Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey – also known as the monomyth – is introduced as the underlying story structure all western stories secretly follow (he though to include all the stories, but missed Asia). It’s the story of a hero, who leaves home for a quest and returns changed after overcoming many obstacles.
If one wants to write such an adventure – or already has – the listed steps might seem familiar. This is because they have proven to work and skipping or twisting them results in a slightly deformed story (most of the times). So give it a try and stick to a quest of the good old hero’s journey.
Yes, here is the plain wikipedia article concerning the hero’s journey. There are tons of blog posts out there that analyze your favorite story, so go out and find them.
I also recommend doing a picture search on it, as the hero’s journey features this beautiful circle that the hero must follow.
How to use it?
Obviously, you need to start with a hero who sits comfortable in his home, not thinking about going on a quest or saving the world. Depending on the version you might get your hands on, there is a variable number of steps along the hero’s journey.
- The hero is called to go on an adventure, that throws him out of his ordinary life
- The hero meets his mentor and passes a threshold that now makes him an adventurer
- The hero faces several trials, fails and grows
- The hero enters a world thats foreign to him and has to orient himself
- Facing the adventure’s goal, the mentor dies and the hero has to use his own powers to succeed
- The hero is rewarded for his win with some kind of token
- The hero returns home, changed, and brings with him the world freeing token
Sounds familiar? I bet it does.
These steps are not evenly paced through the story and you might find different and explained versions of this all over the internet. I simplified this list to my needs and those of a short story. But get inspired by whatever specific journey speaks to you.
When to use it?
You got a hero or heroine? Someone or something disturbes their ordinary life? A mentor or item guides them on their adventure? They return a better person after struggling, failing and growing? Congratulations, this might be a candidate for the hero’s journey.
It’s quite generic, but this is because it fit’s so many story formats.
It is your personal choice, how close you want to stick to the formula. Exchange parts of it, let the mentor life or the hero not return from his new world. It might feel strange to a reader, because they are quite used to this formula.
The hero’s journey is initially meant for longer stories, but some elements are quite scalable. Therefore you might expand your story later on, if you like it.
Why use it?
Some might argue, that you always use it. But let’s say we us it intentional. Most stories fit into this formula, just thing about how broad “hero on a quest” feels.
Despite the fact that this formula is very old, you might want to give it a try and stick to it as close as possible (you are allowed to let the mentor live, ok?), just to get a feeling for the monomyth. Once you experienced this story’s formula, you are ready to play with the details. Plus the resulting story will turn out pretty well.
We need a hero and an adventure. So let us start with a strawberry field and a fire dragon.
Our heroine owns a cute little house surrounded by a strawberry field. She feels a little lonely but is quite happy.
One day a strange guy appears and tells her, that she has to slay the fire dragon. Of course she refuses and sends him away.
The next day, the dragon attacks her beloved strawberry field and she is furious. There is no doubt she will slay this evil reptile now. That strange guy from the day before hands her a magical sword and shows her the way.
They enter a strange school, where young people are trained to slay the very fire dragon. Our heroine has been recruited and seems doomed to fail at her task. Nonetheless she get’s used to this school, creates new friendships and tries to undergo this strange adventure.
When she and her friends seemed to have freed the pupil, the fire dragon appears and protecting this chosen ones, the strange mentor figure is burned to ashes. So is most of the school. The leftover pupil decide to either go home or go slay the dragon. Our heroine wants to try negotiation first.
Loaded with a huge strawberry cake, our heroine enters the dragons cave. They have tea and biscuits and argue about slaying dragons and burning humans. The dragon appears to be lonely, as our heroine used to be.
She brings the dragon back to her home, invites her friends from magic school as often as possible and rebuilds her burned strawberry field.
Depending on the parts where the introduction and learning at the school happens, this story might grow larger or may just snuggly fit into a short story.