Hero’s Journey

In his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identified the story elements that were common to all the great stories across cultures and generations. Chris Vogler in The Writer’s Journey applied Campbell’s thinking to the movies and came up with 12 steps that define a classic story structure. These 12 steps – and my own Hero’s Emotional Journey – form the foundation for my Screenwriting Courses.

Step 1 – Ordinary World

We see the Hero in their normal setting before the story comes to shake up their world.

Step 2 – Call to Adventure

The Hero gets a Call to Adventure, inviting their to leave their Ordinary World.

Step 3 – Refusal of the Call

Typically, the Hero will initially refuse this call – or reservations will be expressed by those around them.

Step 4 – Meeting with the Mentor

The Hero will then interact with a mentor figure, though not necessarily a wise old man with grey hair.

Step 5 – Crossing the First Threshold

The Hero finally leaves their ordinary world and enters the Special World where the story commences in earnest.

Step 6 – Tests, Allies and Enemies

The Hero is now disoriented and must decide who they can and cannot trust.

Step 7 – The Approach (to the Inmost Cave)

Before the Hero tackles the central ordeal, he might engage in his some reconnaissance, training or extra curricular activity.

Step 8 – The Ordeal

The Hero is confronted here with a life and death situation – either literally or figuratively – that will generally identify their character flaw and force them to change if they are to progress in their quest.

Step 9 – The Reward

Having stared death in the face, the Hero is changed and rewarded – either with a feast or a romantic interlude.

Step 10 – The Road Home

Just when things seemed comfortable, the Hero gets a reminder that the job is not yet done.

Step 11 – Resurrection

The story reaches its climax in another life and death moment and the Hero proves beyond doubt that they are changed for all time.

Step 12 – Sharing the Elixir

When the Hero confronts their fears, others in the “tribe” get to share the spoils. Their lives too are enriched by the completion of the Hero’s Journey.

Related pages:
A new character-driven Hero’s Journey

Want to learn more about the Hero’s Journey? Come to one of my Screenwriting Courses.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Hmm... May 9, 2011 at 4:36 am

Is it possible to have an incredibly original story and still follow this Hero’s Journey?

Allen Palmer May 9, 2011 at 8:13 am

What do you mean by “an incredibly original story”, “Hmm”?

Groundhog Day, to my mind, is incredibly original. It follows the Hero’s Journey. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is incredibly original and its protagonist is on a Hero’s Journey. Pulp Fiction is incredibly original and Chris Vogler devotes a whole chapter to analysing how it follows the paradigm that Joseph Campbell identified. District 9. Brokeback Mountain. 4 Lions. All great original films. All great original, emotionally engaging films. All follow the Hero’s Journey.

Have some unoriginal screenplays been written to the Hero’s Journey? Millions. But likewise some dreary, self-indulgent dross has resulted from eschewing it.

I think it’s worthwhile to consider what originality means and why it’s important to you. To me originality means creating something that hasn’t been seen before and it’s important because audiences will feel bored if what you serve up is entirely predictable. On the other hand, I’ve seen a lot of (generally) young filmmakers who are desperate to be “original” but it’s got nothing to do with the audience. It’s all about pandering to their egos. The mainstream audience doesn’t get my screenplay? Fantastic! I must be a genius!!!

To me, originality is vital. But it comes in the imagination of your concept. It comes in the conjuring of your story world. In the vividness of your characters. And in the brilliance of your scenes. If you want to write a story that has as its spine the Hero’s Journey, it requires not less originality but more because we’ve seen the stories before. But the great writers can take this shape, reanimate it for their times and make it seem fresh and relevant to a whole new audience.

Yes, it’s not just possible to create original stories with the Hero’s Journey. It’s obligatory. But it’s also a huge creative challenge to which many are called but few are chosen.

Ruben January 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Hey Allen,
great response.
I’m in my third year of novel writing at Whitireia (http://bit.ly/whbnn5) in NZ and I have found the tips on your website immensely helpful.
Thank you!

Cheers

Rob October 26, 2012 at 4:12 pm

Nice reply to a common problem. I agree that if a writer/filmmaker doesn’t consider who is going to be watching their film, then they shouldn’t expect the audience to understand it. However, I don’t subscribe entirely that a young person wanting to do something original is only linked to satisfying their ‘ego’. Sure that happens a lot and plenty of writers using the Hero’s Journey are also trying to satisfy their egos, but many young people are on a search. Looking to invent something. They are thinking that there must be more, or an improved way, or a new idea lurking somewhere. History has shown that there has been a great deal of invention from young minds, and as much as I respect and appreciate the great work of Joseph Campbell, I would never want to kill the quest to unearth a new way of seeing and doing things.
Thank you

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