The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth, is a basic pattern for recognizing the major developments in the journey of the main character. It seems that almost every story ever told, from antiquity to modern day, follows this pattern with probably up to 90% completion of every step listed. For the writer who properly understand the hero’s journey, they will develop the ability to predict with reasonable accuracy the outcome of most stories and will have the tools necessary to develop compelling and exciting plots.
The rebels out there are screaming, “Not me! You can’t put me in a box!” Don’t be that way. You’re going to write a bad story. This is not a set of rules, per se. It is an observation over time of how stories work, just like the Law of Gravity came about by the observation of something that naturally existed. The reason the hero’s journey is so prevalent in so many stories is because it is simply the story of life. The ups and downs of life, the dreams and fears, the expectations and goals, the adventurous and romantic spirits…these are things that are part of our lives. It shapes us, our families, our ambitions, our careers, our hobbies. And what so many writers over the ages have done is simply to try to record life. Although often glorified or romanticized, these stories resonate because we want to put ourselves into them, to live them out and take the experiences of the hero as our own. We see ourselves in the hero. We recognize our faults, failures, and successes in those pages.
A good story is a reflection of life. That is why a good story can almost always be described in terms of the hero’s journey, whether the writer intended it to or not. Because a good writer wants to write good stories. Good stories are about life, and the hero’s journey is life.
Joseph Campbell is recognized for his work in developing seventeen major steps for proper development of the hero’s journey. For those who enjoy the deeper methods of how stories are developed, I’ll include Campbell’s steps alongside my own. But I’ve found that a condensed ten step process is easier to handle while plotting and outlining fiction. Please note that as you begin to use this to analyze your own or some other writer’s stories, that the steps may not appear in the story in any particular order. They might not even all be included. But most stories will have at least eight or nine of these ten steps. On the other hand, keep on the look out for variations of the steps used with multiple characters or even villains and anti-heroes. Genres also make a difference in how it unfolds. A comedy might utilize these steps differently than a tragedy.
Here are my ten steps of the hero’s journey, with the Campbell equivalents notated with each.