What is The Hero’s Journey? It depends on who you ask. To a writer, it’s a plotting method. To fans of mythology and folklore, it’s a narrative pattern that human storytellers have followed since we had human storytellers. Which brings us back to why writers use it so much as a plotting method.
What is The Hero’s Journey?
In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, American mythologist, and author, Joseph Campbell introduced us to the idea of The Hero’s Journey. This “journey” describes basic stages that heroes in quest-type stories go through in tales told across the world and for generations.
The patterns found in these stories are so consistent and so ancient, Campbell believed that they called out to something deep within all of us, something universal and never-changing.
His ideas of the hero and the characters that the hero encounters correspond with the teachings of Carl Jung. Both see archetypes in quest stories, characters who reoccur in dreams, stories, and myths. Jung believed that these archetypes were part of our “collective unconscious.”
This is why stories that follow The Hero’s Journey with the quest archetypes have such power to grab readers and viewers. They are speaking to something basic and universal.
If you want to go to the original source, read The Hero with a Thousand Faces and check out the documentary that Campbell did with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth.
If you are approaching The Hero’s Journey as a fiction writing plotting method, you may also want to check out (or just go straight to) The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. Vogler takes Campbell’s Hero’s Journey and simplifies it for writers.
Or you can just read my breakdown of each step and stage of The Hero’s Journey… or maybe all of the above.
What is The Hero’s Journey, Disclaimer
When you research the Hero’s Journey or any of the plotting structures based on it, you will find the same general ideas called many different things. As Shakespeare would tell you, names don’t matter. Look at what the stage actually shows and decide if it is right for your story. You may want to skip some. You may also want to move some. Use the Hero’s or Writer’s or whatever other Journey as a guide, not a law.
You will also see that The Hero’s Journey has more steps with more symbolism than The Writer’s Journey or other plotting structures. For some stories, it can be a lot of fun to try and work these in. For example, can you think of a Belly of the Whale scene? Or a Magic Flight? If you can and it adds to your story, give it a try, but don’t force things. Use what works for you and your story.
Ready to plot with The Hero’s Journey?
Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.