Revisiting the Hero’s Journey
In preparation for NaNoWriMo, have you thought of outlining your book using the Hero’s Journey? It is, by far, the most popular story structure. Hollywood movies use it all the time. It fits most stories, no matter the genre. I could use Harry Potter, the Wizard of Oz or the story of Jesus to show you how it works – it’s that versatile. And, of course, the most popular modern use of it was in the Star Wars movies where George Lucas actually had Joseph Campbell, who discovered the hero’s journey, come to his home and work with him on the outlining of the movies using the structure.
So, if it’s such a prevalent story structure, why should you use it? You want to be different, right? You want your book to be creative and unique. You don’t want it to read like any other book or movie out there!
That is absolutely understandable. However, the wonderful thing about this structure is that it allows for unlimited variations. Yeah, you’ve got to follow some conventions in order for your story to be considered a hero’s journey, but for the most part, it’s just about anything goes.
So let’s take a quick look at this structure and see if you might want to use it for your next book.
The story starts in the Ordinary World. We meet our hero (male/female/whatever) and find out what their world, what their life looks like.
But then something happens and the hero is called to do something that’s more than anything they’ve ever done before—they are given a Call to Adventure.
However, our hero isn’t stupid. They see that this adventure is going to be different and very possibly dangerous. They might very well Refuse the Call.
But someone, a Mentor, comes along and says, “Hey, no, kid, you got this!” and they give the hero something to help them get through the adventure—it could be a magical sword, it could be a book filled with useful information or even a pair of ruby slippers.
So, our hero embarks on their journey, stepping through the First Threshold (quite frequently, it is literally a door) and into this adventure.
Once they are on the road, they meet allies and enemies and they start having some minor adventures or tests of their abilities, which, naturally, they pass with flying colors.
They approach an Inmost Cave or, as Campbell called it, The Belly of the Whale (from the Bible story of Jonah). It can be dark or unnerving—figuratively or literally.
And that’s where they face The Ordeal – the major fight, they face the big-bad whatever it is that they need to face, be it witch, Voldemort, or Darth Vader.
This big bad is defeated (although not necessarily dead) and our hero starts back home with whatever he went on the journey to get (sword, knowledge, whatever). Campbell called this the Resurrection because our hero is on their way back to where they came from. It’s quite possible that on the way back, they run into more trouble (remember the big-bad wasn’t necessarily killed, just defeated) and they might need some more help from those allies they made earlier in the story.
But our hero isn’t called a hero for nothing. They make it back home with whatever it was they went for and now they know how to deal with going on an adventure. Not only that, but they’re going to tell everybody about it or share whatever it is they brought back with them. They Returned with the Elixir.
Now, if you’ve read Campbell’s book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, you know that he put a lot more into his journey than I just did. He’s got a lot of detail in there about facing authority and dealing with it until the hero comes to accept that authority and could possibly become an authority figure themself – Campbell puts it in terms of “Atonement with the Father”.
He also allows for fun with people who might try to lure our hero off their path which he refers to as “Woman as Temptress” even though it could be anyone who is just trying to make life difficult for our hero.
A slightly more simplified version, and the one that I used is from The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It’s a great book that explains the Hero’s Journey really well. Here is another representation of it:
The thing is, this is a great story structure to use for your NaNoWriMo writing. It can be used with any genre and gives you a nice path for you, the author, the walk along so that you can perhaps know where your characters might lead you next.