Hold on, this is gonna be a wild ride.
I’m gonna take you on a journey—the hero’s journey—in 800 words or less. When I teach this, it’s a six-week course! I can do twelve hours of lecture and worksheets on this topic, so this will be very basic.
First off, it’s important to know that the journey splits into two parts – the inner and outer journey. Basically, one journey is observable, the other is not (think character arc). These journeys take place simultaneously. What you will find here is the outer journey.
WHAT EXACTLY IS THE HERO’S JOURNEY?
The hero’s journey is a pattern in storytelling used by the Greeks. Joseph Campbell wrote a book, Hero with a Thousand Faces, outlining and defining this structure. It’s pretty intense and technical—not an easy read.
Christopher Vogler, took Campbell’s work and put it in a more user-friendly form: The Writer’s Journey. If you don’t have it, you should buy it.
A note of caution: The Hero’s Journey is NOT a formula. It’s a universal pattern found in great storytelling. Your main character may or may not hit all the benchmarks. Your plot may not progress in the order Vogler presents. AND this is not for only fantasy and scifi, or even fiction. This structure applies to a memoir as well.
It’s critical to start your story here. Trust me. In my current WIP, I jumped right to the dead body. I mean, grab the reader by the throat and yank them into the story, right? When I sent my ms to the Bloodthirsty Crit Partners (BCPs), I expected them to be lathered into a frenzy over this murder scene. I waited by my phone waiting for texts like, “tell me what happens next or I will kill you!” Instead, I got crickets. Then, “Um…no. No, no, no. This doesn’t work.” My poor little writer spirit was crushed. The consensus was that the beginning, as gripping as it was, didn’t feel right. I think Becca was the one who identified why – she said I violated the ordinary world! As a result, no one cared about the poor dead people or their immediate family members.
It’s imperative to see your main character in his or her natural environment. Show how they handle day to day stress and family life. Give us reasons why we should like this character and be willing to take a wild ride with them.
CALL TO ADVENTURE
An opportunity comes along for the main character. It has the potential to change their life. It may be good or bad. It may be offered or forced. Whatever your plot is, your character must make a choice at this point: stay or go. An initial refusal gives you some sweet conflict!
MEETING THE MENTOR
Your character needs advice. They may turn to a wise soul for help to make a decision. Or, the mentor can help them navigate their new course (Yoda to Luke Skywalker).
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Character is committed now to delve into this new or special world. They decide to “go”, or address the problem that interrupted everyday life.
TESTS AND TRIALS
When faced with a new reality, life becomes a series of trial and error. Character experiments trying to figure out how to reach his or her goal.
Something big happens in which the character must confront his or her approach to reaching the goal or solving the problem. It also requires deep self-examination and a death to self, or throwing off a fake persona to operate in authentic self.
THE ROAD BACK
After the ordeal and multiple trials, the main character and friends needs to shake off all the failures and rededicate himself or herself to the cause. It’s the “cowboy up” moment.
A final showdown between the obstacle and the new and improved main character. All the lessons learned as well as the new authentic self is put to the test.
RETURN WITH THE EXLIXR
Problem is solved, character returns to ordinary world or decides to pursue another adventure, but either way, they share lessons learned to benefit others. The journey is concluded.
This is just a quick overview of what the journey looks like. In addition to this plot progression, there is a whole list of character types with which to populate your story and help or hinder your main character as he or she pursues a goal or solves a problem.
Read Vogler’s book. Also be aware that another guy, Hauge, has his own version of this as well. It might appear in a future post by one of us here at TWN.
Now go to your computer and see if any of these elements can enhance your WIP.
ANOTHER REMINDER – if you have questions about anything we post, hop on over to The Write Nook Community page on Facebook and ASK QUESTIONS! The only kind of stupid question is the one not asked. If you are not on the community page, send us a request and we will add you—as long as you’re not some kind of serial killer or creepy stalker type. But those types don’t come to TWN so no worries!
With pen to paper,