On Writing: The Hero’s Journey

Guest Post

The Hero’s Journey by Bruce Hale

The oldest story ever told forms the basis for so many of our modern tales. No, I’m not talking about the “check is in the mail” story. I’m talking about the Hero’s Journey.

This mythic structure has been used so often, it’s almost part of our DNA. You’ll find it in the simplest picture book and in the splashiest Hollywood blockbuster. In WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and in LORD OF THE RINGS.

And since the Hero’s Journey forms the basis for so many stories, doesn’t it make sense to learn it and add it to your writing toolkit?

Here are the story’s basic elements:

The Call: Going about his humdrum life, our potential hero receives a call to adventure. This could be anything from Obi-Wan Kenobi inviting Luke Skywalker to join him on a journey, to Harry Potter receiving an invitation to attend Hogwarts. The hero refuses at first, and then reluctantly accepts.

Crossing the Threshold: The hero enters a strange world where her normal reality is turned upside-down. She meets allies and antagonists, and here she is tested. A mentor appears (like Glinda the Good Witch) to advise her and prepare her for what’s to come.

Dark Night of the Soul: After a series of increasingly harder tests, the hero must face his antagonist alone. He reaches a point when all seems lost, when he has to make the most difficult choice possible. (Think Frodo at Mount Doom, or Dorothy in the Wicked Witch’s castle.)

Triumph and Return: The hero makes that difficult choice and triumphs over darkness – which could be her own weaknesses as well as the dark antagonist.

She wins a boon (deeper understanding, magical gift, etc.) and brings it back to her normal world to benefit her community.

Dorothy Gale brings back the knowledge that “there’s no place like home.” Luke Skywalker defeats Darth Vader and brings peace to the galaxy. Harry Potter… well, if you haven’t read the last book yet, I won’t spoil it for you.

In the end, the Hero’s Journey is a form, not a formula.

It’s a tale we humans have been telling each other since we lived in caves. And when you use it consciously, you can help elevate your own story into the realm of the mythic.

Bruce’s many enlightening tips and other info can be found on his website: www.brucehalewritingtips.com. He has written and illustrated 30 books for kids, and is a widely experienced writing workshop leader and teacher.