Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Hero's Journey? Why?

So, for those of you that do not know, the hero's journey, or the mono myth was first outlined more than two thousand years ago and is prevalent in the stories of every culture, across centuries of storytelling.  This simple three act structure has had a large impact on not only writing, but our societies as a whole.  But, what the heck is it?

First, I will give you a few examples of the heroes journey in modern society.  Do you remember the farm boy/normal dude who is thrust into a global conflict, but decides "No!" and runs away, only to discover that something tragic has happened that makes him go, "Aha!  Bad people must die!"?  Sound like Starwars (Luke), Lord of the Rings (Aragorn and Frodo), Harry Potter (Harry Potter), Avatar (Jake Sully), Gladiator (Maximus!), Toy Story (Woody)...Finding Nemo (Marlin)?  That is because each had elements of the hero's journey.

I'll be gentle and go with the story we all know and cherish, Star Wars: A New Hope.

Act 1: The Departure
This is where the hero leaves everything he knows and loves (The lovely desert planet of Tatooine) for the wide world of wonder (space).

1. A call to adventure:  "Help me Obiwan, you're my only hope." ring a bell?  It should, that was the call to adventure.  This is also paired with "Humble beginnings" Ex: My name is Luke and I live on a farm.
2. Refusal of the call: Luke meets Obiwan and runs back to the farm
3. Supernatural Aid: The force!
4. The crossing of the first threshold: Time to kill some empire scum and free the princess!
5. The belly of the whale: Trash compactor.

Act 2: Initiation

1. The road of trials: Time to figure out if I am a jedi.  Luke learns to use the force.
2.  Meeting with the goddess: Leia
3. Woman as the temptress: Oh, here is a fun fact.  You made out with your sister!
4. Atonement with the father: Obiwan starts speaking in Luke's head
5. Apotheosis: Luke becomes a rebel and joins the cause
6. the ultimate boon: You can lump this in with Obiwan talking to Luke and becoming a rebel.

Act 3: Return

1. Refusal of the Return: Han tries to jet and Luke won't go with him.
2. The Magic Flight: The trench run
3. Rescue from Without: Han comes back and saves his butt from Vader.
4. The crossing of the threshold: Luke succeeds and destroys the deathstar.
5. Master of two worlds: Luke is a jedi and a man, accepting both equally.
6. Freedom to live: Luke gets a medal from the princess.

That is an extremely abbreviated version of Luke's journey through the movie "Star wars: A New Hope".

Here are my thoughts.  The hero's journey is out dated...by a lot.  It absolutely packs a punch, even to this day.  But, I think that it is lazy writing, unless it serves a very specific purpose, to make the quintessential hero.

For my own book, I did use the hero's journey for both Penndarius and Soren.  But, I chose to omit certain parts purposefully.  For example, Penndarius never "Refuses the call".  Honestly, I never thought running away was very heroic.  Another thing, neither character is from humble beginnings.  Instead, you believe that Penndarius has humble beginnings, but later find out that he is a complete and total bad ass.  Why?  I believe in breaking stereotypes.  Think about it, why not create a warrior who is skilled prior to the story and then augmented to suit their skill set.

A good example of a character who is already awesome, but then augmented to suit his skill set is Ichigo from Bleach.  Born a bad ass, given powers that make him even more awesome, then you find out he did not even need them!  How awesome is that?

For Soren, my other main character, I pretty much threw out the hero's journey and just wrote the character how he should sound, a total rock star on the battlefield with a really messed up past.

These are my thoughts on one of the most influential story outlines of all time.  Take whatever you like from it, but know that you go with my blessing and good luck in all your endeavors.


If you liked reading this blog, check Herrick Erickson-Brigl out on Twitter, or friend him on facebook if you like.  Also, to your right you will find the first three chapters of his book, "A Scholar's Journey: The Divine Tempest", listed under the "Pages" section.  It is currently available in ebook format and the hard copy is coming soon.

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