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The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth [Paperback]

James N. Frey
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 3 2002
Myths, says James N. Frey, are the basis of all storytelling, and their structures and motifs are as powerful for contemporary writers as they were for Homer.

In The Key, novelist and fiction-writing coach Frey applies his popular "Damn Good" approach to Joseph Campbell's insights into the universal structure of myths, providing a practical guide for fiction writers and screenwriters who want to shape their ideas into a powerful mythic story.

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The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth + How to Write a Damn Good Mystery: A Practical Step-by-Step Guide from Inspiration to Finished Manuscript
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"You don't begin with meaning," according to fiction writer Rick DeMarinis, "you end with it." A critic approaching a story from a mythological standpoint might find a mythological theme, but "there are as many themes in a story as there are critical theories." Hogwash, says James N. Frey. "Mythic structures, forms, motifs, and characters ... are 'The Key' to writing more-powerful fiction," and it is a fiction writer's job to imbue his or her work with them. In The Key, Frey describes each of the mythic qualities (ascribed to the mythic hero, the "Evil One," the "Call to Adventure," and the other elements of the mythic journey) and offers examples of how to use them in one's writing. Don't get the wrong idea. Frey is not interested in academic or overly intellectual writing. Sure, he invents a Proust-reading Nevada cowboy to illustrate the concept of "The Hero's Lover," but there are more references here to James Bond than to Homer. Frey advises using first-person journal writing to get to know one's characters. He emphasizes fiction's need for conflict at every turn. And he recommends working from a premise, as it helps one know what to leave out (everything in the story must work to further the premise). Frey defines every possible mythic character or situation, then insists one not feel confined by them all. "The mythic pattern is not a straitjacket," he says, "it's Play-Doh. Have fun with it." --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

In this well-written and witty how-to, Frey, a writing teacher and author of the "Damn Good" writing books, focuses on the tradition of myth as a recipe for storytelling. Drawing from Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth, Frey explains that people respond strongly to mythic images and will essentially read the same stories over and over again; readers of romances are a good example of this concept. The first half of the book is especially interesting, for it examines the mythic structure in such diverse works as Robin Hood, Beowulf, and Jaws and looks at myths that function in everyday modern life. In the second half, Frey provides the reader with a sample novella titled "The Blue Light" to illustrate the use of myth as a writing tool. Expect beginning writers to use this informative guide along with the author's other books. Recommended for public libraries.DLisa J. Cihlar, Monroe P.L., WI
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Already been done Nov. 23 2003
The book is basically a rehash of Christopher Vogler's classic "The Writer's Journey." Frey's book covers exactly the same concept, however, his focus is more basic and directed toward novelists versus screenwriters. (If you read Vogler's book, and you're a novelist, you'll do just as well if not better.)
I might have liked this book more if I hadn't read Vogler's first which covers the concept much more comprehensively. One reviewer noted he's using Frey's book as a 'template' rather than a 'guideline.' Fine, if your goal is cookie-cutter fiction. (Vogler's book specifically warns against using mythic concepts in this way.)
If you want a simple introduction to myth-as-story, this book will do. (In fact, the entire book is summarized in a single chapter toward the end. If you must have it, borrow the book from the library and photocopy the chapter.) But if you really want to fully explore the potential mythic structure has to offer, this book comes up a bit short.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Frey's Template Keeps Me on Track Nov. 15 2002
On a subconscious level, anyone who is interested in literature recognizes the structure and key elements of the epic story where the archetypical hero leaves the security of his home, goes into the unknown 'woods', confronts evil and is somehow transformed by the whole adventure. Some built-in human chemistry allows this kind of story to excite us, no matter how many times we have heard it. The elements are all familiar, but unless you've read Campbell or taken a course on the mythical hero, you have not put all the elements together in a format that is easy to understand and utilize. Frey does just that.
Frey looks at the power of myth and creates a template that will help any level writer create a journey of transition. He employs various examples to back up his premise and analysis and relies heavily on outlines discussed in his two previous "Damn Good" how-tos. (I don't have either of the other works and I was able to make perfect sense of Frey's suggestions.) Frey's analysis provides fledgling writers such as myself a way in which to formulate a concrete foundation before actually attempting to delve into the literary process that entails the use of distinctive language. I am hoping that in employing his tips I will avoid my usual sandtraps---adding too many scenes simply because I enjoy placing my fictional creations in situations that have little to do with the message of my book.

Bottom line: I believe Frey's ideas wonderfully readable and easily employable. He suggests fleshing out each character by defining him/her physiologially, sociologically and pyschologically and then writing a journal in the character's voice to better facilitate 'stepping into that character's shoes.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting concept but no follow through Nov. 29 2001
The 'Key' mentioned in the title is what the author describes as the monomyth. A supposed model of a mythic story that contains certain elements and has been replicated for centuries and across many societies because it is basic to humanity.
While the idea of extracting a universal pattern from great literature is intriguing the result is not necessarily useful. The book consists largely of a long laundry list of elements that may or may not be found in a particular story. Included are a large number of self serving references of the form 'as I said in my other book...' which I found irritating since I bought this book not another.
The author has attempted to support the idea of a great model by including an example based on using the techniques described. You would think that if you were writing a book on how to write, and demonstrating a great technique, that you would make sure your example was a wonderfully written piece. It isn't. The author's excuse it by adding at the end that it is 'Only a draft'. I'm unimpressed by the example and the technique.
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2.0 out of 5 stars How to burnout on a Damn Fine Concept April 3 2001
I haven't read any of Frey's other works, and after this one I won't bother. The concept of this book though unoriginal is very interesting. The idea of universal themes and fundamental myths that speak to the core of the human psyche is the grist of forklore classes and the keynote of Joseph Campbell. It is a great idea and one that may still have room for exploration. Don't look for it here. Frey is trying lamely to devise a formula for hacks.
Have you ever written a twelve-page term paper based on a three-page idea? Haven't we all? This is a book written like that. I would imagine that Frey asked his publisher if he could double space. You and I are are likely to have spent more time in the library doing our work than did Mr. Frey. His literary alusions are to such masters as Steven King and Ian Fleming. James Joyce is cited as an bad example. He believes Ahab is the Evil One in Mobey Dick. and he makes repeated referance to someone he calls "Big Nurse" in "One Flew Over KooKoo's Nest". How could anyone forget a name like Nurse Rachet? She is called "Rachet" for a reason, Mr. Frey. It is a name with meaning, like Finn-again.
You want a good book on the craft of writing? Read Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird". You want to write like Steven King? Read Steven King's "On Writing"(and see Eudora Welty's work by the same name). You want to become a great writer? Read Joyce and Dispair. It is a gift, Steven King says so.
Look at Lamott, and Joyce, and King and Frey and take heart. It is a gift that doesn't make you happy anyway. Worm farming is more fun and apt to pay bettter. Write if you must. All art is sorrow in the end.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Pattern for Perfect Fiction.
This is my first foray into Frey's fiction-helps---no regrets whatsoever! I have seen his other books on how to write "Durn Good" fiction, but have never felt the inclination to... Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2003 by Kendal B. Hunter
5.0 out of 5 stars Frey seems to understand
I have enjoyed this book and I believe that it could have only been written by someone on the edge of self discovery at a level that few ever achieve.
Published on Nov. 20 2002
3.0 out of 5 stars Arche/Stereotype
Anyone who really wants to write mythopoetically resonant fiction is probably more sensitive to these kinds of issues than... this book assumes they are. Read more
Published on June 12 2001 by Enantiodromos
4.0 out of 5 stars A good intro to the Hero's Journey archetype
It can be a bit too simplistic at times, but this book is a very good introduction to the Hero's Journey. Read more
Published on March 30 2001 by Joe Kenney
2.0 out of 5 stars Overly simplistic, but possibly helpful
If you're not willing to read the many exciting books on the role of myth in story creation (like Campbell's classic, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"), Frey's book may... Read more
Published on Feb. 15 2001 by Jay3fer
2.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat helpful... if you can sift the good from the bad.
As a fan of Joseph Campbell and an aspiring author myself, I bought this book hoping for some insight into combining his ideas into fiction. Read more
Published on Feb. 2 2001 by "mlcrewe"
1.0 out of 5 stars Excellent paint-by-numbers guide to writing poorly
Rich with frequent, overlong personal anecdotes without even a pretense of relevance to the topic, twelve sentences when one would do, and attempts to persuade by overloading on... Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2001 by Tevis Fen-Kortiay
5.0 out of 5 stars Changes the way you read and see movies
The Key is a straightforward book that provides writers with the basic tools and knowledge needed to create our own mythic journey, wheter it's set on present time or on some other... Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2001 by Mario G. Perez Fonseca
Go to just about any writing workshop, and you'll hear advice to employ the "power of myth." All this is really means is to use ageless storytelling techniques. Read more
Published on Dec 26 2000 by Tami D. Cowden
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