Creating Stories: the Hero's Journey

 

Image of a movie camera

We created this page to provide storytelling inspiration for our books What's the Story? and our latest The Storyboard Challenge. But it's useful for any storytelling projects kids (or adults) might have.

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HAVE YOU EVER NOTICED there are certain similarities in movies? Like the wise old mentor character or the near-death scene or the trusted friend who suddenly reveals that - BAM! - they're actually the villain?

These commonalities are part of what’s called the Hero’s Journey. This is an idea that stories tend to share similar stages and feature characters – called archetypes – that serve similar purposes. 

The Hero’s Journey was popularized by the acclaimed storytelling expert Joseph Campbell, whose work has been drawn upon by filmmakers today. The simplified Hero's Journey stages and archetypes below are based upon the work of Hollywood executive Christopher Vogler, who has also had a big impact on modern filmmaking. 

 

Stages of the Hero’s Journey

These 12 stages can vary in length, order and significance, depending on the story. They can also be interpreted in many different ways, limited only by the twists of your imagination.

(Keep in mind: the Hero's Journey is an idea, not a rule. Not every story needs to follow these stages. Just have fun with it!)

1. The Ordinary World

The hero is introduced to the audience/reader by showing them in their regular day-to-day life.

 

2. The Call to Adventure

A journey or adventure begins when the hero receives some kind of call to action. For instance, the hero may hear about, sense or face a problem, danger, or change in circumstances. It's basically a signal that something is about to happen.

 

3. Refusal of the Call

The hero doesn’t embark on this journey right away. Instead, the hero hesitates, wallows in doubt and basically says, umm, no, I don’t want to do this. (The refusal can happen at different stages of the journey.)

 

4. Meeting with the Mentor

The hero’s mind is changed by someone or something – a wise person, an inner voice, a memory.

 

5. Crossing the Threshold

And so the hero leaves their ordinary life and crosses into the Special World, which is essentially an unfamiliar place or an unfamiliar experience. This is where the journey will take place.

 

6. Tests, Allies and Enemies

The hero is tested in a series of events. Friends stand with the hero. Alliances are forged. Enemies are encountered. The hero learns how things work in the Special World.

 

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

A big test is in sight (a major battle, conflict or crisis) and the hero prepares for it. This could involve a planning session, a quiet moment, a night out or feast before things get serious.

 

8. The Ordeal

It’s the biggest test/battle/crisis that the hero faces – so far. It usually occurs in a special or noteworthy place within the Special World. Often during the Ordeal the hero almost fails or even nearly dies. But, ultimately, the hero makes it through.

 

9. The Reward

The hero often gets some kind of reward for making it through the Ordeal – knowledge, treasure, recognition, confidence, etc.

 

10. The Road Back

After the Ordeal, the end of the journey is often in sight and the hero may set out on a journey back to the Ordinary World.

This may start off like an easy journey back, or it can involve a chase or a race scene. Either way, the Road Back ends up leading the hero to their biggest, most severe test/battle/crisis of all. 

 

11. The Resurrection

At last it’s the  final showdown – the climax of the journey.

Often this test/battle/crisis takes place on the doorstep of the Ordinary World. It can also be a life-or-death situation – or symbolic of a life-and-death situation – in which the hero may appear to die (or symbolically die).

But, the hero wins/succeeds/overcomes and is in some way reborn.

 

12. Return with the Elixir

The hero goes home, wiser and renewed, with all the gifts (physical, emotional, symbolic) won from the journey. Or... the hero decides to continue the journey, reborn and ready to do it all over again.

 

Character archetypes

Keep in mind, characters can be just one archetype in a story, or they can exhibit the qualities of more than one archetype throughout the same story.

1. The Hero – the main character who goes on the journey.

2. The Mentor – a wise character who guides and advises the hero.

3. Threshold Guardian – a person or thing that tests the character’s worth in or throughout the journey. This could even be a door the hero has to unlock or a puzzle they have to solve.

4. The Herald – the character, thing or force that announces challenges, delivers news, warns of dangers throughout the journey. This could be a person, or a sign or sound of some sort, even weather.

5. Allies – the friends and companions who help the hero throughout the journey.

6. Trickster – a mischievous character who disrupts things, often with humour.

7. Shapeshifter – a character whose intentions and loyalties are not clear throughout the journey. We’re never quite sure whose side the shapeshifter is on. The shapeshifter can also change sides throughout the story.

8. The Shadow – the hero’s main foe and the character who basically wants to destroy the hero or the hero’s world.