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How to Make Use of Hero's Journey Motif While Writing and Reading a Novel

Updated on July 7, 2019
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Prachi has been working as a freelance writer since 2012. When not writing, she helps people with web designing and development.

The Hero’s Journey is a recurring pattern of stages many protagonists(heroes) go through over the journey of their story.

Though its roots begin from Gilgamesh in the literary history, it was Joesph Campbell, who established this pattern after thorough research and review of various myths and stories from different time periods and regions across the world, in the year 1949. According to him all the researched myths and stories follow the same pattern described in the hero’s journey. He was an American mythologist, lecturer, and writer.

The Hero’s journey is, often, called Monomyth archetype. The original version has 12 steps and detailed version is divided into 17 steps.

Let’s understand this pattern by a school example:

It is highly usual that teachers teaching in middle and high schools refer to the conservative and minimalist grade-level language arts curriculum to their students. In other words, almost each of them follows a common plan stated by management, a textbook company, or themselves. This covers only the basic information on reading comprehension as well as writing skills.

There can be many reasons for the above situation

  • They are expected to follow a pre-planned set of instructions or standards.
  • They don’t expect their students to achieve a higher level of complex skills and thus, avoid taking the risk to go beyond the devised plan.
  • They want to use comfortable methods
  • They may lack knowledge in understanding how to avail the available tools to guide the students for a higher level of education.

If you can identify with any of these reasons, then read on. In the journey of researching and evaluating various classroom experience, I’ve noticed one archetype stands as a base for teaching the students in-depth knowledge of literature and many other subjects. This is called Monomyth (Hero’s journey).

If students and many aspiring writers can understand the stages of a hero’s journey, they can not only analyze the story better but also write their own fiction stories.

The main aim of using a hero’s journey is to add depth and clarity to the writing.

This article is going to be very descriptive, so I have avoided using the cumbersome phrase “he or she”. I have used “he” to refer to the hero or protagonist of the journey. This is because English lacks a singular pronoun covering both the sexes.

The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the perfect examples of Hero's Journey Motif
The Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the perfect examples of Hero's Journey Motif

According to Joseph Campbell,

  • The Hero has a need or calls to go on an adventure.
  • Either he refuses the call due to some problems or personal reasons, or he fails to recognize the call.
  • An event occurs and he changes his mind and is ready to go on the adventure.
  • Hardly any story speaks of a hero going alone, he soon finds help in the form of friends or strangers.
  • He leaves behind the normal life and starts on his journey in the darkness.
  • He tricks, destroys, and escapes the villain of the darkness and pass into the new world of opportunities.
  • Along with opportunities come the tests and trials, the hero must face them all to find the elixir.
  • An elixir can be anything that changes his and his people’s life.
  • In this, he falls into the most difficult battle.
  • The whole plot of the story changes when he, finally, manages to arrive victorious out of the battle.
  • On his path, he discovers something good in himself. Now, he is not the same person as he was when he began the adventure.
  • He has returned to his world with the elixir.
  • At times, he is dismissed, forced to elope and other time, he is escorted to his world along with his friends.
  • On returning, he shares the elixir and his own and his people’s life changes.

Hero’s journey is still the underlying structure of various highly successful novels and films today.

Primary Acts in MonoMyth or Hero’s Journey

The basic 12 stages of MonoMyth or Hero’s Journey can be categorized under 3 primary acts.

1. The Departure Act

When the Hero leaves his world to begin the adventure.

2. The Initiation Act

When the Hero discovers the unknowns in the foreign world and comes to be a real champion by facing the obstacles and overcoming them.

3. The Return Act

When the Hero returns to his world after a remarkable victory on the foreign land.

Books that are based on Hero’s Journey structure

  • All the Harry Potter series
  • The Last Book in the Universe by Philip Pullman
  • The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
  • The Odyssey
  • Jason and the Argonauts
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  • The Hobbit
  • Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
  • The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Variations in the Stages of Hero’s Journey

As per the requirement and trend of writing novels, the stages of a hero’s journey have been shortened or elaborated in 3 major different variations.

8 Stages

  1. Call to Adventure
  2. Road of Trials
  3. Vision Quest
  4. Meeting with the Goddess
  5. Boon
  6. Magic Flight
  7. Return Threshold
  8. Master of Two Worlds

12 Stages

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call of Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the First Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  8. Ordeal
  9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
  10. Road Block
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

17 Stages

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. Refusal of the Call
  3. Supernatural Aid
  4. The Crossing of the First Threshold
  5. The Belly of the Whale
  6. The Road of Trails
  7. The Meeting with the Goddess
  8. Woman as Temptress
  9. Atonement with the Parent
  10. Apotheosis
  11. The Ultimate Boon
  12. Refusal of the Return
  13. The Magic Flight
  14. Rescue From Without
  15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  16. Master of Two Worlds
  17. Freedom To Live

Explanation of 17 Stages

Rules are meant to be broken, while 12 stages are the original concept of Hero’s Journey, its stages have been reduced and expanded as per the requirement. Here, I am going to discuss with you the most elaborated 17 stages step-by-step.

According to the experts, anyone who masters these 17 stages can become a very proficient storyteller.

ACT 1: THE DEPARTURE ACT

1. The Call to Adventure

The hero lives in the ordinary world and is facing a problem or challenge. He receives a call. It can be from another person or his own inner voice. He needs to face the beginning of the change.

Example: Harry Potter receives the letter from Hogwarts to join the Magic school.

2. Refusal of the Call

At first, the hero, out of fear or doubt, refuses to heed the call. He needs to find the motivation or opportunity to understand the call.

Example: In Matrix, Neo refuses Morpheus’ advice.

3. Supernatural Aid

He takes the call and is committed to the journey either consciously or unconsciously. He finds a guide or helper. It can be a supernatural being, normal person or some other mythical creature.

Example: The Fairy Godmother helps Cinderella to fulfill her dreams of going to the palace.

4. The Crossing of the First Threshold

The hero crosses into the unknown field of adventure, leaving behind his comfort zone. There are no limits and rules. The place is full of surprises and obstacles.

Example: you going out of your home to join the services and traveling overseas to a foreign land.

5. The Belly of the Whale

The hero finally admits the change and new adventure. He is separated from his world, now. He has the willingness to discover what lies ahead.

Example: The heroes, in star wars, are captured into the enemy space by a tractor beam.

ACT 2: THE INITIATION ACT

6. The Road of Trails

This is the series of obstacles and new discoveries that the hero needs to undergo to accept the change. He can be alone or with friends. Often, the hero fails to overcome initial obstacles, but after pulling up all his strengths, he manages to get through the tribulations.

Example: The protagonist Ash, in Pokemon, faces lose while trying to understand the Pokemon world, but later overcomes the struggles though his own will-power.

7. The Meeting with the Goddess

The hero meets with an angelic figure who empowers him with a strong mindset and unconditional love. This is a very important part of a story. At this point, the hero meets another person who loves or adores him completely.

Example: In the Harry Potter first movie, Quirrel fails to touch Harry Potter due to the unconditional love of his mother.

8. Woman as Temptress

The hero gets distracted. He gets lured by the temptations and physical pleasure, which threw him away from his main goal. This temptation doesn’t necessarily mean to come from a woman. Here, the woman has been used as a metaphor for temptations of life.

The stages of the hero’s journey derived its roots from the very old time when a hero knight would get distracted by the lust he discovers on his journey.

Example: In the movie The Devil wears Prada, Andrea actually wants to become a journalist, but gets lured by the glamorous life of Fashion.

9. Atonement with the Father

The hero discovers his full potential. He gets acknowledged with the ultimate power in his life. This is the center point of the whole story. All the previous stages play a crucial role in helping him reach here.

Example: Harry Potter’s dead parents help him reach his destiny.

10. Apotheosis

The hero is the apex of his adventure. He faced the deadliest battle and has victoriously overcome it. He is now a divine figure or the people that surround him. At this point, the hero is at rest and relieving his stress, before finally heading back home.

Example: Obi-Wan becomes part of the Force himself in Star Wars.

11. The Ultimate Boon

The hero achieves his goal, his quest ends here. Now, he is a changed person with a strong personality and ready to confront any challenge.

Example: In the final part, Harry Potter successfully destroys the last Horcrux by letting Voldemort attack on him.

ACT 3: THE RETURN ACT

12. Refusal of the Return

The hero is obsessed with a foreign land and he doesn’t intend to return to the real world. Now, he has found love and adoration from the people in a distant place, he refuses to trace back to where he came from.

Example: In the movie John Carter, the protagonist doesn’t want to return to the Earth after he finds the woman he loves, on Mars.

13. The Magic Flight

On returning back and going the through the same path from which he came by, there’s a possibility that he may face the same situations that he’d to overcome in the beginning. He needs to escape the possible past obstacles with the help of his friends and angelic figure.

Example: The good witch of the North, Glenda gave the magic slippers to Dorothy.

14. Rescue From Without

The hero needs to be recovered both physically and emotionally from the trauma of his journey. He may be badly injured or is emotionally inclined to the foreign place from which he needs to get rid of. He needs a mentor who can rescue him from past events.

Example: When Captain America finally wakes up after so many years, he needs help to get rid of his past memories and love, which he can never get back.

15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

Now, he knows the truth and has gained the wisdom and solution to overcome the problem in his original world, he needs to integrate the solution into his life and share with the world.

Example: The protagonist in The Karate Kid series goes on to live a better and balanced lifestyle after acquiring martial arts skills from their master.

16. Master of Two Worlds

The hero has become a master of his thoughts and the people around him. The stage is more about the balance between the spiritual and material worlds. He can now live the outer world more fully without any emotional obstacles.

Example: At the end, Neo makes a call from within the matrix.

17. Freedom to Live

The hero has overcome his fears and can live his life freely. He has no fears, but the courage to what comes next. He is, now, ready for everything, both mentally and physically. He has no regrets for the past nor he is thinking about the future, he is, indeed, living in the present.

As I said above, according to expert, if you can understand these stages by heart, you can become a proficient storyteller. Well, after writing these stages, I do feel I have a story in mind that I wish to share with everyone. These stages are surely very effective, giving you a great start for your story.

© 2019 Prachi Sharma

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