The Secret Language of Stories


            The Secret Language of Stories (SLOS) is a twelve-step story analysis I created that is based upon The Writers Journey by Christopher Vogler (See link below). I use this method to create my novels and to teach writing to kids of all ages as well as adults. SLOS is broken down into twelve basic elements or Story Frames. Stories don’t necessarily contain all of the components, and they don’t always occur in the order given here. In longer stories, many of the elements are repeated. Subplots may have their own story threads and novels may include endless repetitions of the Plan, Attempt, Response sequence found in the middle section of the story. The purpose of this analysis is not to micro analyze every element of a story, but rather to help students and other writers to recognize what is going on in stories and to begin to think like authors.
            The beginning of the story is the setup for what is to come. It may be very short or quite lengthy. Back-story and history leading up to how the hero came to be in this place in the Ordinary World might be given before the story really gets started or it may be woven throughout the story. This is the section where questions are raised. Will the character succeed? What will he find out? It includes the following:

1)      Ordinary World – Setting and characters are introduced.
2)      Call and Response – This may occur during or after the inciting incident. The Hero receives a call to adventure. Sometimes he eagerly undertakes this challenge, but more often there is a period of reluctance or even refusal as the dangers of the adventure are weighed against possible benefits.
3)      Mentors, Guides, and Gifts – A mentor appears to encourage the hero to accept the challenge of the call and gifts are often given to help him on his way.
4)      Crossing – The hero decides to act and crosses over into the New World.

            The middle section of the story has also been called the Initiation phase (See Joseph Campbell and The Hero with a Thousand Faces) because the hero is learning how to live in the New World and proving himself as he faces a series of increasing challenges. Some questions will start to be answered, but even more perplexing questions may be raised. The middle section is much longer than either the beginning or the end. What makes it longer is a repetition of the Plan, Attempt, Response sequence which can go on indefinitely for hundreds of pages. The middle section includes the following:

5)      New World – The hero faces small challenges as she learns the rules of the New World.
6)      Problems, Prizes, and Plans – A clear story goal is established and the hero makes plans for how it will be attained. Sometimes the story starts with a problem to be solved and sometimes it starts with a prize to be attained but ultimately both goals and obstacles will be woven into the story.
7)      Midpoint Challenge: Going for the Prize – An attempt is made to attain the Prize. A shift in the story occurs.
8)      Downtime – This section shows the hero’s response to what happened during the attempt. It may be a time of celebration, recovery, healing, regrouping or sulking, depending on what happened during the attempt to attain the Prize.

            It may seem as if the story is over at this point. In some picture books, fables, and short stories, this may be true, but for most stories, it is only the beginning of the end. The hero may even be back with his friends, thinking he is safe and enjoying his prize, but the ultimate challenge is about to happen. In this section everything is wrapped up and all (or most) of the questions will be answered. Sometimes a book will end on a cliffhanger where a brand new question is raised, suggesting that there might be a sequel. The final section includes the following:

9)      Chase and Escape – A twist sends the hero off in a new direction. Something is being pursued. The hero may be pursuing the prize or the villain, or the villain may be pursuing the hero.
10)   Death and Transformation – This is the point in the story where it appears that the hero will lose whatever is of highest value. Often someone dies at this point in the narrative.
11)   Climactic Showdown – The hero must face one final challenge to demonstrate whether the changes that have occurred are lasting or only temporary; internal or merely external.
12)   Reward -  The hero gets what she has earned. If she has passed the final test, it may be a reward. If not, there may be other consequences. Often there is a celebration and the return of the hero to the group.


  1. I'm so sorry to have missed your presentation. I went to a writer's retreat. The notes are great. See you next month, I hope!

  2. hi Miss !! I've read your post bout this SLOS n its very interesting especially to me n im just wondering if i can use your idea as the main topic of my thesis.. i actually sent u an email too n hope u'll reply me asap :)) love from Indonesia :))


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