Clash of the Titans…? Why The Hero’s Journey CAN be non linear… By Linda Aronson


This is funny… As those of you who have attended the London Screenwriters’ Festival will know, it’s a very friendly, inclusive festival – and remarkable in the way it manages to combine high-powered craft and business sessions with a lot of fun. Which is how it’s come about that, very tongue-in-cheek, the LSF programmers have entitled the joint session involving Christopher Vogler (The Hero’s Journey) and myself as Clash of the Titans. I have to chuckle, but while I hope people find it interesting, it won’t be a clash.

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of The Hero’s Journey for its usefulness in constructing not only conventional linear scripts, but also in creating complex nonlinear multiplot forms – including, as you’ll see below, nonlinear in VR film stories. As for Mr Vogler, he very kindly endorsed my theories on parallel and nonlinear narratives from the word go. So we aren’t clashing.

Indeed, I’m very taken with the chance of explaining how you can use The Hero’s Journey in multiplot nonlinear, including VR (clues: navigating from Vogler’s entry into hell; use of archetypes in multiple protagonist forms; concentric circles in double narrative flashback etc etc – lots of stuff).

As for the current way some writers dismiss The Hero’s Journey, I don’t get it, because the model is so very useful. Well, I get what’s driving it, I think, and it’s to my mind a misconception. Depressingly, a lot of people see The Hero’s Journey as a hindrance to creativity and complex narrative when in fact it can be a marvellously helpful tool. Why these people feel hindered is not, I suspect actually to do with the Hero’s Journey model. It’s the mindset they are bringing to storytelling. It’s the mindset that accepts that all stories are automatically linear, chronological and single hero.

If you believe this, when you come to a story that calls for multiple protagonists and nonlinearity, you naturally get angry with any one hero chronological model – Vogler’s or anyone else’s – because of course they don’t work. People really beat themselves up about this. They groan at the mention of The Hero’s Journey (moreover, rather alarmingly, they assume I must hate the model, and, in general, that I must hate linear one hero storylines. Which is not the case at all).

To these people I’d just say: step back from your assumptions. You’re banging your head against the door frame trying to get through the door – when actually the door is open. Fact is, some stories are one hero and chronological, others aren’t. Simple as that. Once you accept the idea that multiplot, multi-protagonist and nonlinear exist as separate storytelling forms, you can use The Hero’s Journey in all kinds of ways to construct and navigate your way through parallel narratives. It’s invaluable. I love it. I use it all the time in working on complex multiple storyline and nonlinear scripts. Anyway, I hope to see some of you at LSF. I’m also going to talk people through the structure of Memento during a screening and give a talk on Multiple Protagonist structures.

Finally! My multiplot nonlinear VR Film is Shooting: Go Ignition Immersive!

Who said VR had to be about games?

How good is this… I’m thrilled to say The Cardboard Box, the first of my multiplot nonlinear VR immersive films, is currently shooting with Darren Vukasinovic’s Ignition Immersive, a new adventurous VR company in Melbourne that I’m working with so we can together achieve something crazy-difficult but really fantastically exciting in the way of VR films. And yes, I said ‘films’, not games. Who said VR had to be about games, or player agency or choose your own adventure ? Again, it’s a matter of questioning one’s assumptions.

Don’t get me wrong. VR games are fine. VR docos are fine. But The Cardboard Box is neither. It’s film. I’m a screenwriter, and VR is the most astonishing set of storytelling tools that a screenwriter could wish for. So, I’m working with Darren and the team at Ignition Immersive to combine the most advanced nonlinear screenwriting structures that I can create with the most advanced capacities of VR that all of their experts in 360, audio and Visual Effects can create. And let me tell you, what they are creating is awesome. Anyway, the form we’re creating is so new and so different, it really has to have its own name: Immersive Stories.

So what’s new?
Well, as I say, this is a film, not a game. You have no control, no player agency. This isn’t choose your own adventure (although I stress, there’s nothing wrong with that). It’s film, and in the same way that you walk into in a cinema and give yourself over to the filmmakers who tell you a new, suspenseful and emotionally-powerful story, so, with Immersive Stories, you put on your headset and wham, you are watching a hard-hitting, thought-provoking film about a tragedy that impacts a range of ordinary people. But it’s film on steroids. The Cardboard Box has seven interlinked stories, some linear, some nonlinear, all from different places and about different people – plus a confronting soundscape and a completely new set of visual storytelling techniques that keep the suspense rising and rising. It’s heart-breaking. It’s deliberately emotionally draining. It’s a serious story.

Yes, I’m getting a bit carried away here, for sure, but there’s reason. Keep an eye on our progress HERE.

Linda Aronson

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