The Hero's Journey (or, You Mean I Have to Get Off the Couch?)

One of the things you don’t always realize when you start writing, is that every story, whether thriller, scifi, fantasy or romance, follows the Hero’s Journey. We give it lots of names–character arc, plot arc, character growth–but it comes down to the same set of steps pretty much every time.

I still remember the first time I came across Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. I was enrolled in a science degree and was looking for something I could write up quickly for my English course, because we were going drinking in the Beer Tree that night. Yes, indeed, we had a beer tree, a lovely ancient oak with spreading limbs that were perfect to perch on, and innumerable nooks and crannies that could have been expressly designed for the short term storage of beer. (One could argue that all beer storage is short term, but my mother taught me never to argue. Revenge is usually much more satisfying.)


So, here’s the upshot of the Hero’s Journey, as Joseph Campbell sees it:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

The following is my, slightly warped take on it. Apologies in advance.

It breaks down into stages: Departure, Initiation and Return.

In the Hero’s Journey, the Departure is characterized by:

The Call to Action–In which our hero receives a phone call and learns of some derring-do in need of being done or some other lovely in need of being done, and must put down the Xbox controller and pry himself off the couch.
The Refusal of the Call–“Just one more level!” he cries.
Supernatural Intervention–Briiiiing! “Get a move on!” How does your mother always know when you’re being lazy?
The Crossing of the First Threshold–“All right, I’ll go, if it’ll just shut you up!”
The Belly of the Whale–Things have gotten very strange. “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore…”

In the Initiation stage, you’re really learning stuff.

The Road of Trials— “Kill the ogre, rescue the magic fainting goat and fill out all these forms in triplicate. In PEN. You can’t use White Out.” “I must do ALL THE THINGS!!! OMG, this is so hard.”
The Meeting with the Goddess–“I am your fairy godmother. I love you and will make all your problems disappear. Here is a magic sword with which to kill the ogre.”
Woman as Temptress–“Hey, baby, that’s some sword you’ve got there. Wanna skip the quest and go make out in my Corvette?” “Sure!”
Atonement with the Father–in which our hero must make his peace with the Representation of Authority. “Who’s that? No! Wait! OW! You never told me your father was The Hulk!” BAM!
Apotheosis–The School of Hard Knocks. “I have learned not to canoodle with strange women. This will help me achieve my goals–once I get out of the hospital.”
The Ultimate Boon–The hero shares his prize. “So, yeah, I walked out the door of the hospital and this goat was there. And then it keeled over. I think it’s broken. But I took it anyway. And it’s way cool. Watch this!”

The Return, in which our hero must be convinced to bring his blessings back to his home.

Refusal of the Return–“I think I’ll stay here, thanks anyway. The goat and I are enjoying our margaritas!” *music*

The Magical Flight–Escape from vacationland is hard. “The lure of the margarita is so strong, but I must return with my goat! And it is so far and there are so many bars in the way.”

Rescue from Without–“Hey, drunk guy, need a lift?” “Sure, but I must take my goat with me.” “Throw it in the back there.” “Hooray!”

The Crossing of the Return Threshold–“Hey, there’s my place. Thanks for the drive. Oops, can’t forget my goat!”

Master of Two Worlds–“Come meet the Magical Fainting Goat of Wisdom! And I am now able to make the best margaritas in the world. ” “Meh!” *Goat*

The Freedom to Live–“I have taught others to make margaritas. I will sit on my mountain and wait for students to come to me, while I ponder the existential reality of lime and tequila.”

Okay, pretty warped. I’m getting giddy with the advent of Bite Me Tender. Don’t forget to check out my post tomorrow at Joyfully Jay, where I talk about the Beginning Writer’s version of this journey, because a beginning writer has their own Hero’s Journey to make. (It’s a much better post, I promise.)

About the author: Kate Lowell

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