The Hero’s Journey

designing a story

The hero with a thousand faces…

Writing epic stories like STAR WARS does not come easy, unless of course you know of The Hero’s Journey. In 1949 a writer by the name of Joseph Campbell published a book called The Hero with A Thousand Faces which explores the theory that significant myths surviving for thousands of years around the world share a fundamental common structure. This theory is what Campbell labelled the monomyth. Since the publication of this book, an enormous number of modern writers have consciously applied the theory into their works with the most noteworthy of them all being George Lucas who acknowledges his debt to Campbell in regards to the stories of STAR WARS.

hero's journey

But what is the Hero’s Journey? It is a basic pattern in the structure of stories created across the world. According to Campbell there are twelve main parts to a story’s structure, beginning and ending with a setting from the ordinary world. These parts can sometimes be moved around in a different order however, a beginner writer must first understand the chronological sequence of the hero’s journey.

The story begins in an ordinary world. Most stories take their hero out of the ordinary and into a special world that is new and different. In order to do this, the writer must then begin by showing the hero within that ordinary world to create a contrast with the bizarre new world he will be entering.
The hero is then called to their adventure. To do this, they must be presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure so that they can no longer remain in the comforts of their ordinary world. Their world has been shaken up into something different.
At this point, the hero will be reluctant to the call of the adventure. It is about fear as they see the terror of the unknown that lies ahead. They are not completely committed to the adventure and something could still make them turn back. To get past this point, they must have some sort of influence to push them forward.
Many stories include a form of mentor to aid the hero. The main role of the mentor is to prepare the hero for what lies ahead in the unknown. The hero meets this mentor and receives guidance but however, the character can only go so far until they must let the protagonist face the unknown on their own.
This is the point of take-off in the story. The hero makes the commitment to the call of adventure and completely enters the Special World by crossing their first threshold. This can also be classified as a point of no return in which the hero must continue with the journey.
Once the hero passes the first threshold, they naturally encounter a series of challenges and tests where they will make their allies and enemies. This period of the story allows for the hero to grow and develop their moral character.
This is where the hero finally comes to the edge of danger. Here the object of the quest is hidden and any plans or preparations for going insidethis inmost cave and facing the extreme danger inside is covered in this section before actually entering. This is the second threshold the hero must cross.
The ordeal is the point where the hero of the story hits rock bottom as they come across a direct confrontation with their greatest fear. They are faced with the possibility of death as the audience is held in suspense and tension during this black moment. This is a critical part of the story where the hero must appear to die in order to be reborn.
After dealing with the ordeal, the hero is then presented with a form of reward. This is where they earn the title of hero for taking the ultimate risk of the adventure.
Of course the hero is not yet out of the woods. They must handle the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the ordeal. This is the part of the story where the character realises that they must eventually leave the special world and decides to return to their ordinary world.
This is the final exam. It is often a second life or death moment for the hero where the evil takes one last shot at them before finally getting defeated. The hero must be tested in this one final moment in order to see if they have really learnt their lesson from dealing with the ordeal.
The finale of the story is when the hero returns to their ordinary world however, the adventure is meaningless unless they return with the elixir. The elixir is something they will bring back from the special world and can be a physical item or a knowledge or experience gained from the journey. Unless something is brought back, the character is doomed to repeat the adventure.

Thus the boundaries of the ordinary world and the special world are crossed in a form of a circular loop. The hero begins and ends in the same setting whilst the bulk of the excitement and adventure occurs within the special world. The Hero’s Journey is definitely a structure which can be found in most stories and even films of today. Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces can then be classified as a form of blueprint which can help many writers in proficiently creating an effective story.

References

Campbell J. (2008), The Hero with a Thousand Faces (The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell). Third Edition. New World Library.

Vogler C. (2007). The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Third Edition. Michael Wiese Productions.