Hero's Journey

Last time I talked about the Three Act Structure as a way to map out your story. Today I want to talk about the Monomyth, or the Hero's Journey.

This one's kind of cool because it has transcended both time and culture (i.e. it's really old and lots of cultures' stories use it). Meaning this story is one that, for whatever reason, resonates with us as people. In fact, you'll see a lot of similarities between this and the Three-Act Structure.

The hero's journey is separated into three sections: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each section has its own features, not all of which are present in any given story. But you'd be surprised how many are.

Innocent World:
The hero starts in the normal and mundane, though they are not always mundane themselves. Frodo in the Shire. Luke on his uncle's moisture farm.
Call to Adventure: Something happens that draws the hero outside their world. Frodo inherits the Ring. Luke meets Ben Kenobi. There is often a refusal of the call at first. Frodo doesn't want to leave. Luke refuses until his aunt and uncle are killed.
Supernatural Aid: Once the hero has committed to the quest, their guide appears - Gandalf or Obi-Wan.
Crossing the Threshold: The hero passes through some ordeal to leave the innocent world and enter the world of adventure. Frodo is hunted by a Ring Wraith. Luke and Obi-Wan fight their way out of Mos Eisley.

Road of Trials:
The hero faces a series of tests, often failing. Frodo's fall at Weathertop. Luke's attempts to save Leia.
Meeting with the Goddess: The hero finds his love, or something like it. Frodo meets Galadriel. Luke meets Leia.
Atonement with the Father: The hero reconciles with whatever has been holding him back. Gandalf's death and Boromir's betrayal forces Frodo to set out on his own. Obi-Wan speaks to Luke after his death.
Apotheosis: Literally, becoming divine. In the story, this is when the hero comes into his/her own. Sam faces temptation from the Ring and rejection from Frodo, and he overcomes them. Luke turns off his computer in the Death Star trench.
Ultimate Boon: The hero achieves their goal. The Ring and the Death Star are destroyed.

Sometimes the hero does not want to return to the normal world. Frodo wishes to stay with the Elves.
Flight: Sometimes, when the quest is complete, the hero must escape, and/or there is a return threshold that the hero must cross. Frodo and Sam escape Mt. Doom. Luke flies away from the exploding Death Star.
Master of Two Worlds: Part of the resolution shows the hero as competent both in the adventuring world and their normal world. Frodo and friends rescue the Shire from Saruman. Luke (later) returns to Tatooine as a Jedi.
Freedom to Live: This mastery of both worlds leads to a new contentment, freedom from fear, and love for life. Sam gets Rosie. Frodo leaves for the Gray Havens.

Obviously not every story is a hero's journey, but it's surprising how many of them are. Personally, this is one of my favorite stories. I find myself constantly coming back to this structure when I'm plotting. I hope this is useful for you too.


Unknown said...

I just wanna say thanks for this. It makes me sad how many people I've come across who have never even heard about the monomyth.

I did a paper last semester applying this to Howl's Moving Castle and the only person who even knew what I was talking about was the professor, nobody else had ever even heard of the monomyth.

So thanks for spreading the word, because personally I find it fascinating. :)

Natalie Whipple said...

Yay for the Hero's Journey! I usualy hang out in the gushy romance arena, but I am working with this with Spork. So thanks for the refresher course!

Adam Heine said...

I'll be honest, Amanda, I didn't know the term "monomyth" until I saw it on Wikipedia a couple days ago. And I think I learned about the Hero's Journey from a Making of Star Wars feature or something.

But it's hugely fascinating. Like why is this story everywhere? I think I wrote about that once actually (here it is, almost a year ago).

Natalie, it's funny, I avoid the gushy romance. I think I'm afraid I don't know enough about how it's supposed to go (which is weird, cuz I'm married, so I must have done something right). Now The Cunning is looking too dark to have any room for romance at all. We'll see.

Tana said...

Your post are awesome. I'm thrilled to have found your blog! Now to cut and paste...

Unknown said...

Star Wars would have been right as George Lucas was pretty much a student of Joseph Campbell, who really did write the book on the subject (The Hero with a Thousand Faces).

And it really is freaky how many stories use it without even realizing it or even being aware of it at all. It's everywhere.

MattyDub said...

I can't ever, to this day, see the word "apotheosis" without remembering one particular episode of The Tick.

Sewer Urchin FTW!

Nacie C said...

This is a really fabulous guide to structuring a hero's journey, thanks so much for this! What I love most about your analysis is the variety of options in each of the three acts - it shows how there is a certain formula for stories, but how rich and unique each one can be!

Adam Heine said...

Thanks, Nacie! I'm glad you all like this. I wish I could say there were more coming ;-) We'll see, I guess.

SM Blooding said...

Hey, Adam! Just wanted to let you know you've been nominated for an award! Drop by my blog for more info!

Adam Heine said...

Haven't gotten to your blog yet, SMB, but woohoo! :-) I'll be there shortly.