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The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth Paperback – Aug 3 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (Aug. 3 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312300522
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312300524
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 408 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #519,984 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

"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

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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 be a shortcut. But don't be duped into thinking he's done all the work for you.
Believe me, this ain't a "Cliff's notes" version of the harder books on mythology -- it's the Reader's Digest version. Nothing wrong with that, as long as you know what you're getting.
As a previous reviewer noted, Frey is too limiting in his definitions of who the protagonist and antagonist can be in your story (he overlooks completely the fact that an antagonist need not be a person at all -- it could be the weather, or a giant whale, or an entire town, among other things).
Also, many of Frey's plot and character suggestions are too dramatic, and would have no place in literary fiction, where readers demand a greater degree of subtlety. But if you're looking to write rollicking adventure stories, and you want to see how other authors have used mythology to create a firm, workable structure for their stories, this book may be the right place to start.
I wouldn't stop there, though. If you want to write works of any depth or meaning, it would be better to move on -- if Frey manages to pique your interest in the power of myth rather than just turning you off -- to the harder, but more insightful stuff than Frey offers in this limited book.
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Format: Hardcover
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. While I did find a little, other readers should be warned that it is hidden among some of the worst advice I've seen, much repetition, and an example novel that even I could write circles around.
Many of the basic ideas that Frey talks about are helpful - the major characters found in a myth and examples of these in modern fiction, a basic outline of the hero's journey, etc. However, he tends to repeat his points over and over rather than really developing them. Also, some of what he says is just plain wrong, such as claiming that it is best if the "Evil One" or antagonist has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, despite the fact that great fiction (and the average reader) demands a more complex and human villian. The sections of a novel he has written are cliched and simplistic, and even his outline to fill in the blanks between excerpts contains many unbelievable and unsophisticated elements. This did not give me great confidence in his advice.
Overall, The Key may be of some basic use to you if you're already fairly confident in your writing (confident enough to know somethat that doesn't work for you when you see it). If you're just beginning, however, there are much better places to get a good grounding in the craft of writing.
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Format: Hardcover
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. But unlike a lot of instructors, Frey gives excellent advice on HOW to do just that.
Frey understands that plot arises out of character, and so he focuses on the character interaction, and the use of archetypal - mythic -- patterns for development. Throughout the book, he offers many examples from well-known sources, enabling the reader to see the commonalities between very diverse characters and stories.
Another bonus of this book is the illustration of the techniques described in Frey's other works. We see how character bios aid the writing in understanding the character - even if much of that bio never shows up in the novel or screenplay. The journals "written" by the characters demonstrate the importance of getting inside the heads of characters, a method that aids the writer to understand the character's motivation. I particularly appreciate the advice to use this method will all important characters, not just protaoonists. Villains and secondary characters require the writer's understanding, too.
While in many respects, the underlying information here is not very different from that provided by Swain, McKee or Vogler, (but then, how could it not be similar? - all concern story structure) Frey's explanation is more accessible. Being a writing book junkie, I'd say buy 'em all. But if you can only get one about story - this is probably the one to get.
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Format: Hardcover
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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