Monday, February 22, 2010

The Hero's Journey

I’ve made mention a few times of the Hero’s Journey and its impact on the format of my story, but I haven’t really elaborated on what it is and how it shapes my narrative. I think it’s time to change that.

At its core, nearly every story ever told follows some variation of the Hero’s Journey, dating all the way back to ancient cultures and their mythology. From the original epics all the way up to modern movies, the Hero’s Journey is exactly that – the path a protagonist takes through the narrative and the events that happen along that road. The Hero’s Journey was originally mapped out by the esteemed Joseph Campbell, and The Writer’s Journey updates those concepts for the entertainment industry. If you want a comprehensive look at the Hero’s Journey, you can pick up the aforementioned book or Mr. Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces. In this and future posts, I’ll be hitting the highlights, particularly as they apply to my writing.

First of all, the Hero’s Journey is a catch-all title that encompasses both genders. While the concept of the boy going out on an adventure to become a man is a time-honored staple of this model, the “Hero” part of the Hero’s Journey refers just as easily to women as it does men. In point of fact, one of the three individual Hero’s Journeys that stretch through my trilogy focuses on a female protagonist. One could even say her journey is the catalyst that sets the other two journeys into motion…

Secondly, the Hero’s Journey doesn’t always refer to an actual physical journey. While it often takes the form of a road trip or some other method of travelling to experience the danger and excitement that awaits us outside our front door, this isn’t always the case. A spiritual or emotional journey, one that takes place within as opposed to without, can also fall under this category. This version of the Hero’s Journey may not take the audience to exotic locales, but it may take them through a path of self-discovery as they follow the protagonist through a crisis of faith or a new relationship.

And finally, the Hero’s Journey isn’t just a structure for popular fiction. As Chris Vogler mentions in his book, writers – indeed, all people – go through their own personal Hero’s Journey in their lives. There’s a reason these types of stories resonate so well with audiences, and that’s because we can see a reflection of that adventure playing out day by day. Most of us can recognize the everyday version of those classic story figures – the mentor who taught us everything we know, the gatekeeper keeping us from progressing to the next stage of our journey, the allies who have aided us along the way – and can relate to the dramatized scenarios that much more because of it. Because of this, I’ll be illustrating each stage of the Hero’s Journey through the next few posts by drawing upon (highly fictionalized*) examples in my own life.

Put on your boots and strap yourselves in, we’re about to go on a Hero’s Journey!

* All names and some details will be changed to protect the innocent… and not so innocent.

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