI friend, came to my rescue. She knew I was interested in plotting, so sent me something to keep my writing brain active: Neal Soloponte’s The Ultimate Hero’s Journey – 195 Essential Plot Stages Found in the Best Novels & Movies. Yes, you read that right, 195 stages!

With one stage to a page and a description of the point, there are examples of how each stage is represented in Star Wars, The Matrix and Harry Potter. Interestingly, Soloponte also uses Sideways, a human drama, and Dodgeball, a comedy, to show that the stages also work when there’s no magic or ‘villains wearing capes’. 

Examples include: 017 – Denial of the Premise, 043 – The Hero Is a Mess and 081 – The False Enemy. There are tips to help you with dialogue, development of characters and the planning of scenes. When reading novels, I could easily spot each stage – they were all working to take us on a journey – with believable worlds and characters, whose arcs play out in a satisfying way. 

I find it fascinating that by digesting stories, we have internalised what makes a good one. Good stories feel right and resonate with our own trials and tribulations. Sometimes, when a story doesn’t work, I think it’s because they’ve missed out a few too many of the stages. I was happy to see that some of the 195 stages were already in my current WIP. But even better, I could see how I could tweak bits to include more of the stages and so improve my work (hopefully!). I made a table to replot my story with all 195 stages. Then I did the same for book two and three in the series, and found it made plotting 100 times easier than usual. Honestly!

I suppose this sort of detailed planning may scare some. I used to be a pantser myself. But instead of being time consuming or restrictive, I found that it stimulated my creativity. I had to think hard to work out how stage 177 - Apotheosis fitted into my MG fantasy – but it did, and now, it’s one of my favourite scenes. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. 

Thanks Neal Soloponte (and Deb Court, critique partner extraordinaire).


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Marie-Claire Imam-Gutierrez is a primary school teacher and a SCBWI network organiser for the NE area. A Northern Writers' Award winner, she writes MG fantasy and biological sci-fi! Twitter: @mciman


Natalie Yates is Reviews Editor for Words & Pictures. Twitter:  @eastyorknat.

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