Introducing The Hero's Journey
The Hero's Journey is a universal concept, one used across all arts, even before literature or any other kind of storytelling was invented.
It was identified by Joseph Campbell in his book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces.’ But how does this story template actually work, and why is it used?
Campbell proposed that all mythology follows a single path and structure. Whether that story is about Jesus, Luke Skywalker, or Richard Rahl, there is an underlying structure. This structure of storytelling is known as The Hero’s Journey or Monomyth.
The Main Lines of The Hero’s Journey
As you might expect, the Hero's Journey follows a simple formula. Here are some key elements to keep in mind when building your own version:
1) A Character Goes On An Adventure — Usually, this means going somewhere new and unfamiliar. But sometimes, it could be anything from traveling down a long-lost rabbit hole to meeting someone for the first time.
2) The Hero Returns Changed — Sometimes, the hero will return with a different outlook on life. He may change his name, become more outgoing, or even learn a new skill. Whatever he does, though, he always comes back to one thing: victory!
3) A Roadblock Arrives At Some Point — Oftentimes, the hero will encounter a roadblock along the way. This is a bigger challenge than the others he's encountered, and it might even be something he can't immediately solve. Just when it looks like all hope is lost…
4) The Hero Overcomes The Odds — In a moment of clarity, the hero figures out how to turn the odds in their favor. Once they do, they achieve victory and come out as the clear winner of the conflict!
5) The Hero Returns Home — Whether physically or mentally, the hero has changed for the better. He may even return with the thing he set out to find in the first place.
Isn't This Formula A Bit Rigid?
Of course, it's not always sunshine and roses. Unless your story calls for a happy ending. Sometimes things just don't go as planned.
You may have to go through multiple steps before your hero achieves victory. Or, you may throw in a couple of last-minute roadblocks just to keep things interesting. In any case, the Hero's Journey is a handy tool that you can use, whether you're writing a story or creating a new world from scratch. As with any formula, though, don't be afraid to step outside the box every now and then!
Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of the Hero's Journey. It's an effective tool for storytellers, and it can also help you build the worlds in which those stories take place. That's because any good story starts with a solid foundation… and that's exactly what this structure is!
Now that you've had a crash course in the Hero's Journey, you may be wondering how to apply this formula to your own creations. Don't worry, we're getting there! In fact, in the next sections, you'll learn how to create a character using the Hero's Journey as your guide.
Let's change that by creating a brand new character right now in a little game we can play.
The Hero's Journey Game
First, we'll need to pick a gender for our hero. It's simple enough to do so: are you a guy? Pick male. Are you a girl? Pick female. As easy as that!
Next, we'll need to decide our hero's name. If you've already got someone in mind, use that name. Otherwise, pick a name you like the sound of!
And just like that, you've got yourself a hero!
But this hero needs a backstory. Where were they born? Are they an only child, or do they have several siblings? Do they come from a poor family, or are they wealthy? All of this will help color the type of person your hero becomes.
Now that you have your character's history down, it's time to start fleshing them out! Give them physical, personality, and talent attributes. Here are some suggestions to get you started: Physical: Is your character tall or short? Muscular or slender? What's their hair and eye color? This is all information that will help give readers a mental image of who your character is.
Make sure to spend at least ten minutes on this part—it's the most important part of creating any fictional character!
So far, we've got a basic idea of who our hero is. Let's take a look at what they're going to be up against.
Remember how in the Hero's Journey, the hero has a mentor of some sort? The bad guy is an ‘antagonist.’ This is the character that gives our hero a reason to fight! Without an opposing force, there would be no story. So who is our hero's nemesis?
It can be anyone: a monster, a corrupt government, or even another person. The important thing is to think about why this antagonist is a threat to your hero. What is their motivation? Are they doing bad things for good reasons or good things for bad reasons?
Once you've got a good idea of who the antagonist is, it's time to flesh them out like we did with our hero!
Your hero and antagonist are both created, so it's time to start building a story around them both. Let's get started!
Building Your Story
The story (in this small game) will be made up of many different scenes. Each of these scenes tells part of the story and creates a pathway for the hero to follow. Think of each scene as a stepping stone that leads your hero from where they are to where they need to go.
For example, our hero starts out in the village of Albert-on-the-Lake, which is a poor town in the middle of a lake. The town is run by Mayor Cole, a corrupt leader who steals money from the town's coffers and better himself.
Right now, it's your job to create a story that starts in this village and eventually leads the hero to defeat the antagonist and overcome their greatest fears. Take some time to think up a beginning, middle, and end for your story. Be sure to include as much detail as possible!
Once you are finished crafting your tale, go ahead and begin mapping out the scenes in your story! One simple way to do this is to have a fresh page or index card for each scene.
Each page should have at least one piece of dialogue from either your story or your characters. Try to add at least one piece of action as well! The order of your pages doesn't matter at this stage.
Once you've outlined each scene, stand back a bit and see whether by shuffling the order of the scenes – by literally shuffling the pages or index cards – you can make the energy of your story more alive or more interesting.
Try to have at least 10 scenes mapped out – outlined – in this way.
It’s a fun exercise that will put your imagination to work, and at the end of which, you might just have unearthed the story you actually want to go on to tell or write.