J is for Journey

Hero’s journey, that is. You’ve probably already been exposed to the idea (or monomyth) of the hero’s journey, as put forward by Joseph Campbell: person in the normal world receives a call to action, refuses it, is called again, and goes on a journey whereon he meets enemies and allies and faces challenges. After facing an ordeal, the hero claims the treasure, takes the road back home, arrives home changed (resurrected) and gives of the wisdom or treasure he has received to others. (Yes, this is an overly simplified version. There are many resources to learn more about this journey — I like The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.)

This pattern can be seen in many books and movies, from The Hobbit to The Wizard of Oz to Star Wars. It’s not peculiar to genre fiction, however. In his book, Vogler talks about Titanic, The Full Monty, and Pulp Fiction. Whether you agree with his structure analyses is up to you.

There are other satisfying story structures, and there’s a lot of flexibility in the way this journey is interpreted, as there is in the archetypes that the hero meets along the way. It’s just another tool for looking at how a story can work.

Have you ever noticed the hero’s journey in your reading? Used it in your writing? Do you find it useful in any way, or merely an academic curiosity?

This is a post for the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. My theme is epic fantasy, and blog posts will cover authors, books, tropes, themes, or anything else I can think of to fill the alphabet. Check out some of the other bloggers participating or follow my blog by e-mail if you like what you’ve read.

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  1. I’ve written a hero’s journey once for a NaNo novel, where the daughter crosses the country in her wedding dress on the bus of a girl’s basketball team searching for her previously presumed dead father. It’s a fun way to write, and the journey keeps things moving.

  2. I like the hero’s journey. I recently wrote the “refusal” portion as part of a collaborative project. It was a lot of fun. I think it would be interesting to incorporate the journey into a novel, as Nicki did. 🙂

  3. I’ve written a hero’s journey – but the main feedback I got was my characters didn’t go deep enough. So I think it’s a balance between action-packed plot and characterization – you need both for a great tale.

    • You’re right; you need both story and character. I don’t think that the structure of a novel — whether three-act, hero’s journey, Hollywood structure, or something else — necessarily has anything to do with the depth of the characters.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. I think all stories are journeys in either a literal or metaphorical sense. The events of getting from one place or one state of mind to another are what keeps us riveted in the story being told.

    A Few Words
    An A to Z Co-host blog

    • Yes, that’s true. The hero’s journey is just a specific formulation of a type of journey that recurs in myths around the world and is still used in storytelling today.

      Thanks for the comment! 🙂

  5. Well, the first “hero’s journey” that comes to mind is Star Wars, but that’s not a book; LOTR comes pretty close. I don’t think I’ve ever used it in my own writing.

    The Golden Eagle
    The Eagle’s Aerial Perspective

  6. I think that pretty much all of my stories are based on the hero’s journey.

    • Cool! How much flexibility do you use with it, Laura?

      • There’s quite a bit of flexibility. It’s the rhythm that feels best for a story to me. My character is reluctant and goes through the growth necessary to complete whatever but the underlying concept is always there.

        • That makes sense. My biggest experiment with it is coming up — I’m planning to have two different people doing hero’s journeys, sort of contrapuntal. I hope it works.

  7. Hero’s journey is a concept a guide but real writing is strictly imagination and creativity. Great post!

  8. I like well written reluctant heroes and/or heroines. The ones that have to be dragged kicking and screaming to the edge of the cliff and then be pushed off. I think the most reluctant and irritating hero I’ve ever read would have to be Thomas Covenant from ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant’, by Stephen Donaldson. That man made me want to reach into the page and strangle him. The sign of a great story!

    • Irritating — oh, yes. I’ll admit to not being a Thomas fan, although when I read it, I was too young to understand what was going on. It wasn’t until it got spelled out in the second book that I went “oh. Ick.” I couldn’t read any more after that. I do remember his reluctance, though. . . . If I didn’t have so many other things to read, I might give him another try now, to see how he changes through the books and what his arc actually is.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

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