How does the hero’s journey work?

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The hero’s journey, as a theme, is a well-known trope in literature and film, typically dealing with a protagonist’s struggle with a given goal. The story typically starts with a call to adventure or to save a fellow creature from a dire situation.

The hero’s journey often involves facing continued but achievable obstacles, gathering allies, and overcoming challenges. The hero must decide whether to embark on the quest, no matter how subtly. Some authors will spell it out for you; others write about how the hero fell into it.

Ultimately, the hero returns home after a series of trials and tribulations that culminate in a desperate “Fate’s Deed.” The hero should learn something valuable about themselves and the world they inhabit.

Joseph Campbell described the hero’s journey in three parts in the book “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.”

So give that a go if you want to see how he tackles the topic.

The different beats of the hero’s journey

In general, the hero’s journey is a familiar narrative pattern that consists of the following stages in order:

  1. Introduction to the hero’s world
  2. Call to action/adventure
  3. Cross the threshold
  4. Meet the mentor
  5. Taking on the first challenge
  6. Temptation
  7. Experiencing a dark, inner moment
  8. Final battle
  9. Return home

There are many ways to take on this list, of course. You can always examine a story, movie, or video game and find it actively used.

Think about how your project’s protagonist might approach the hero’s journey. You don’t have to rely on the concept of the hero’s journey to guide your narrative. Instead, write an outline where they’re taking on a similar journey.

Trying something new can lead to unexpected discoveries. Taking risks and stepping out of our comfort zone can open us up to new experiences and ideas about where to guide our characters.

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