Over the next few weeks, I will be focusing my posts on archetypes for creative writing. I am a firm believer that utilizing various models for a story’s structure will strengthen its core and control the plot, which allows the characters to find his or her natural balance.
To get these structure episodes kicked off, this week we will be reviewing the monomyth, or the hero’s journey.
The hero’s journey was formalized in Joseph Campbell’s 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The hero’s journey is an architectural form that builds the steps of the protagonist (hero) of a story. Though each hero’s journey may vary due to the presented circumstances, the overall architecture of the hero’s walk through his or her experiences usually follow the order of Campbell’s monomyth. Some journeys are long and laborious, being broken up into multiple acts or thresholds, while others follow a simpler path. The simpler path one truncated from the more complex path. However, the high level facets mostly remain the same between the two.
The simpler facet of the hero’s journey can be broken down as:
- Call – This the hero’s call to adventure / action
- Threshold – This is the point as to where the hero crosses the line from the light into the darkness
- Dragon – The trials / tribulations that the hero experiences, could face unexpected danger and may include a symbolic death
- Atonement – The hero atones with his father or marries a woman of high standing (e.g., queen, priestess, Goddess)
- Boon – The hero receives a gift of supernatural abilities to ward off / fight the darkness
- Mastery – The hero becomes the master of the light and, in most situations, the dark worlds; both worlds are set free
A more complex hero’s journey may follow this route:
- The hero is called to Adventure / Action
- The hero receives supernatural Aid prior to departing for the adventure
- The hero crosses the threshold / beginning of the hero’s transformation (transitions from the light world into the dark world)
- The hero faces challenges and temptations
- The hero is introduced to a Helper and / or Mentor that will assist the hero in the journey
- The hero experiences a revelation and this typically occurs during the Abyss, where…
- The hero experiences an actual or symbolic death, and is reborn
- The hero goes through a 2nd transformation
- The hero atones for his “sins” or prior wrong doings that were executed before the Abyss
- The hero crosses the threshold / ending of the hero’s transformation (goes from the dark world to the light world)
- The hero receives a “gift from the Goddess” or a high level woman (e.g.; queen, princess, priestess, etc.)
- The gift could be marriage or sex
- The hero returns to his origins before the hero was called to action
- The hero returns enlightened and a different person
(Note: Joseph Campbell broke his monomyth down into 3 acts with 17 stages, and this wiki of the monomyth is a fantastic resource to reference for additional detail.)
The hero’s journey archetype is one that shows the transition of the protagonist from the realm of the known, to the unknown, and back to the known. The journey showcases the hero’s growth between these realms and how the hero overcomes all obstacles thrown in his or her way.
This archetype will always have a HEA, as Kirsten Blacketer says (HEA = “Happily Ever After” for you non-romance followers). The hero will always win. If the conclusion to the story results in the hero losing, or worse, physically dying and not resurrecting, then the story is not following the hero’s journey trope. The story may very well be following another archetype that we will be discussing in the coming weeks.
Join me next week as we discuss one on my favorite archetypes, the Villain’s Journey.
If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.