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The Hero’s Journey

the hero's journey

Look at characters. Heroes. Villains. The allies. The henchmen. It’s kind of weird how so many of them, at the very basis of their personalities, share some of the same framework. A man named Joseph Campbell noticed this first, and placed names and frames for these similarities. Later, another man who worked for Disney named Christopher Vogler wrote a book called the Writer’s Journey, which placed new names and new details on the frames Joseph Campbell had discovered. Below is a powerpoint on the twelve steps of the Hero’s Journey. We’ll discuss the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

A lot of times, stories are about how the characters change and the adventures they had that caused them to change. In Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, this can be clearly seen. (Spirited Away and all of Miyazaki’s movies are some of my favorites, by the way. They all contain amazing stories. I also highly recommend Princess Mononoke, Castle in the Sky and Naussica and the Valley of the Wind). In the beginning of the movie, the main character-Chihiro-is whiny, childish, petulant, self-centered and pessimistic but by the end of the story she has matured into a brave, hard-working, responsible, courageous young girl.

When you are first getting started writing a story, it’s nice to keep this notes close by at hand with maybe just a brief description of each to remind you what they’re about. You can change around steps, reorder them and use them to your need. For example, I often like switching steps 4 and 5 when I write.

The twelve steps of the Hero’s Journey are:

1) The Ordinary World. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the situation or dilemma.  The hero is shown against a background of environment, heredity, and personal history.  Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is pulling in different directions and causing stress. The hero is often of noble birth, but does not realize it.

2) The Call to Adventure. Something shakes up the situation, either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so the hero must face the beginnings of change. This step is often brought by the Herald, the bringer of change and one of the main archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

3) Refusal of the Call. The hero feels the fear of the unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.  Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.

4) Meeting the Mentor. The hero comes across a seasoned traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that will help on the journey.  Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and wisdom.

5) Crossing the First Threshold. At the end of Act One, the hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition with unfamiliar rules and values.

6) Tests, Allies, Enemies. The hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World.

7) Approach to the Inmost Cave. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the major challenge in the Special world.

8) The Ordeal. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her greatest fear.  Out of the moment of death comes a new life.

9) The Reward.  The hero takes possession of the treasure won by facing death.  There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing the treasure again.

10) The Road Back. About three-fourths of the way through the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World to be sure the treasure is brought home.  Often a chase scene signals the urgency and danger of the mission. 

11) The Resurrection. At the climax, the hero is severely tested once more on the threshold of home.  He or she is purified by a last sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more complete level.  By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at the beginning are finally resolved.

12) Return with the Elixer. The hero returns home or continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.

Hero’s Journey Visual Presentation

Here’s a link to my archetypes of the Hero’s Journey page.

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