A Character Driven Hero's Journey

I love the Hero’s Journey.

Finding it was my ‘rays of sunshine coming through the clouds’ moment.

After quite a while of just writing randomly, I felt that there must be some rules of thumb that could be used to ensure a story flowed, evolved and climaxed in a decent way – so I was overjoyed when I discovered it.

Quick aside - If you don’t know what the Hero’s Journey is – it’s a series of steps that the vast majority of satisfying stories go through, from introducing the protagonist’s world, through calling them to action, testing them, meeting with a mentor, through to final confrontation with the big bad. Read about this 'Universal Storyline' in more detail here.


It wasn’t so much invented as discovered, by Joseph Campbell as he researched the earliest stories ever passed down by word of mouth to modern stories. Most of the elements of the Hero’s Journey can be seen in the vast majority of bestselling novels and blockbuster movies.

However, I often come across an issue when gushing with excitement about the Hero’s Journey, and that is that people’s perception still seems to be heavily influenced by the word ‘Hero’ and to a lesser extent ‘Journey’.

These words make people feel that it only applies to fantasy adventure stories where there’s going to be a swashbuckler slaying dragons with a sword.

But of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. This set of stages can be applied to all genres, including romance, historical fiction, war, crime drama, etc etc .

I recently came across the utterly awesome blog of Allen Palmer – Cracking Yarns – where he has come up with an interesting way to try to ‘dispel notions that this amazing paradigm doesn’t apply to female protagonists, intimate dramas or romantic comedies.’

I highly recommend you go to his blog and read it cover to cover, but here I’m going to reiterate what he says in this particular post: http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2011/04/04/a-new-character-driven-heros-journey-2/

Allen has come up with a ‘Character Driven Hero’s Journey’. This avoids a lot of the mythological vocabulary and also helps focus on the fact that while plot is of course important, it is transformation of character that moves us.

Here are the steps, with very brief descriptions:

 

Incomplete

Maps to – introduction to the hero’s world
The protagonist is unfulfilled in their normal life. There will be two things missing – one thing that they think they want (like money, fame, a Porsche – you get the idea) and another thing which they haven’t thought of, but is the real thing that will give them fulfilment. (compassion, self confidence, etc).

 

Unsettled

Maps to – Call to Adventure
The protagonist’s world becomes unsettled by an outside force. An invitation, threat or attack, perhaps.

 

Resistant

Maps to – Refusal of the call
The protagonist refuses to do the right thing. They are afraid, selfish or just have different priorities.

 

Encouraged

Maps to – Meeting the Mentor
The protagonist gets advice from someone. This meeting should push them on their way, but the advice isn’t necessarily good or the giver helpful – it may be an ultimatum or a challenge.

 

Committed

Maps to – Crossing the Threshold
Now the main character gets pro-active and does something about that thing that unsettled them. Ideally they should take some action that makes it impossible to go back to how they were in the first scene – some burning of bridges.

 

Disorientated

Maps to – Tests
Now the whole world is different as they try to navigate towards their goal and face unfamiliar challenges and new rules. They will probably fail several times at this stage.

 

Inauthentic

Maps to – The Approach
The protagonist is confronted with their flaw, but they refuse to address it.

 

Confronted

Maps to – The Ordeal
This is a slap in the face for the protagonist where they finally realise they have to face their flaw and do something about it or lose everything that is worth having.

 

Reborn

Maps to – The Reward
The lead character demonstrates that they are a changed person.

 

Desperate

Maps to – The Road Back
Remember right back at the beginning when we said that the character has two things missing from their life – the thing they want and the thing they need? Right here is where you make them face a choice between the two.

 

Decisive

Maps to – Resurrection
This is the climax of the story, where the protagonist must actively make their decision. They don’t have to choose right, but the consequences of their choice must be poetic.

 

Complete

Maps to – Return Home
The protagonist gets what they deserve. In the vast majority of cases, they will have correctly chosen what they need and will now be fulfilled in themselves.

If you’d like each of these steps described in more detail by the inventor, like I said, go to: http://www.crackingyarns.com.au/2011/04/04/a-new-character-driven-heros-journey-2/

Or if you have any thoughts, comments or feedback - let me know below! 

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