Vince's story's journey: From Exile to Home, or vice versa?

Vince asked:
I have a 120,000 word paranormal called "Characters in a Romance" in which there is a cosmic black moment (explosion) and all the romance characters are blown out of their novels to all corners of the universe and they spend the rest of the book, like Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz", trying to get back to their own novels. 

They have many adventures along the way with their biggest problem being their inability to prove if they are real or fictional. Neither the real people, who were also blown up, nor the fictional characters are able to come up with a proof for determining who is real and who is fictional. Try to prove you're real.

What a great plot! I’m getting all sorts of resonances here from post-modern themes about authorship and the uncertainty of “reality,” as in Calvino, Ionesco, and more recently, Jasper Fforde in the Thursday Next novels! I can see how this juxtaposition of “fiction” and “real” (especially WITHIN a fiction!) will call into doubt the reliability of many philosophical verities. I think the "proving you're real" is a great theme, but I better just deal with the basic journey today, as that's complex enough.

So to the journey question! I think the significant challenge here is that you have several characters, and they probably each have an individual journey (you know, from distrust to trust). So keep that in mind—each probably has some individual journey to make within the overall journey of everyone getting back to where they belong.  (This might well come into play at the end of the book, where perhaps some characters do make it back to their novels, but others don’t—the individual journey might be a determiner of whether they make it back or not. Possible example later down the page. J)

 So you've set up that as a group, they have this common journey of getting back to their rightful places. I’m going to call that “home,” but I do need to point out that where they started (in that book or on that world or whatever) might not be where they belong.  That is, “home” isn’t always home. Some characters might find another along the way.

 A few thoughts:

1. When in the book does the explosion take place? What I'm wondering is... when does their common journey start? That is, is the actual start:
Journey starts before the explosion: Knowing who you are and your place in reality
Journey starts AFTER the explosion: Not knowing who you are or where you belong in the great scheme of things

The actual placement of the explosion will make a big difference here. If you think in terms of turning points (I’m linking to an article I wrote laying out my schema of turning points, but other analysts will have a different order and terminology), the explosion could take place at the "Inciting Incident", which is usually at the end of the first scene or first chapter-- the first event to set in motion the overall plot.
But you might want to spend 3-4 chapters establishing them in their ordinary worlds, and have the explosion happen as the second turning point (External Conflict Emerges). In that case, the journey would start back in the ordinary world, and so you might need to think more about what would make the ordinary world different as a starting point than it will be as the endpoint. That is, if the journey really starts “where I belong,” and then ends “where I belong,” has it really been a journey? How can you make it more than a circle?
You mentioned Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, and she does end up right back where she started? What’s changed? Her attitude towards home, right? She started out feeling that she didn’t belong at home, and ended up knowing that’s where she belonged.
If you have the explosion take place later, so that the journey starting point is clearly “home,” then you might consider that there’s a journey in subtext under that “geographical” one. What’s that underlying journey—which have to do with how they feel about home, and how home feels about them! Think about those quest novels where the young protagonist starts out as a loser in his hometown, leaves on the quest, and comes back a hero because he’s brought back the Holy Grail or killed the dragon or whatever. That’s a journey from “home” to “home,” but there’s been a marked change.

2. Does everyone make it back to where they started? Think about using that question as a way to hint at the individual journeys within the common journey. Some alternative answers:
a. Denny doesn’t get back home because he failed at some essential task on the way.
b. Sandy gets back home, but finds it no longer fits her, and she leaves again.
c. Leo almost makes it home, but sacrifices that goal so that another can make it back.
d. Charlotte almost gets back home, but when she’s on the brink of returning, realizes she never did belong there, and decides not to go.
e. Paul fell in love with an outsider along the way, and decides to stay with her rather than go home.
f. Rorie got sidetracked halfway through, ending up somewhere else, and stayed to help them battle some evildoer, and loves it there now and doesn’t want to leave to go back home.
g. Louie, unbeknownst to the others, is a bad guy and in trying to sabotage everyone else getting back, ends up destroying himself.
In those cases, each of them has some other individual journey, and that journey’s destination isn’t back to home. Even if “home” is where they belong and they get back there, they might need to learn/do/accomplish something else to finally reach the destination.

Anyway, I think you might just keep in mind that there is a common journey (everyone getting back “home”), but each might have his/her own journey, and that individual journey could determine who actually does get home, and what alternatives the others might find.

What do you think? It’s a great story, I can tell already!

And because I’ve been spending too much time on Youtube, a few “home” songs:

Quick Journey to Plot Exercise: Your Turn!

Quick Journey to Plot Exercise: Your Turn!

My books are character-driven, so I might say, "Oh, I never plot." But in fact, I've learned to do basic plotting by using a character journey as the big structural apparatus really helps. That is, very basically, what is my character's journey through the story? Like:
Indendence to affiliation
Distrust to trust
Innocence to corruption
Shame to self-acceptance
or where the character starts emotionally/psychologically and where she/he ends up. Chart the main steps involved:
Beginning: She is devoted to her independence in the first act, and I show that (how will the reader know this). She should probably be given the choice to accept help but refuse it.
End of act 1 (maybe around ch. 2): Something (what) happens that makes her independence more of a problem than a solution. (What happens and how does she react)
Act 2: Things heat up on the external plane and make her independence or self-reliance a REAL problem, and she gradually has to change in response to 3-4 events in the external plot. Some group or person should probably be giving her help, or trying to, or trying to get her to affiliate.
End of Act 2: In the crisis/dark moment, her need to be independent really complicates the external conflict, and she's in huge trouble (or she's about to lose her goal or lose something essential). In the dark moment, she has to choose to change and ask for help or something that compromises her independence but allows her to receive help from being affiliated with someone or some group.
Act 3: In the climactic scene, where the external plot resolves, her newfound willingness to accept help allows her to conquer whatever the main conflict in the outer plot is.
End of Act 3: Because she has now chosen to affiliate, she is more happy and safe, but also might keep her independence a bit by becoming not just a follower but a leader.
That is, you're going to have certain things happen in the external plot.  If you have a sense of what the main character needs to learn and accomplish-- the journey's start and destination-- you can make each of those plot events push the character down that journey road.
I don't actually plot this out, even in as vestigial an outline as above, but I try to have a really good sense of where my character starts out, and how she'll react to each plot event given that starting point, and usually, of course, the basic endpoint is fairly obvious once I know how she's limited or damaged at the start.
I like to analyze other people's plots, but my own... I'll get bored if I outline too deeply. What I'd love to be wild and yet disciplined enough to do is to write wildly and freely in the first draft, and then use journey, outlining, and structure to revise it in a second draft.
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Your own character's journey: Comment here, and we can discuss!

I'm collecting some good character journeys to use as examples for a free character journey class. If you'd like some free brainstorming of your own characters' journeys, comment here! I will disguise the details if I use the example in class. I'm more interested in the category of journey (like "alienation to affiliation") than plot details.

So comment here, and I'll brainstorm with you in an actual post, if I can figure out the magazine template. :).

Here's my overview of how the character journey will work over the three acts of the plot.

EXAMPLE: Journey from Fear to Forgiveness: August Wilson's Fences

I just saw the Indiana Repertory Theatre performance of Fences, one in the cycle of ten plays in August Wilson's magisterial retelling of the 20th Century through the lives of African-Americans in a Pittsburgh neighborhood.

Part of Wilson's greatness is that while there's always definitely a protagonist in his plays, every character has a journey, whether or not it is completed. So in Fences, the father Troy makes a journey from hyper-responsibility to alienation (that is, a negative journey), while his wife Rose moves from apology to self-assertion. Even the more minor characters, such as the sons, have journeys to make through the events of the plot.

Cory, the younger son, moves from fear of his father to forgiveness of his father. Here's how that works out in the three main parts of the play:
Act 1: Cory is a buoyant young athlete, who is being recruited by a college scout. He fears that his charismatic but tyrannical father Troy will refuse to let him take the scholarship. He is right to be afraid, as his father uses anger and authority to command his son's obedience.
Act 2: When Troy's need to be in control escalates into violence, Cory rejects and defies his father and escapes, but he has to leave his beloved mother behind.
Act 3: When Cory returns (now a US Marine corporal) years later, he starts once more to reject Troy by refusing to attend his father's funeral. But the love of his mother and little sister help him to find the strength to forgive the father who wanted to control him but couldn't love him.

So Cory moves from Fear to Forgiveness through the events of the drama.

(August Wilson's plays are characterized by a classically elegant structure and a depth of characterization. If you get a chance to see any of them in performance, go! Here's a video of a performance a couple years ago with Dale R Mcglonn as Troy. Denzel Washington, btw, is currently planning a film.)