This afternoon, I saw an ad related to creative writing. As you might expect, with my web activity, I get a lot of those. (It’s a lot better than [CENSORED] or [BLOCKED] offers, neither of which I will actually mention for fear of generating ads for them here!) This one was advertising “the only system you’ll ever need to create a compelling narrative.”

That sort of claim makes me feel sorry for the would-be authors who fall for these schemes. Joseph Campbell tried to do that, for example, and his “universal narrative” contains plenty of exceptions, noting that not every story has all of the elements he identified. Attempting a universal story is self-defeating.

That’s not to say Campbell was a failure, or at least not a total one. He didn’t succeed at his goal of uncovering the key to a universal unconscious, but he did generate an excellent analysis of heroic stories. Not every story is an heroic tale, of course, and not every heroic tale happens the same way; but what’s come to be called “the Hero’s Journey format” is the second-most famous story format in the English language. (The first, of course, is three-act structure.)

There are many others, of course. There’s the mystery format, the Hollywood format, story skeletons, and so on. There are even variations on themes, such as the multitude of approaches to three-act that have sprung up over the decades.

In future updates, I’ll likely cover each of these and more. For now, all you have to know is that while there are likely ways to write, there is no one true way. Writing is an art, not a science. It has rules, but no true laws. Don’t feel hemmed in. Spread out, try to find something comfortable, and just practice your art. You’re not going to get there immediately, any more than you went from scribbling with crayons to painting the Sistine Chapel as a child; but if you work at it you’ll get confident enough to let it get farther than your refrigerator door.