By Debby Giusti
I hope you’re rejoicing in this beautiful Easter season of resurrection, new life, baby chicks and flowers in bloom. We’ve survived SPEEDBO. Many of us have manuscripts to revise or portions of a story to complete so I thought it might be beneficial to take a look at the twelve stages of the hero’s journey Christopher Vogler presents in his book, The Writer’s Journey.
You may recall my February 15, 2017 blog entitled, “The Mentor's Role in The Hero's Journey,” where I talked about Joseph Campbell, a writer, professor and mythologist, born at the beginning of the 20th Century. In case you’ve forgotten, Campbell studied mythology extensively and deduced that all myths, whether passed down as oral tradition or written expression, contain the same basic format. That format—or template, if you will--is found worldwide, and is common in the stories from all cultures, tribes, peoples, races and nationalities. He named the structure “The Hero’s Journey” and published his findings, in 1949, in a book entitled, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
In the 1980s, Hollywood story analyst Christopher Vogler studied Campbell’s work and instantly connected with “The Hero’s Journey” and the mythical elements found in all stories. After accepting a job with Walt Disney Company, Vogler penned a seven-page memo, which he titled “A Practical Guide to The Hero With a Thousand Faces.” The memo circulated through Disney and then traveled to other Hollywood studios as more and more people recognized the value of Vogler's formula for successful story creation. Eventually, Vogler expanded that first memo into a book called The Writer’s Journey, which provides a more in-depth look at the mythical structure.
Let’s take a look at the stages Vogler presents in The Writer’s Journey:
The Twelve Stages of the Hero’s Journey
The Ordinary World
Each story should start in the hero’s ordinary world. We need to see the hero in his own world before he embarks on his adventure. In today’s face-paced fiction, we sometimes only have a glimpse of that ordinary life for a paragraph or two, but even with only a short introductory narrative, we can get an idea of the hero’s surroundings and the way he lives before the real action begins. Remember to provide a glimpse into your hero or heroine’s world at the beginning of your story, but don’t remain there long because the reader is eager for the action to begin.
Example: Think of Belle walking through her small town at the opening of the movie, Beauty and the Beast.
Vogler writes: “If you’re going to show a fish out of his customary element, you first have to show him in that Ordinary World to create a vivid contrast with the strange new world he is about to enter.”
The Call to Adventure
This is the inciting incident. A problem is presented to the hero that will send him out of his ordinary world and into a new adventure. In a romance, this is where the hero meets the annoying heroine or is forced to work with her on a project
Example: A bank robbery propels our hero cop into an investigation to find the robbers and solve the case.
Vogler writes: “The Call to Adventure establishes the stakes of the game, and makes clear the hero’s goal: to win the treasure or the lover, to get revenge or right a wrong, to achieve a dream, confront a challenge or change a life.”
Refusal of the Call (The Reluctant Hero)
Often the hero is afraid to charge forward or isn’t eager to accept the call to adventure. Instead, he wants to remain within his ordinary world.
Example: In a romance, the heroine may be hesitant to get involved with the handsome hero because she’s been jilted or left at the altar.
Vogler writes: “The hero has not yet fully committed to the journey and may still be thinking of turning back. Some other influence—a change in circumstances, a further offense against the natural order of things, or the encouragement of a Mentor—is required to get her past this turning point of fear.”
Mentor (The Wise Old man or Woman)
The mentor—best friend, teacher, parent, old sage—encourages the hero to accept the call. He provides guidance and may even equip the hero for the adventure.
Example: Think Lou Grant in “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.”
Vogler writes: “The Mentor can only go so far with the hero. Eventually, the hero must face the unknown alone.”
Crossing the First Threshold
The hero enters into the adventure. From this point, there is no turning back.
Example: In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sets out on the Yellow Brick Road.
Vogler writes: “Movies are often built in three acts, which can be regarded as representing 1) the hero’s decision to act, 2) the action itself, and 3) the consequences of the action. The First Threshold marks the turning point between Acts One and Two.”
Tests, Allies and Enemies
The hero faces escalating problems and challenges. Friends offer support and help; enemies cause harm. It is at this stage that the hero begins to learn the rules of the special world he is about to enter.
Example: In “The Karate Kid,” Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel in martial arts.
Vogler writes: “Countless Westerns take the hero to a saloon where his manhood and determination are tested, and where friends and villains are introduced. Bars are also useful to the hero for obtaining information, for learning the new rules that apply to the Special World.”
Approach to the Inmost Cave
The hero nears the dangerous place and may pause here to prepare for battle.
Example: In military movies, the hero and his company of soldiers will pause before the battle to prepare for the mission.
Vogler writes: “When the hero enters the fearful place he will cross the second major threshold. Heroes often pause at the gate to prepare, plan and outwit the villain’s guards.”
The Supreme Ordeal
The hero must confront his greatest fear and is caught in a life-or-death battle with antagonistic forces. In a romance, this is the black moment when it seems that the hero and heroine will never get together again.
Example: In “E.T.,” the alien appears to die on the operating table.
Vogler writes: “Every story needs such a life or death moment in which the hero or his goals are in mortal jeopardy.”
Reward (Seizing the Sword)
The hero has survived the ordeal and takes possession of the reward, the magic elixir, needed knowledge or some type of prized treasure. Personal conflicts are reconciled at this point as well.
Example: In “The Wizard of Oz,” Dorothy escapes from the Wicked Witch’s castle with the broomstick and ruby slippers.
Vogler writes: “In many [romance] stories the loved one is the treasure the hero has come to win or rescue, and there is often a love scene at this point to celebrate the victory.”
The Road Back
The hero is chased by the antagonistic forces. He again must battle evil as he tries to return home. This occurs at the beginning of Act Three.
Example: Elliott and E.T. escape in the moonlight bike scene.
Vogler writes: “Some of the best chase scenes spring up at this point, as the hero is pursued on The Road Back by the vengeful forces she has disturbed by seizing the sword, the elixir or the treasure.”
Another life and death moment as the hero battles evil.
Example: The final battle scene in Star Wars when Luke is almost killed, appears to be dead and then miraculously survives.
Vogler writes: “The hero is transformed by these moments of death-and-rebirth, and is able to return to ordinary life reborn as a new being with new insights.”
Return with the Elixir
The hero returns to the Ordinary World, but he must bring back some treasure, whether new knowledge or something concrete.
Example: Dorothy returns to Kansas knowing she is loved and that “There’s no place like home.”
Vogler writes: “Unless something is brought back from the ordeal in the Inmost Cave, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure. Many comedies use this ending, as a foolish character refuses to learn his lesson and embarks on the same folly that got him in trouble in the first place.”
A final caveat from Vogler’s website: “Following the guidelines of myth too rigidly can lead to a stiff, unnatural structure, and there is the danger of being too obvious. The hero myth is a skeleton that should be masked with the details of the individual story, and the structure should not call attention to itself. The order of the hero’s stages as given here is only one of many variations – the stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically re-shuffled without losing any of their power.”
Can you see any ways to use the twelves stages of The Hero’s Journey in your own stories? Do you recognize the various stages in the movies you love to watch? Has this overview provided inspiration or confusion?
Breakfast is served: Hot cross buns and hard boiled eggs dyed in an assortment of colors, fresh fruit and sausage. The coffee is hot. So is the tea. Enjoy!
Leave a comment to be entered in three drawings. Each winner will receive a copy of AMISH REFUGE, my May release and the first book in my Amish Protectors series from Love Inspired Suspense. The winners will also receive a copy of another May release that features my story, PLAIN DANGER, and THE SHEPHERD’S BRIDE, by Patricia Davids.
Happy writing! Happy reading!
Wishing you abundant blessings,
Check out the new look:
By Debby Giusti
HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT
Miriam Miller barely escapes the ruthless attacker that killed her mother and kidnapped her sister. Running deeper into the woods, she’s running out of hope…until she falls into the arms of an unlikely bodyguard—a peaceful Amish farmer. Something about Abram Zook inspires her trust, but even in bucolic Willkommen, Georgia, Miriam faces danger. Both from the men pursuing her and from her growing feelings for the caring—though guarded— widower who protects her. Because if she falls for Abram she’ll have to embrace his Amish faith as her own—or lose him. With each minute, her abductor creeps closer, pushing Miriam to an inevitable choice: stay and risk her heart…or leave and risk her life.