Tuesday, April 29, 2014

An Inward Spiral (Or: The Virgin's Promise, Part Deux)

Warning: It's probably a good idea to check out Part 1 where I talk about the Virgin's Promise in general before you read this post. Just sayin'.

While the Hero's Journey is traditionally a circle, the Virgin's Promise is better described as an inward-moving spiral. "Female heroes," Christopher Vogler states, in the "Forward" to The Virgin's Promise,
seem to move towards the center of a series of rings that represent the different levels of female relationships [...]. Then they may return through all those levels, unwinding the spiral, applying what they have learned at their center to each set of relationships.
The inward spiral hearkens back to the central dichotomy between the Hero's Journey and the Virgin's Promise: Heroes are concerned with external circumstances and their place within them (mythology); Virgins focus on the internal, developing self-worth and self-hood (folklore). The Hero's Journey progresses into the deep unknown and back up again; the Virgin's Promise spirals ever inward.

This idea of an inward spiral fascinates me, but I've yet to find in the book or on the internet a diagram that graphically demonstrates it (I have the e-book version of TVP, maybe there's a diagram in the print version?). So I played around with it on my own, and came up with this:

Yay! Another hand drawn diagram! I'm sure you're all overjoyed
to have such constant access to my artistic skills.
I think the inward spiral works out quite well on paper. We begin with the Dependent World in the upper middle of the circle, and progress clockwise through the Virgin's Promise until we reach stage nine, Kingdom in Chaos. At that point we reverse directions, and while the diagram doesn't represent this, my thinking is that from Kingdom in Chaos until the final stage, Kingdom is Brighter, the Virgin progresses back outward, "unwinding the spiral" as Vogler puts it. That said, I also like the visual of Kingdom is Brighter at the center of the circle; it gives the cycle a nice cherry-on-top sort of feeling.

There's other neat stuff, too. You'll notice that the stages are now organized into spokes, according to this diagram. That isn't on accident. The "northern" spoke contains Dependent World, Secret World, Kingdom in Chaos, and Kingdom is Brighter. The association between these stages is obvious: they're all part of the relational triangle between the Virgin, the Kingdom/Dependent World, and the Secret World. This spoke is largely external in nature.

Price of Conformity, No Longer Fits Her World, and Re-Ordering (Rescue) make up the eastern spoke. This spoke is generally internal, in contrast to the northern spoke. Each of these stages deals heavily with the Virgin's personal value (how she sees herself) and personal authority, or power.

The southern spoke consists of Opportunity to Shine, Caught Shining, and Chooses Her Light. The theme of light here is unmistakable. Like the eastern spoke, this spoke is mostly internal, and deals with the Virgin's pursuit of her Dream, and her connection with what I'm calling her "Inner Goddess" (which has ties to Harmon and Campbell, but I'll get to that later*).

The western spoke contains Dresses the Part, Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck, and Wanders in the Wilderness. This spoke, like the northern spoke, is mostly external, and deals with the Virgin's outward energy, change, transformation, and sacrifice.

This version of the inward spiral splits the Virgin's Promise into the three-act format I gave it yesterday quite well, too. The first ring contains Dependent World, Price of Conformity, Opportunity to Shine, and Dresses the Part--Act I, or what I've deemed Discovery.

Act II, or Growth, follows the second ring of Secret World, No Longer Fits Her World, Caught Shining, Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck, and (to cheat just a little bit because it's technically on the third ring) Kingdom in Chaos.

Act III, Fulfillment, finished the third ring with Wanders in the Wilderness, Chooses Her Light, Re-Ordering (Rescue), and Kingdom is Brighter.

Pretty cool, no?

Now, let's talk about Dan Harmon's story structure just for a moment. Yesterday I mentioned briefly how the Virgin's Promise can still follow Harmon's structure, with one or more of the thirteen stages fitting into each point of Harmon's YOU, NEED, GO, SEARCH, FIND, TAKE, RETURN, CHANGE circle. That is definitely true. But one of the cool things about Harmon's structure (and most story structures in general, as far as I know) is that it is (they are) fractal* in nature. Harmon encourages us to
think of each of the 8 steps as consisting of 8 microcosmic substeps. [...] I'm not recommending that you sit there with a compass and a calculator breaking down your story to the point where every 4 second line of dialog consists of 8 syllables and tells the story of a sentence, but it's possible and sometimes "going there" can help you make decisions or get unblocked. ("Story Structure 106: Five Minute Plots")
Essentially, each of the eight points in Harmon's story structure can be divided into eight more points of the same distinction, and so on ad infinitum. The same principle applies to the Virgin's Promise; while the thirteen stages of TVP fit into Harmon's eight points, you can also break it down into each act, as it were, and this inward spiral demonstrates that very well. Check it:

Another awesome visual aid. Word to ya mammz.
Modified version! If you remember Harmon's structure, you'll remember that a key point is the protagonist's descent into chaos, unconsciousness, and the unknown (see "Story Structure 102" to refresh your memory). The same applies to the Virgin's Promise, but on the microcosm level. The top half of the diagram represents life, consciousness, and order, while the bottom shaded area represents death, unconsciousness, and chaos. The northern spoke and it's stages occur, on a micro level and to varying degrees, in areas of order and consciousness for the Virgin. The stages on the southern spoke, obviously, occur in chaos and unconsciousness. The eastern and western spokes represent liminal spaces where the Virgin discovers a NEED and then GOES into and RETURNS from chaos, having CHANGED. Really, it works out. Read Hudson's description of each of the stages in TVP; each one fits quite nicely into these spokes, these acts/rings, and this pattern of descending into the unknown and coming back changed, somehow.

I geek out about this kind of stuff, guys. I think it's awesome.

Anyway. So there's kind of my personal touch on the Virgin's Promise, as seen through a Dan Harmon-ish lens.

My story structure series isn't over yet, though--I'll be applying the Virgin's Promise to a recent movie or two in the near future, among other things, so keep your eyes open for that!

* And by later, I apparently mean I'll get to it in a later post...

** Not only is "fractal" one of the coolest words in the English language, but it is a fascinating concept as well, especially in relation to story. And will surely be the subject of a post on my blog, one day...


  1. So interesting the way you've mixed these-and the way they fit together so well. I read The Virgin's Promise 2 years-ago and it really doesn't get enough attention. Love the spiral graphic.

    1. Thanks! Yeah, TVP was a great, different perspective on some old ideas. I feel like it's always a good thing to explore alternative and different POVs. The interesting thing is that the more I study story structure, the more I see how it boils down to a few simple, recurring bits.