The hero’s journey is a very common story structure. It’s been used since anyone first put pen to paper, and probably for a lot longer than that prior. The reason that it’s so common is that it is a very powerful narrative. There are countless movies, books, TV shows, and other cultural artifacts that use the hero’s journey – and with good reason. It connects with people and is the backbone for some of the greatest and most popular stories ever told. If you can write one effectively, your storytelling will improve and your work will better connect with readers. Here is how you can write a great hero’s journey tale.
What Is The Hero’s Journey?
It’s almost impossible to be a regular consumer of culture and not come across the hero’s journey. It is everywhere. Harry Potter follows a hero’s journey, as does Katniss Everdeen, for just two examples. Essentially, a hero’s journey involves a protagonist that has the challenge to overcome. Through the process of overcoming that challenge, they face obstacles and experience a change in their thinking or perspective that allows them to evolve. Most of us can relate to this type of scenario, which is why it is so common and powerful.
Create a Great Hero
The word “hero” implies certain things to most people, but it doesn’t have to be someone who is traditionally seen as “heroic.” The hero is your protagonist. If you are writing a hero’s journey story, then the main character will be your hero. Your readers need to connect with that character and care what happens to them. If they don’t, then they won’t be invested in the story you are telling. Your hero does not have to be male, does not have to be strong, and doesn’t even have to be smart. They just need to be interesting or engaging character that faces a challenge.
Create a Challenge
When you think of a hero, it conjures up thoughts of a quest. For example, a knight fighting through monsters to save the damsel. Your hero must have a challenge or an objective to meet. It doesn’t have to be monsters or other medieval types of obstacles.
It can be as simple as walking down several city blocks for a child, or solving how a dog died, like with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. In truth, the nature of the challenge itself isn’t the most important thing. The most important thing is how your hero will overcome the obstacles that challenge presents.
Propel Your Character Through Their Adventure
A true hero’s journey tale involves plotting out the hero’s journey steps in the narrative. Your hero will progress through these steps to get to their final goal and achieve their objective. By following the steps, you will not just meet the accepted requirements of a hero’s journey, but you will keep the narrative moving through the various conflicts and resolutions that lead to the ultimate goal. You can use these steps no matter what genre you are using. They apply to everything, which is also why the hero’s journey is so popular and powerful. Here are the 4 quadrants of a hero’s journey narrative, which between them contain the 12 steps that a hero takes.
Call to Adventure
The first step is that the hero starts in their normal world (step 1), and is called into a new adventure (step 2). It might be their choice, or circumstances may have forced them into it. At some point, they refuse the adventure (step 3) but are somehow drawn into it regardless. In common stories, this is where the hero starts and is naive to what the future might hold before being pushed to face their destiny.
Crossing the Threshold
It is at this point that the hero meets a mentor of some kind (step 4). This character is easily recognized as a grand wizard in some classic tales, such as Gandalf or Dumbledore. It can be anyone who opens the hero’s eyes to a new world or frame of thinking into which they cross over (step 5). Here is where they begin to identify their enemies and their allies (step 6).
The character goes through their journey to reach their final destination (step 7). They battle their enemies and overcome obstacles (step 8) and finally achieve their goal (step 9). They get a reward of some kind, and claim victory. This could be when they find the secret treasure or discover who murdered their parents.
After getting their reward, they begin the road back to their normal life. However, there is a final challenge that almost prevents them from returning (step 10). In the end, they are able to overcome that obstacle and exit their adventure, having changed for the better in the process (step 11). They head back to their “real world,” and use their knowledge or the prize that they’ve won to help others. It should be noted that in some cases, the return might not actually happen, such as when the hero sacrifices his or her own life for the greater good. However, that act will help others in some way.
If you are stuck on a way to structure your next story, then consider the hero’s journey. It can be used with any genre, and any protagonist you want to create. This ultimate guide will get you through your journey to writing a great story.