What is the Hero’s Journey?

Out of the millions of stories humanity has produced, many of them fall into distinct patterns. Even from across completely different cultures, there is a persistent cycle of story that gets written about frequently. A guideline that is followed without ever being taught. A similar outline that great poets and prose authors of ancient myths have used that continues to gain use today. That model of story is the Hero’s Journey, the most classical storytelling structure.

The Hero’s Journey involves a set of steps that are often illustrated in a wheel. The wheel is divided into three “Acts” and goes across 12 “Steps” that the protagonist, or “Hero”, ends up taking.

  1. The First Act is the “Departure
    1. The “Ordinary World” establishes where the Hero comes from.
    2. Then, the “Call to Adventure” invites the Hero to leave that world.
    3. The Hero will undergo a “Refusal of the Call” at first, until an additional incentive is created, such as
    4. Meeting the Mentor”, where the Hero meets a figure that fosters future growth.

      These all make up the very early stages of the story, usually the introduction or a smaller portion of the first part of the book. Although it’s one of three “Acts” it doesn’t have to take up a whole third of the book.

  2. The Second Act is the “Initiation
    1. It starts with the Hero “Crossing the Threshold” into the new, “Special” world outside of what’s familiar.
    2. The Hero then undergoes the “Tests, Allies and Enemies” which provide growth of character, acquisition of special powers, and turn the ordinary person into a Heroic person slowly but surely.
    3. The Hero must then “Approach the Inmost Cave”. The Cave represents the danger of confronting the Hero’s ultimate goal, and the approach represents the journey there. This is after the Hero has gained great courage and strength through the trials and is prepared to enter and face
    4. The Ordeal”, the lowest point of the journey, the hardest struggle, the darkest times, which the Hero must rise up from, where all of the Hero’s character growth and skills will be tested. And often, where the Hero fails.

      It’s not enough to simply reach the end of the second Act. This is where the meat of the story will lie, between the Departure and the final Act, and where the majority of development takes place. Once the “Ordeal” has been passed, the story will begin an upswing arc towards:

  3. The Third Act of “Return
    1. This starts with the “Reward”. Also called “Seizing the Sword” where the Hero overcomes the darkness of the Ordeal and discovers hope again. They reclaim their own power and stand up again on their own feet realizing that they have the power to go on.
    2. The Road Back” takes the Hero further forward. They may still have to push through trials to find the end of the tunnel, but the light is there. More dangers may be present, but the Hero can already overcome them.
    3. The “Resurrection” represents the Hero’s return from darkness, to face the world again with all the strength they have gathered. It is the actual final battle, where the Hero triumphs and moves on to finally
    4. Return with the Elixir”, referencing older works. This is the Hero returning to the world they left with the powers they gained, the experiences they shared and the true reward they sacrificed to gain. It’s parting shot of the Hero embracing family with all the struggles in the past.

In a way, the Hero’s Journey is much like a journey we all take, in life. We have our Ordinary World that we know is safe and adjusted for us, but then we are mentored to go out and explore the rest of it. We go through dark times, and with support, we struggle against them, rise up stronger, face what made us weak and overcome it to return to the normal we once knew with the knowledge of the much greater world that lies in reach.

The Hero’s Journey has remained in use for its simplicity, replication, flexibility, and the familiarity it has with all of us.

Have you used the Hero’s Journey to plot your novel?

I hope you liked this month’s blog post. The books in my urban fantasy series are available on Amazon. Please let me know your thoughts by liking, commenting, and/or subscribing. Also, you can join my mailing list by clicking here.

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