The Hero’s Journey
As noted in the September 28 1 blog, in June and July of 2020 I set out to do a series of seminars on some of the basic concepts of novel writing. This is the second segment of a three-part blog post from the notes on the first seminar, The Hero’s Journey.
Over the next several weeks I’ll share with you the notes from those seminars – some of the most essential building blocks I’ve learned for writing a work of fiction. The seminars were very basic and certainly not comprehensive. But my goal is to give you a few good building blocks to get you started.
The first seminar started with the rudimentary and bare bones elements of plot development – The Hero’s Journey. Additional blogs will concentrate on the other seminars: The Plot Skeleton; Structure for Gardeners; Bit Players Steal the Show; and Character Development.
In Part I of The Hero’s Journey seminar, we looked at the work of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler which revealed that all storytelling, consciously or not, follows the ancient patterns of myth, and that all stories can be understood in terms of the hero myth.
Everything that I’ll be sharing with you today comes from those two sources – Campbell and Vogler – who deserve all the credit.
The theme of the hero myth is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time; it is as infinitely varied as the human race itself; and yet its basic form remains the same, an incredibly tenacious set of elements that spring in endless repetition from the deepest reaches of the mind of man.
So, what are the stages of The Hero’s Journey? Here are the first six of the 12 stages.
1 – The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD.
Most stories ultimately take us to a special world, a world that is new and alien to its hero. If you’re going to tell a story about a fish out of his customary element, you first MUST create a contrast by showing him in his mundane, ordinary world. In STAR WARS – and I’ll use Star Wars for a lot of examples as we move through the stages – you see Luke Skywalker being bored to death as a farm boy before he tackles the universe.
2 – The CALL TO ADVENTURE.
The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure. Maybe the land is dying, as in the King Arthur stories about the search for the Grail. In STAR WARS, it’s Princess Leia’s holographic message to Obi Wan Kenobi, who then asks Luke to join the quest. In detective stories, it’s the hero being offered a new case.
3 – REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero is reluctant at first.
Often at this point the hero balks at the threshold of adventure. After all, he or she is facing the greatest of all fears – fear of the unknown. At this point Luke refuses Obi Wan’s call to adventure, and returns to his aunt and uncle’s farmhouse, only to find they have been barbecued by the Emperor’s stormtroopers. Suddenly Luke is no longer reluctant, and is eager to undertake the adventure. He is motivated.
4 – MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman.
By this time many stories will have introduced a Merlin-like character who is the hero’s mentor. In JAWS it’s the crusty Robert Shaw character who knows all about sharks. The mentor gives advice and sometimes magical weapons. This is Obi Wan giving Luke his father’s light saber.
The mentor can only go so far with the hero. Eventually the hero must face the unknown by himself. Sometimes the Wise Old Man/Woman is required to give the hero a swift kick in the pants to get the adventure going.
5 – CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. The hero passes the first threshold.
The hero fully enters the special world of the story for the first time. This is the moment at which the story takes off and the adventure gets going. The balloon goes up, the romance begins, the spaceship blasts off, the wagon train gets rolling. Dorothy sets out on the Yellow Brick Road. The hero is now committed to his/her journey and there’s no turning back.
6 – TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES The hero encounters tests and helpers.
The hero is forced to make allies and enemies in the special world, and is often forced pass certain tests and challenges that are part of his/her training. In STAR WARS the cantina is the setting for the forging of an important alliance with Han Solo and the start of an important enmity with Jabba the Hutt. In CASABLANCA Rick’s Café is the setting for the “alliances and enmities” phase and in many Westerns it’s the saloon where these relationships are tested.
In Part III of this blog series on October 2 we will look at the final six stages.
Approach to the Innermost Cave
The Supreme Ordeal
Seizing the Sword/Reward
The Road Back
Return with the Elixir