Here’s a link to Christopher Vogler’s website where he describes, in detail, the pattern of the hero’s journey and how it provides the template for great story telling. Basing his theory on Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, Vogler explains how this universal story can be a valuable guide to fiction and screenplay writers. (George Lucas used this template for Star Wars 4-6) “The theme of the hero myth is universal, occurring in every culture, in every time; it is as infinitely varied as the human race itself; and yet its basic form remains the same, an incredibly tenacious set of elements that spring in endless repetition from the deepest reaches of the mind of man.”
In this article, Vogler demonstrates the steps in the hero’s journey by linking them to well-known films. Do I own Vogler’s book? Yes. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. James M. Frey also has his own book on the topic. The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth. I own this book, too. 🙂
Here’s my version of it taken from my book, Writing Fiction: A Hands-On Guide for Teens
What happens to your character is what makes your plot. One example of a surefire plot is the concept of the “hero’s journey.” You may have been taught this in school, but, if not, the short explanation is that it’s derived from the work of Joseph Campbell. He studied stories from around the world, ancient legends, myths, and the work of great writers of the past. He realized that throughout all the world’s cultures one story pattern could be found, and that was the hero’s journey—and it’s a pattern that is still used today. Two great books on the subject, written especially for writers, are The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler and The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, by James N. Frey.
The hero’s journey follows a pattern similar to the one below. If you check the Internet, you’ll find lots of examples of hero’s journey outlines. Read the following version, and, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, think of how the pattern fits his story.
- The hero has an “unusual” birth. Often the hero is an orphan or has something mysterious in his past.
- The hero is asked to do something out of his or her comfort zone and initially refuses. Then the hero is asked again, but this time he or she decides to accept.
- Early in the journey, the hero gets help from someone wise.
- The hero travels from the familiar world to the adventure world.
- The hero is tested by people and events.
- The hero often has a helper or sidekick in the adventure world.
- The hero faces a final battle where all could be won or lost.
- After the battle, the hero returns with something that benefits others
Not every element of your story has to match exactly the list above, but it is a tried-and-true storytelling pattern that has pleased readers and audiences for thousands of years. Here’s how it works in two movies you might know.
Hero’s Journey in Transformers and Princess Diaries
|Example from Transformers||Example from Princess Diaries|
|The hero has an “unusual” birth. Often the hero is an orphan or has something mysterious in his past.
|Sam Witwiky has a great-great grandfather who was an explorer and went mad. Sam is an outsider at school.||Mia lives with her mom and doesn’t know the truth about her father. She is an outsider at school.|
|The hero is asked to do something out of his or her comfort zone and initially refuses. Then The hero is asked again, but this time he or she decides to accept.
|Sam realizes his car is unusual when he sees it transform, but he doesn’t want to know more at first. Later, he encourages Michaela to get in the car to find out more about what is going on.||Mia goes to visit her grandmother and learns about her father. She never wants to see her grandmother again. Later she agrees to take “princess lessons.”|
|Early in the journey, the hero gets help from someone wise.
|Sam’s car helps him spend the day with Michaela. Later, it helps them both escape the police car.||Mia is befriended by Joseph, head of security.|
|The hero travels from the familiar world to the adventure world.||Sam meets Optimus Prime and the rest of the autobots and learns about Megatron’s evil plans. He agrees to help the autobots.||Mia spends time at the embassy with the queen, learning how to be a princess.|
|The hero is tested by people and events.||Sam has to lie to his parents, cope with the police and the government agents, rescue Bumblebee, and erase Michaela’s criminal record.||Mia has a disastrous debut at an embassy dinner, is tricked at a beach party, and nearly loses her friends.|
|The hero often has a helper or sidekick in the adventure world
|Sam is befriended by Optimus Prime. Michaela is also his helper.||Once Mia tells her secret, her friend supports her.|
|The hero faces a final battle where all could be won or lost.
|Sam, Michaela, the soldiers, Optimus Prime, and the autobots defeat Megatron||Mia upsets her friends, and she wants to run away. She realizes she has to say she is sorry and live up to her responsibilities, after she reads her father’s diary.|
|After the battle, the hero returns with something that benefits others.
|Optimus Prime says, “We are in your debt.” For the moment, the battle has been won, and there will be peace.||Mia agrees to accept her role as princess, and the kingdom is saved.|