Friday, February 02, 2007

The Hero's Journey

This is an article I wrote for my RWA chapter newsletter and I thought I would share here.

Stories have beginnings, middles and ends. A story progresses through a series of scenes to achieve those elements. Pretty simple, particularly if you write genre fiction. But I have found writers losing their way, adding extraneous elements to their story that makes it confusing, diminishing the value of the story.

One problem a writer faces is the bombardment of rules, exercises, etc. which tell them what they can and can’t write. Is your GMC in place? Watch those POV’s. You have too many characters. You don’t have enough characters. The list is endless. These are guidelines pure and simple but it seems as if we writers have internalized them as law.

Hence I’m talking about another one. Oh great, just we need. However, it is as old as stories themselves. Its relevant, there are stories which have existed thousands of years and we are still reading them and watching them as film.

The Hero’s Journey was made famous by Joseph Campbell in his Hero with a Thousand Faces. He points out the common thread of literature as it reflects with human experience, pointing out the elements of a person’s journey and how it is personified in literature.

I’m not going to go into the deep details since most of us have probably either learned or taught about heroes, archetypes, fatal flaws, etc. in high school English. But what I want to point out is how the basics of the hero’s journey can work for a writer.

The basic tenet of the hero’s journey is change. Whether your story is full of high adventure or pure romance, the hero or heroine must follow a journey and change. Along this journey the confront foes and allies, some real, some within their own psyche. Below are the basic elements of the hero’s journey:

1. Ordinary World – Limited Awareness
2. Call to Adventure – Increased Awareness
3. Refusal of the Call – Reluctance to Change
4. Meeting the Mentor – Overcoming Reluctance
5. Crossing the First Threshold – Committing to Change
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – Experimenting with First Change
7. Approach the Inmost Cave – Preparing for Big Change
8. Ordeal – Attempting Big Change
9. Reward – Consequence of the Attempt
10. Road Back – Rededication to Change
11. Resurrection – Final Attempt at Big Change
12. Return with the Elixir – Final Mastery of the Problem

Within these steps are further breakdowns which discuss archetypes found in these journeys. I’m not going to go there for the purposes of this article. It isn’t necessary for this topic since it defeats the beauty of the hero’s journey.

The hero’s journey is simple. As you can see there are only twelve points to keep in mind and there is no rule that says you have to incorporate all of them. Rather, for writing, it works as a nice skeleton for a story. It allows the writer to incorporate other methods of plot development and the like.

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler incorporates these steps in a more practical manner for the contemporary writer. Although his book is geared more towards screenplays, his demonstrations of the elements of the journey help clarify the various points, giving further detail to the archetypes commonly seen.

Chances are you already incorporate much of the hero’s journey into your writing already. Some of the names have changed but they are basically the same. Black moments for Ordeals for example.

The hero’s journey basically provides a roadmap for a story. How much detail you want to take from it is up to you. It gives you a beginning, a middle and an end. What you use to achieve those elements depends on what you are comfortable with. So if you are stuck with a story and don’t not sure where to go, perhaps reviewing the hero’s journey might give you ideas, work you through a rough spot.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a great post. I love The Hero's Journey. I use it all the time now. I'll write about this next week and link. Good job.

8:36 PM  
Blogger Tess said...

I had NO idea I wasn't supposed to incorporate ALL the steps. That's what always turned me off about THJ - it was too rigid. NOW I know better :-) Thanks!!

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Nienke said...

Funnily enough, I was on the train for 6 hours for a business trip Friday (Feb 2) and brought along my iPod and took notes from a podcast seminar called the Hero's 2 Journeys with speakers Christopher Vogler and Michael Hauge. Great advice. I recommend the podcast. The 2 Journeys are the internal and external - which means I'm complicating your simplicity theory, sorry Dana.

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