The hero’s journey – introduction

Most writers at some point will have at least heard of the hero’s journey. Its genesis is through a famous mythology scholar, Joseph Campbell, who wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and the structure was morphed into the basic structure for all of the Star Wars movies. George Lucas (the Star Wars man himself) was a protégé of Campbell’s, and there is even a documentary where they discuss how Lucas turned the hero’s journey into his recurring story and character arcs.

However, the structure really “took off” when a guy called Christopher Vogler wrote a how-to screenwriting guide, The Writer’s Journey. Here was the HJ structure laid out in screenwriting terms, and here was a new way to approach putting together a movie.

Consequently a lot of writers leapt onto this new stuff, but with good reason. Fantasy novelists had been using it (without the theory) for years – it is, after all, the Grail quest story. One  of the key elements is crossing the threshold into the “other” world, the world where everything is strange and threatening, and where the hero sets out to prove him or herself, and find the grail, whatever it might be.

What are the benefits of using the hero’s journey as your structure?

  • It has many stages (average is 13) and you can skip some if they don’t fit
  • It keeps you focused on the “grail”, which many writers lose sight of
  • If your character is on a quest, even an internal quest to find out who they are, this structure can be beneficial
  • Understanding the stages of the journey will help you understand what your story needs, and why.

In my next post I’ll go into more detail about the structure and how it works.

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