Jenny and I get together every few weeks to encourage each other and set writing goals.
This past time when we met, I told her that I sometimes become so involved in the nitty gritty details of writing each chapter that I often forget to step back and think about the overarching theme of the novel.
She then mentioned the idea of the Hero’s Journey, which in turn, made me think about the theory that there are only two plots in the world—a stranger comes to town and someone goes on a journey.
My novel’s plot definitely falls into the latter journey category. So I decided to find out a little more about the Hero’s Journey.
I was familiar with Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero with a Thousand Faces concerning the journey of the archetypal hero in world mythologies and that Campbell made famous the term “monomyth.”
Interestingly enough, I learned that Campbell borrowed the term “monomyth” from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.
I then found out that Christopher Vogler had distilled Campbell’s ideas into a book titled The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.
Vogler took Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and broke it down into the following twelve stages.
The Ordinary World – The hero is in his or her ordinary surroundings
The Call to Adventure – The inciting incident
Refusal of the Call – Maybe from fear or some other reason
Meeting with the Mentor
Crossing the Threshold – Hero leaves the Ordinary World
Test, Allies and Enemies – Lots of trials and struggles
Approach to Inmost Cave – Preparing for a significant challenge
The Ordeal – Hero confronts his greatest fear – Midpoint of the novel
The Reward – Seizing the Sword
The Road Back – Maybe a few more trials along the way
The Resurrection or Atonement – The climax – The hero is transformed
Return with Elixir – The hero returns home
During the writing of my first draft, I’m glad I didn’t know about these twelve stages. I think I would’ve felt too hemmed in by this formula, and I would have chafed at feeling the need to hit each mark along the way.
But it’s interesting to note that without even realizing it, I used about half of them. In fact, I think it’s pretty much impossible to avoid the Hero’s Journey entirely. It’s probably ingrained in our psyche from Odysseus onward.
The Hero’s Journey can even be applied to movies. Here’s a fun illustration to show how.
And lastly, a few books that follow the Hero’s Journey:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien