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David Farland’s Hourglass of Evil

Unveiling the Hourglass of Evil: A Powerful Writing Tool for Captivating Storytelling

Very often, when you’re preparing to plot a novel and feel bereft of ideas, you can look at other books and find interesting approaches and techniques for storytelling that might be of help.  I call these “Storytelling Tools.”  Here is one that I noticed long ago:

Imagine for a moment an hourglass that has just been turned over.  Imagine that your protagonist is a grain of sand in that hourglass, resting at the very top.  At that moment, your protagonist is at ease at the top of the world, just as characters are at the beginning of most stories.  For him, evil and danger are seen as something distant.

This is the state of affairs in many tales.  In Lord of the Rings, Frodo begins his journey with a party in the Shire.  Yes, the elves are fleeing the land and orcs rampage in far countries, but that doesn’t involve him.  In The Christmas Carol, Scrooge is beset upon by a nephew who is seeking alms for the poor in far counties.

Yet as each of these stories progress, the characters draw nearer to the source of evil.  Like grains of sand in an hourglass, they sink toward it inexorably.    All too soon, they find that evil is all around them.  Dark Riders enter the Shire, and poverty strikes in the homes of Scrooge’s employees.  

Indeed, usually there is a betrayal of some sort.  Your hero will find that evil isn’t just in the heart of people far from him, it is in his midst—among his closest allies.  Thus, Frodo discovers that Boromir will stop at nothing to get the One Ring, while Scrooge learns that his closest friends and family secretly mock and despise him.

Still your protagonist sinks, until he reaches the bottleneck of that hourglass, where he must confront absolute evil: and learns that it is within himself!  

Thus, Frodo makes the foolish choice to claim the One Ring at the Crack of Doom, while Scrooge discovers that his own miserliness is the cause of tremendous suffering.

Remember: it is only when evil is destroyed in the hero’s heart that change can be wrought abroad and good can sweep over the earth.

Thus, it is not until the One Ring finds its way into the Crack of Doom (as a result of the curse that Frodo put upon Gollum earlier), that the world can begin to be cleansed.  It is not until Scrooge repents of his greed that he is able to alleviate the suffering of those around him.

So your protagonist passes through the neck of the hourglass, and emerges on top once again.

In plotting your novels, remember that in a good book there is almost always an inner journey that must be taken along with the outer journey.  Conquest of others cannot take place until one conquers one’s own hidden weaknesses.

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