Women in particular know that, in real life, no one focuses entirely on one problem, one goal. Even while toiling against the dragon (be that a work project, a family problem, a health issue, etc) we must help our children with their schoolwork, phone our elderly parents, put the rubbish out, buy birthday presents. And we know too that these everyday incidentals make our toil all the more dramatic - and all the more worthwhile.
I believe the best novels - at least, for me - are those which focus on the processes of people, rather than actions and events.
I am not an expert, and I can't even say that future stories of mine will adhere to my own narrative vision. It's just an idea I have, another herb to throw into the soup. A heroine's journey. A snake-like, sacred labyrinth-like path based on the cycles of the moon, coiling around itself and ending in the same place it began - and yet a very different place as well.
The way of experience.
As she stands on the bones of her past and the seeded ground of her present, the world opens itself anew to the heroine. An experience comes, born of what she has sown in her life so far, although it may seem to impose itself upon her from some distant source. It belongs to her though, whether through her past choices or her heritage or her fate. And she is called out of her peace, out of herself. It is like the beginning of spring and the heroine is a plant emerging from the womb of the world. The Bee-wing Moon rises too, its delicate light speckled with the night's dark.
Like a young child, the heroine is amazed and bewildered by her new experience. Everything seems new, even if it is a place she has lived all her life. The shadows are stranger, the winds have different songs. She must try to fit her old understandings to this new way of being, and struggles to do so. It is the season of the Lilac Moon, when blossoms flourish once more and storms shake the world - beauty and peril, promise and the wild.
The heroine may become overwhelmed, daunted, by these changes in her life, and so she recoils inside herself. She reaffirms her ideas about how she wants to the world to be, never mind that everything is altered and can not be turned back. This is like the denial stage in grief - and the heroine must grieve her lost beliefs and her lost vision for the future, even if her new experience is a positive one. This is the Tender Moon, when the new growth either begins to strengthen and bloom or withers, unready for its existence in the sun.
The heroine has no real choice but to deal with her reality, and as she faces this, she takes what the world offers, and what she herself offers, and begins weaving them together to shape the new reality. She takes responsibility for her destiny. This is the Moon of Love-Singing, of coming together, choosing, making a covenant.
In deciding what she cares about, the heroine decides her path forward. It is a midsummer in her life, the season of the sacred King (and the King Moon). He represent the values and beliefs the heroine knows she wants to work for, even when the world is roaring at her like a dragon.
At this stage of her journey, the heroine takes a deep breath and, although she may feel unready, she begins to do what is necessary. She toils, she confronts the Beast, starts a new project, fights the dragon. The Water Moon comes at her with all its challenges, but she must go on despite drought or flooding; she must do the work or else all will be lost.
Now the heroine comes to a new threshold. This reflects the beginning of her journey, only it occurs within her heart. Because she has begun the work, she feels less overwhelmed and frightened. With the experience she's gained, she understands now what has happened for her and why. At this point, the ostensible goal may even be reached - her work may have defeated the dragon - but the journey to soul's fulfillment may still go on within. It is the time of the first harvest, and the Gold-heart Moon. The heroine sees some reward for her labours, but there is a way to go yet.
Using her new strength and insight, the heroine is able to begin making real changes to her life and herself, with a sense that is both as fresh as wonder and as calm as wisdom. You may notice how this also reflects the second stage of her journey, but at a deeper level. Now she fears less any mysteries that arise, because she has proven herself thus far: she knows she can handle what is thrown at her. It is as if she has reached true adulthood. This is the season of the Gathering Moon, when women traditionally begin to stockpile for winter. The heroine has gained skills and understandings which she stores up within her heart for the future.
But change always brings inner consequences. The heroine must release her old wishes, accepting now that they will not come and the world is different from how she imagined it would be. She must also let go of all that is no longer needed, lay down her sword, and bury the dragon's bones so they may nurture future growth. It is like autumn leaves are falling, and she is a mature, if weary, middle-aged woman. Once again she is facing her grief, but more deeply, for she better appreciates now what she had truly sacrificed for the sake of a better future. This is the Sparrow Moon, when things get real.
With all her losses behind her, and all her gains at hand, the heroine now deepens upon the process of her earlier negotiation, and makes something solid and worthwhile within her life that she feels happy with. Under a Moon of Peace-Dreaming, she can begin to imagine the future again, confident that she has done the right thing.
And yet, just as she settles, the test comes. The dragon rises for one final rush of fire. It may seem like a new breakdown but is only a natural swaying backward, a making sure. There are things which still need doing but the heroine did not have enough insight to realise it until now. With her increased maturity, she proves herself in this final struggle. She proves that the problem will no longer threaten her peace and sense of self. Like the Midwife Moon, she gives birth to the future hope, the sun.
The story ends like winter ends, and the world opens itself in a fresh new season. The heroine stands beneath the Quiet Moon, contemplating the place she has made for herself. It is a loveliness of bones and tiny new growth. And as she looks out over it, she sees something beginning to take shape from the landscape of her memories and dreams ... a door opening ... stitches unravelling ... a new journey that calls.
After I completed Deep in the Far Away, I compared it to this narrative template and realised it naturally pretty much fit. (Granted, the new epilogue for the second edition slightly changed things, but I guess that depends on each reader's imagination.)
I hope you can see how this structure might carry a story ... whether it be a written story or something happening in your actual life ... and that you find a certain degree of worth in it for yourself. Each of these waymarkers of course overlap, and are of differing lengths, and sometimes linger on even while the others go ahead.
Here is part one in more detail: The Start of the Story