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A Real Hero

Updated on September 16, 2014

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey is a form of storytelling which dates back thousands of years. Although other writers added to the form before his time, the poet Sophocles wrote the model for all heroes in 429 BC, with his tragic play: Oedipus Rex. In 1936 FitzRoy Somerset, 4th Baron Raglan, published The Hero, A Study in Tradition, Myth and Drama. In this book, Lord Raglan compiled the traits of some of the best known Heroes in history. He found that each Hero shared certain characteristics, Oedipus obtaining the highest marks. All heroes and the path they embark upon are part of a common dialogue: the monomyth. The monomyth has found its way into theater and film, enhancing some of our most beloved stories. I would like to break down this huge topic to make it more understandable for all who care to read it.

Star Wars (1977)
Star Wars (1977)

Act One

Establishment

Take the time to set-up the status quo and normal world for the Hero. In the case of fantasy and adventure, the Hero is generally a down on his luck loser. If not a total loser, the Hero will be an average type of person who most people wouldn't think much of. Unbeknownst to all, this Hero is destined for greatness, he just needs to meet his guide. Which leads us to:

Catalyst/Call To Action

An extraordinary problem which presents the Hero a difference in his average life. This call leads to new goals, needs, or desires. These new feelings are always drastically different, or even in opposition to the central character's life. The Hero spends the rest of the movie trying to put things back into balance. This event gets the movie moving/begins the movement of the story.

In Star Wars, Luke receives an astro-droid he believes to be malfunctioning. Upon repairing the droid a cryptic message with the familiar name "Kenobi" sends Luke to the outskirts of Tatooine to find old Ben Kenobi.

Second Thoughts

It is revealed to the Hero that he is the only person that can set things back to normal. The Hero denies his worthiness and something or someone, usually some kind of supernatural guide or mentor, in the story has to convince him to partake in the adventure.

Big event/Turning point

A big, emotionally impacting event. Something happens which changes the Hero's life and places him on the path for the story; the turning point. This event should progress the movie into Act II. This should also reveal points of the main conflict and give the viewer a reason to care.

This event builds from the call to action. Usually it will be the result of the hero denying his heroic qualities. This event will sway the opinion of the hero and lead to his eventual decision to begin his adventure. In the case of Star Wars, Luke denies any affiliation with the Jedi and claims to be a simple kid with work to do. The only way Luke can go on his adventure is for his former bonds to be broken; Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru are murdered.

Obi-wan Kenobi: Mentor
Obi-wan Kenobi: Mentor

Act Two

Rising Action:

Brevity is the soul of wit (don't waste my time with repetition). Avoid repetition by adding strong subplots that crisscross with the main plot. Add complications to the situation which the protagonist must fix to progress the story.

Initial Encounter

The Hero and antagonist face off for the first time. They size each other up trying to assess the threat they pose each other. Minor losses on the antagonist's side; the antagonist is now aware of the Hero, but disregards him as a threat.

Obstacle #1

An event to test the Hero. The result of this obstacle may lead to gaining a new companion or prized object. The obstacles increase in stakes the further the Hero progresses.

Obstacle #2

The Hero continues on his path while more adversity faces him. Each obstacle should be more difficult than the last and the result of the character's choices until this point. Something valuable is also gained here.

Allies gained
Allies gained

Pinch

The midpoint of the story, which comes with a major plot twist. This is the point which the Hero becomes fully committed, motivation becomes clear, stakes are raised, etc. From this point on the Hero's actions become stronger or possibly even desperate. This is where the Hero's morals are tested and he may have to compromise his values. The Hero will also gain some small triumphs along the way which will get the attention of their opposition. Which leads us to:

The Empire approaches...
The Empire approaches...

Obstacle #3

The antagonist uses his/her forces to jam up the Hero. The antagonist may or may not make an appearance themselves. This is the part of the story when the antagonist becomes more serious in their attack of the Hero.

Disaster

The antagonist's efforts have taken effect and the Hero is placed in a compromising position. The disaster is the direct result of obstacle #3 and leads us to the crisis. The disaster is the antagonist's strongest attack until the final showdown.

Crisis

The moment when all hope is lost. The conflict in the story intensifies to the point that the worst possible thing could happen to the Hero, and then it does. Alternatively, the Hero may be forced to make a crucial decision which is always life altering.

The Reward

The Hero survives the attack in the crisis and receives the most important piece of treasure of the story. Although this may not be what the antagonist is after, the Hero will gain the strength, wisdom, or power to defeat his ultimate foe. Sometimes this happens in a spiritual world. In Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows Part 2...Harry is killed. But it is only after Harry is killed, that he will have the ability to vanquish Voldemort(by destroying the horcrux within him). The Hero has to be resurrected, but that generally isn't a problem for his supernatural Mentor who has a Phoenix Down on supply.

The Road Back

This is a difficult moment for the Hero. Either swept by the whimsy of adventure, or gripped by the stress of returning to the ordinary world, the Hero will be reluctant to leave the "Special World". The last time the Hero doubts himself until he is able to prove to himself and others he is truly worthy. At this point, however, the Hero may actively chose to run away from his problems; treasure in hand. The Hero's remaining companions may be used as leverage to lure the Hero. Or, a set of expendable friends may be killed to re-spark the vigor in the Hero.

Act Three

The Showdown

This is the climax of the story where the Hero and antagonist face off for one final duel. This moment comes directly after the crisis, giving the Hero no time to rest. This is the most important moment in the movie. The main goal, or central message is on the line here. Values are tested and the message becomes clear.

Destruction of the Death Star
Destruction of the Death Star

The Realization

Moments after the climax, the hero goes through some realization. In this moment, the central character realizes something new about himself and we are shown a visible growth or change in the character.

Denouement

The resolution. We see how everything comes together here; not all endings are happy. In most movies this is the part where everything comes together and everything works out in the end. In movies like Fight Club, the ending shows us the consequences of our actions. Things come together in a different way in that movie...or rather, apart.

The End
The End

Conclusion

I threw you off at the end with a Fight Club reference, huh? Some people may think it inconsistent, but this is my article. The Hero's journey is a form of storytelling that is tested, tried, and true. This form works best for fantasy and adventure genres, as its basis is in the monomyth of old. Used in the right genre and the movie can soar. In Star Wars, the hero's journey works great. In a movie like Memento where the story is told non-chronologically, the hero's journey would be less effective.

All good things in moderation. Keep writing and become legend.

We Can Be Heroes

What makes a good hero?

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