Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Writing A Novel - The Hero's Journey

Long before I began writing a novel, I was exposed to the Hero's Journey. Heck, if you look close enough, you were too. Chances are, in fact, you were pummeled over the head with it repeatedly. Once you truly understand the aspects of it, you will see it everywhere. The real power in the Hero's Journey is its universality. Regardless of culture or society, the Hero's Journey resonates. It seems it is in our human nature.

What is the Hero's Journey?

The Hero's Journey is a story structure that relies heavily upon archetypes and a pattern of adventure. WiseGEEK defines it this way:

The Hero's Journey is a group of events in a story or myth, used by Joseph Campbell, who was influenced by Jung, to describe the similar elements in all mythic structures. In each story that represents a Hero's Journey, the hero must experience steps that represent the struggle for psychological wholeness, or as Jung termed it, individuation.
The Hero's Journey typically progresses in the following way:
  1. The hero (protagonist) is called to action.
  2. The hero refuses the call.
  3. A mentor is introduced.
  4. The hero crosses the threshold from the known to the unknown.
  5. A threshold guardian is introduced.
  6. The hero feels despair and doubt (often called the "belly of the whale").
  7. Trials are presented to the hero.
  8. The hero tangles with his shadow self (feminine side).
  9. The hero confronts his father figure.
  10. The hero crosses back over the threshold.
  11. The hero experiences a "new life" or resurrection
  12. Complete the tale showing the hero as a master of two worlds.
Some of these steps are skipped or expanded upon depending on the story or myth your are reading/watching/hearing, but the essential structure stays the same. The hero comes full-circle, back to the world in which he began, but he is a new person due to all of the trials he was put through on his journey. As an example of an expansion, here is Joseph Campell's 17 Steps to a Hero's Journey visually represented, thanks to Esoteric Online:
Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey
Click image to enlarge

However many steps are included, you know you've seen this model before. Whether you think of Star Wars, Harry Potter, or delve into ancient myths and religious tales, this model is one we have held up - over centuries - as the story of our species.

The Ordinary Hero's Journey

In fact, in Living a Better Life, Lori Howard, a life coach, offers up the Hero's Journey as a lens through which her readers can view their own life. She presents the following map as a way to see the Hero's Journey hidden within her reader's daily trials as they set forth in attaining whatever goals they have for themselves:
The Hero's Journey Map
Click image to enlarge
 I love this because it reminds us that even if we are writing a novel about ordinary characters that may not be running into any supernatural creatures, or that won't be climbing into the belly of any whales, they still have a Hero's Journey inside them.

The Hero's Journey and Act Structure

For those of you who have been following this A to Z Challenge from the beginning and who might have become attached to the idea of Act Structure as a means of plotting our their novel, there is no need to think that you must choose one structure over the other. The Hero's Journey Structure and the Act Structure techniques are complimentary to one another (as all varying structures would be, I imagine). The following graphic, found on YouDopia, outlines how nicely the Hero's Journey meshes with the three act structure we discussed at the beginning of the month:
The Hero's Journey in Acts
Click image to enlarge
Write What You Read

The fact is, if you are writing a novel, then you are a reader. What stories do you love? Which resonate for you? Personally, I am a sucker for the Hero's Journey. I hit every stage over and over again with the same fears, doubts and trepidation as if it were the first time I were on the journey even though I am sure my hero will return in the end, victorious. There is something about this trip that just moves me. If you feel the same way, then take the time to study the Hero's Journey for your own writing. If not, then find the structure that moves you. Because, when it comes down to it, you are your first reader - if you are not loving the novel you are writing, then what is the point?

Thanks for reading!
Are you a fan of the Hero's Journey?
What is your favorite story using this journey?

1 comment:

  1. Nicole, I love your comment "I am a sucker for the Hero's Journey" me too. My favorite story is mine. My favorite movie would be The Matrix. Thank you for sharing. If you would like to talk about your hero's journey feel free to connect and we can chat.