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The Hero's Journey: A Comprehensive Guide

By Jill Steves

The Hero's Journey is a story structure that is found in many stories and myths from around the world. It is also known as the monomyth or the hero's archetype. The Hero's Journey typically follows a certain broad pattern:

  1. The hero is called to adventure
  2. The hero faces various challenges and overcomes them
  3. The hero is transformed by the experience
  4. The hero returns home changed

These steps get broken down into more distinct sub-steps, which we'll discuss in this article. It's also important to note that there are several variations on the general themes and ideas found in The Hero's Journey, with some structures breaking the journey down into more and more finer-grained beats than others.

Writers like to use it because it is a tried-and-true way to structure a story so that it is both exciting and meaningful. Some examples of stories that follow the Hero's Journey include Star Wars, The Hunger Games, and The Lord of the Rings. It's also the basis for Dan Harmon's Story Circle, which is a popular story structure used in TV shows Community and Rick and Morty. (You can read a full guide to Dan Harmon's Story Circle here.)

The beats of The Hero's Journey story structure

1. The Ordinary World

The hero is introduced in their "normal" life, before the adventure begins

The story begins in the hero's ordinary world, where they are introduced to the reader. This is usually a time of peace and stability, before the call to adventure disrupts their life.

2. The Call to Adventure

Something happens that calls them to leave their ordinary world and begin their journey

The call to adventure is usually something that challenges or threatens the hero in some way. It can be an external event, like a natural disaster, or an internal event, like a personal crisis. Either way, it forces the hero to leave their comfort zone and embark on a journey of self-discovery.

3. Refusal of the Call

At first, the hero may refuse the call to adventure, because it is too risky or they don't feel up to the challenge

The hero may initially refuse the call to adventure, because they are afraid of the unknown or they don't feel confident in their abilities. However, something usually happens that convinces them to change their mind and accept the challenge.

4. Meeting the Mentor

The hero meets someone who mentors them and gives them guidance on their journey

The mentor is usually a wise and experienced person who helps to prepare the hero for their journey. They may give them advice, weapons, or other items that will be useful on the journey.

5. Crossing the Threshold

The hero crosses into the unknown, where they will face challenges and obstacles

Crossing the threshold into the unknown is a symbolic act that represents the hero's commitment to their journey. It is often accompanied by a sense of fear or trepidation, as they leave everything familiar behind and head into uncharted territory.

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The hero faces tests and overcomes challenges with the help of allies and by defeating enemies

As the hero progresses on their journey, they will face various tests and challenges. These challenges will help them to grow and develop as a person, and they will also learn who their allies and enemies are.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero prepares for their final challenge, which is often a battle against their greatest enemy

As the hero approaches the climax of their journey, they will typically go through a period of preparation. This may involve gathering allies, learning new skills, or acquiring weapons and equipment.

8. Ordeal

The hero faces their greatest challenge and emerges victorious.

The ordeal is the final challenge that the hero must face, and it is usually a battle against their greatest enemy. This is the point where they must put everything on the line and use all of their skills and knowledge to survive.

9. Reward

The hero is rewarded for their efforts with something that they desire or need

After emerging victorious from the ordeal, the hero is usually rewarded in some way. This reward can be something physical, like treasure or power, or something intangible, like knowledge or self-awareness.

The Hero's Journey compared to Dan Harmon's Story Circle

The Hero's Journey is similar to Dan Harmon's Story Circle structure, with the later clearly influenced by the former. With that said, the Story Circle tends to focus more on things returning to a relative "normal" at the end, as it's expecting a next episode (or "new adventure") to happen immediately after. The heros should be changed by the end... but not so much that they're unrecognisable to someone who missed that episode, or so much that it breaks the entire premise of the series.

For instance, Jeff Winger was never going to change so much in an episode of Community that he decided to abandon being a lawyer and drop out of Greendale.

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Posted in Learn to Write on 2021-08-22 12:11:19 - hero's journey,monomyth,dan harmon, story circle,structure,community,rick and morty,
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