Adventures in NaNo-Land – Spectacular Failures

November 16, 2012 at 3:08 am (fantasy, Links, writing) (, , , , , , , , )

During the Brandon Sanderson lecture on story structure I attended recently, he made reference to a Joseph Campbell observation of a particular story structure common to mythology – the spectacular failures structure. The hero of the tale goes through a series of spectacular failures, despite good intentions, leading up to the climax of the tale where he (or she) finally succeeds.

I had already written my outline for The Trading of Skin when I attended that lecture (I drew sketches for the story during that Convention) and I was struck at how my outline followed that pattern. My lovable but fallible protagonist, Oaván, has a history of failures despite good intentions, including nearly beating a man to death in defense of his mother (for a verbal assault…definitely excessive) and never managing to master hunting, or the shamanistic prayers and rites, the way his older brother has. The story starts with a spectacular failure, when he shoots Lieđđi, and it is that spectacular failure that causes the rest of the story.

But that’s not the last mistake for Oaván. Each new one drives the story forward, when he disobeys his mother and enters her room while alone with Lieđđi in the tent, when he allows his brother to talk him into confronting the village chieftain, when he follows Lieđđi without telling the rest of his family that she has run off and several more. Even the climactic moment of the story looks like another of his failures but proves to be a success in the end.

I think there are several reasons behind using a structure like this. One reason is that it creates sympathy for the hero. Another is that it allows the reader to relate to him, even if he is larger and stronger than the average human, part supernatural being and able to speak with the gods. This structure captures the concept of heroic risk – with a high level of risk comes a high percentage of failure, but the hero never gives up n the face of this.

I have now posted Chapter 8 of The Trading of Skin to You can find the link at:

More tomorrow J


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