Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Hero's Journey

I've been on holidays from my course the last two weeks, so of course I've spent all of this weekend churning out the homework we were given to do over the break. Organised is my middle name, but unfortunately my first tame ends in 'dis'.

Anyway, I've been having some fun today with the Hero's Journey. This is a concept/meta-myth put together over the years by various anthropologists, historians and literarians. It's the idea that all hero stories, from King Arthur to Buddha, follow a number of essential steps. Things like an unusual birth, an unknown childhood, threats to life in adulthood, apotheosis etc. (it means elevation to a higher plane, I had to look it up). So we had to use Joseph Campell's model (it's the most widely-know one) to write a 500-word hero's journey of our own, and I thought I may as well do it for one of the characters in my novel. 500 words is 500 words, eh? It all counts!

It was such a good exercise. I wrote a hero's journey for Albert, an Aboriginal station hand from the 1890s, using 6 of Campbell's steps (below). I might not use all of it in my novel, but now I have this great mythic background for a character. When I say mythic btw, I don't mean gods and dragons 'n stuff, I mean a story that resonates. I think we recognise and respond to the hero's journey in even the most every-day stories.

I suppose my point is that these myths and journeys are a tool that writers can use. If you're like me and go a bit wobbly without some structure, you can use something like the Hero's Journey to scaffold your story, and fit characteristics or plot around it.

Here were my 6 requirements for the story:

1. Hero is a child of parents of two different peoples/cultures, but is raised by only one of them
2. The parent dies, and hero leaves their home in search of their heritage in the other culture.
3. They meet a helper on the way who is ambiguous. There is a test that shows whether helper is trustworthy.
4. Revelation about the family/heritage of hero, and threat to their life.
5.  Hero returns to family roots (could be either parent’s culture).
6. Adulthood and responsibility.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless!


  1. Hi

    Hope you had a great easter/spring break!!

    Glad to have you back and thank you for this exercise! I like how these steps strip down a whole epic into 6 universal themes of love, loss, grief, redemption and eventual acceptance or happiness.

    And it's doubly more difficult to produce such a story in 500 words - a skill in itself!

    I'm off to have a go now- get these grey old cells cranking..!

    Thank you

    Take care

  2. I'm always fascinated by the hero's journey. So much of modern fantasy novels are based on it. I like how you broke it down. Now to write a 300,000 word tome on your hero's journey, and welcome to the new Robert Jordan!

  3. Hi Old Kitty,
    Had a great break, maybe not doing enough writing though!

    Hope you find the exercise useful, and no, 500 words wasn't easy! I had to sneak in a few more.

  4. Hi KarenG - 300 000 words! Ha ha. And that's just one book, let alone 12, or whatever he wrote. I'm sure I couldn't write that many words of rubbish, let alone publishable stuff!