New writers often rail against formulas and rules in an attempt to find their own voice, but the rules of good writing and storytelling need not be formulaic. Nor do formulas themselves need to be formulaic.
The most prevalent formula for writing fiction is the mythic journey, and two of the most obvious examples of this template are The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars. Does anyone doubt that these two movies tell the same story? Yet the mythic journey is not always so obvious. Tin Cup, far from the plots and contrivances of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars, follows the same basic structure as they do and is equally mythic.
The movie begins in Roy McAvoy’s ordinary world, a driving range. The main call to adventure comes when his friend Romeo suggests that Roy enter the U.S. Open. Roy refuses the call, not wanting to change his ways, but he agrees when he realizes it is a way of catching the interest of the woman he loves. The woman and Romeo act as Roy’s mentors, helping him prepare for the game. He crosses the threshold into the extraordinary world when he enters the U.S. Open. As in any mythic journey, other archetypical characters (non-stereotypical but recognizable) accompany the hero Roy and help, hinder, and cheer him along the way.
Roy wants to change, and he prepares for and passes first one test and then another. Then comes the big moment, the mythic moment. He fails the final test, losing the U.S. Open, but wins his personal quest. He makes the shot he knows he can make, and he returns to the ordinary world with his ladylove. At the end he attempts to figure out what he learned, and recommits himself to another quest, next year’s U.S. Open.
Because of mythic journey formula, Tin Cup is not simply an amusing movie but is the quintessential story: an ordinary person who transforms himself into an extraordinary one.
In my own mythic journey as a writer, I have learned not to be afraid of formulas and rules, but rather to embrace them and make them my own. I hadn’t considered using the mythic journey formula again, since I already used it for my novel Daughter Am I, but my work-in-progress is the story of an ordinary man who is transformed into an extraordinary one, so whether I like it or not, I will be following the formula to a certain extent.
And I do like it. Perhaps it will give my novel a mythic aura. Not a bad quality for any story.