Story Structure Part 2: The Hero’s Journey
Last time we spoke about the Pyramid and the 3 Act Structure, this time around we’re going to talk about the structure born out of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth theory – the Hero’s Journey. It contains 12 essential steps that can, in fact, be divided up into 3 acts: The Departure, the Initiation, and the Return. It is, essentially a character arc that drives the story forward.
You may be familiar with this set up from the original Star Wars trilogy. We will explore all 12 steps in two parts now. In part one we will introduce the Ordinary World, discuss the Call to and the Refusal of the Adventure, meeting their Mentor and the embarkment onto the Quest.
Hero’s Journey Part One
Act One: Ordinary World
This is the safe place where the hero exists without knowledge or desire of adventures. The exposition comes during this time, setting up the crucial details of the Hero, their capabilities and their outlook. The important part here is to anchor your Hero as an ordinary person so that readers will identify and empathize with them.
Call to Adventure
The story starts here, when the Hero receives a call to action – anything from a threat to their life, family, or community to a simple conversation or phone call. Whatever it actually is, its purpose is to disrupt the comfortable stasis of the Hero’s Ordinary World and present them with a quest that must be undertaken.
Refusal of the Call
To continue building the empathetic side of the Hero, they might be eager to undertake the journey but at this point there will be fears to doing so. This usually reveals some deep seated fears of the Hero about being up to the challenge. Ultimately at this stage they will refuse to undertake the quest and this usually results in them suffering in some way. This problem, however, will seem too much too much to handle and make the idea of staying home seem much more comfortable.
Meeting the Mentor
This is the crucial turning point that projects the action into the Second Act. At this time the Hero is in desperate need for guidance and just so happens to meet a mentor (maybe a wizard?) that provides the Hero with something they need. It could be as simple as some insight into the dilemma at hand and some advice, or as intriguing as an object of great importance, some practical training. Something that provides some self-confidence. The mentor’s purpose is to dispel the Hero’s doubts and fears, giving them the strength to undertake their quest.
Second Act: The Special World
Crossing the Threshold
This is where the quest begins, whether pushed into it or willing undertaken, whether it is physical, spiritual, or emotional. No matter how they go about it or what they are undertaking, the Hero will cross the threshold from the familiar into the unknown. Usually this is depicted as doing something for the first time in their life or committing to do something they’ve always been afraid to do.
Tests, Allies, Enemies
Finally outside of the comfort zone, there is a series of more and more difficult challenges that test the Hero in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown in the way – actual physical obstacles or people thwarting the Hero – each of which the Hero must over come each time in order to achieve the ultimate goal.
Along the way, through these trials and tribulations, the Hero will discover who can or cannot be trusted. The Hero will achieve allies and uncover enemies, both of which will help the Hero grow and become more capable of overcoming future obstacles.
The main point of this series of events is to test the skills and / or powers of the Hero meant to provide the reader with a deeper insight into the Hero’s character, building more empathy for them.
All of this leads the Hero to the Approach to the Inmost Cave, where we will pick up in our next Writer’s Block. Join us in the next time for Story Structure: Hero’s Journey Continued.
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