Secret Language of Stories is a twelve step story analysis system I've
devised both to plot my novels and to teach story building to adults and
kids. It's based on Joseph Campbell's classic work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, with strong influences from The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
by Christopher Vogler. In the past few years I've seen Vogler's work
referenced more and more in the classroom, but for the struggling
readers and writers I work with, some of the ideas are still a bit
abstract. My impetus for creating The Secret Language of Stories was to
come up with imagery and vocabulary my students could understand, but
with concepts deep enough to be a challenge in adult creative writing
workshops. A complete description of my system may be found at my BLOG.
I give presentations at conferences and workshops, I provide numerous
examples for each of the twelve points in the story analysis, but
teachers frequently ask if I can give them any examples of an analysis
of an entire book. Some of my older Spellbinders posts contain
outlines f picture books, but I recently complete reading a novel that
was so well plotted, it was easy to see the structure.
City of Bones is a fabulous New York Times Best Selling novel by Cassandra Clare. It is the first book in The Mortal Instruments
series and it tells the story of Clary Fray, who seems to be a typical
teenage girl until she starts seeing demons and Shadowhunters.
SPOILER ALERT: The
following analysis contains several spoilers so I strongly advise
reading the book before proceeding. I will attempt to avoid talking
about the wonderful twists and turns while focusing on the spine of the
story. I don't want to ruin the fabulous revelations and family secrets
that are uncovered. On the other hand, the book is so well written, that
it's a total delight, even if you know how it ends.
OLD WORLD: Clary is a typical teenager hanging out with her best
friend, Simon, hanging out at a club called Pandemonium. She sees an
attractive young man slip into a back room with a girl and becomes
concerned when he is followed by two young teens (Shadowhunters)
brandishing knives. When she goes to investigate she sees the
Shadowhunters kill the young man (aka: demon shape shifter) who shrivels
into nothing and disappears.
CALL TO ADVENTURE: Clary receives a frantic phone call from her mother
telling her not to come home because it isn't safe. Clary rushes to
their house to find her mother has disappeared. She is then attacked
by a Ravener demon who nearly kills her and is whisked away by Jace, one
of the Shadowhunters from Pandemonium.
GUIDES, AND GIFTS: Jace serves as a mentor in the ways of the Shadow
World. After Clary is poisoned by the sting of the Ravener, Jace must
get her past the Du'sien demons disguised as police offers. Jace "hides"
her temporarily by marking her arm with a mendelin rune. Throughout the
story he gives her weaponry and other items she will need to fight off
CROSSING: Jace carries an unconscious Clary to the Institute, a
building in the middle of the city that looks like an old abandoned
church on the outside because it is hidden by a glamour. On the inside,
it's a large and beautiful research institute capable of offering
lodging and safety for up to two hundred Shadowhunters. Only four
currently reside there; Jace and his friends Alec and Isabelle, along
with their teacher and mentor Hodge.
NEW WORLD: At the institute, Clary meets Hodge, the mentor, teacher and
guardian of the three young Shadowhunter residents. Throughout the
story he will give her information and guidance. This is the stage in
the story where Clary becomes aware of the rules of the new world she
has entered, a world threatened by demons and occupied by the slightly
less dangerous Downworlders; creatures like vampires, werewolves and
PROBLEM, THE PRIZE, AND THE PLAN: Clary and the Shadowhunters uncover a
plot by Valentine; rogue Shadowhunter, to find the Mortal Cup. He plans
to use it to create an army of Shadowhunters under his control whom he
plans to use to annihilate the Downworlders. The majority of
Shadowhunters have formed a tentative peace or Accord with the
Downworlders. Valentine has turned against his own kind because he
believes the earth must be purged of Downworlders. He kidnapped Clary's
mother because he thought she had the Mortal Cup or at least knew where
to find it. In order to find out where her mother has been hidden, Clary
must first understand who has erased her memory of the Shadow World and
learn her true part in it.
CHALLENGE: Clary, Jace, Isabel, Alec, and Simon (who has also joined
the group) go to a party at the home of Magnus Bane, High Warlock of
Brooklyn. There Bane reveals that it was Clary's own mother who paid him
to erase her memories, for Clary's protection. As she and the others
start to leave, Isabel informs them that Simon has imbibed in a blue
drink that has temporarily changed him into a rat. A group of vampires
takes him to the Hotel Dumort, thinking he is one of their own. Clary
and Jace battle the vampires at the abandoned hotel and just when it
appears they are terribly outnumbered, werewolves intervene to create a
AND ESCAPE: Narrowly escaping death, the three teens find a flying
motorcycle on the roof of the hotel. They get away, but just as they are
starting to relax and take pleasure in their joy ride over the city,
the sun rises and the motorcycle crashes. Apparently the demons energies
that power the bike don't work during daylight.
Safely back at the Institute, Jace and Clary share a romantic moment on
the roof which is interrupted when they return to her room and a
jealous Simon emerges. With both boys upset with her, Clary settles on
her bed to mope and draw and think. She then has a revelation about
where the Mortal Cup is hidden, a location I will leave out just in case
you haven't read the book. If you have read it, then you already know.
EXPERIENCE: Jace and Clary retrieve the mortal cup with the help of
their friends only to have it stolen by Valentine with the assistance of
someone they thought they could trust. Along with the cup, Valentine
also takes an unconscious Jace with him and Clary fears that the evil
Shadowhunter plans to kill him.
SHOWDOWN: Clary, with the help of family friend Luke, travels to a
remote location on Roosevelt Island where they battle dozens of
Forsaken. Clary finds her mother, unconscious, confined to a bed with
hands and feet in manacles. She then finds Jace who is completely
unharmed. Valentine has convinced Jace to go with him to Idris. Clary
confronts Valentine about his evil plans and convinces Jace to stay with
her, which is much more difficult than it sounds, but I don't want to
disclose too much in case you haven't read the story. Valentine escapes
through a mirror portal with the Mortal Cup, but Clary saves Jace and
rescues her mother. Those are her main objectives. She will leave the
Clave to deal with Valentine.
Back in the everyday world, Clary visits her mother in the hospital.
She is in a coma, but for the present she is safe. Clary's friendship
with Simon has been mended and they reflect on coincidences versus
"fortuitous occurrences." Clary returns to the Institute where her tense
relationships with Alec and Isabelle have softened. She meets Jace up
on the roof where he shows her the flying vampire motorcycle that Magnus
Bane recently gave him as a gift. He then takes her on a ride and she
marvels at how different the city looks. Jace points out that the city
is just the same. Clary is the one who is different.
the basic plot structure of stories can be an invaluable way to start
getting story ideas of your own. When young writers understand these
patterns that are repeated across genres, they start to recognize them
in movies and books. Remember, for a more detailed discussion of each of
these twelve steps, go to my BLOG..
The City of Bones
will be released as a major motion picture in theaters August of 2013.
When it comes out on DVD I hope you show it to your students. It would
be a great topic for a story analysis discussion.
Dean has made numerous appearances as a guest poet/author at schools,
libraries, poetry events, and teacher/library conferences. She holds
a master's degree in communicative disorders, and has spent over a
decade working in the public schools as a
Her first novel, Comfort,was nominated as a Best Book for Young
Adults, was named the Best YA Novel of 2002 by the Texas Institute of
Letters, and was on the TAYSHAS (Texas Library Association) reading
Take Me There is a YALSA Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.
Her paranormal verse novel,
Forget Me Not, was published by Simon Pulse in October of 2012.
She conducts teacher trainings on inspiring reluctant writers
including "The Secret Language of Stories" and "Random Act of Haiku."
Starr Rose spent her childhood in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and New
Mexico, camping at the Red Sea in one and eating red chile in the other.
She's taught English and social studies to upper elementary and
middle-school students in New Mexico, Florida, Virginia, and Louisiana.
Back in NewMexico, Caroline now writes middle-grade novels and picture
books full time.
To find teacher's guides, writing activities, and information about author visits, go to my website.
Kimberley Griffiths Little has won the Southwest Book Award, The
Whitney Award for Best Youth Novel of 2010, and the author of the highly
acclaimed, The Healing Spell and
Circle of Secrets published by Scholastic Press. Look for her books at the Scholastic Book Fairs
lives on a dirt road in a small town by the Rio Grande with her
husband, a robotics engineer and their three sons. Kimberley is a
favorite speaker at schools around the country, presenting
"The Creative Diary", a highly successful writing workshop and has been a speaker at many conferences.