The Hero’s Journey Plot was first described by Joseph Campbell. It’s a character-centric plot structure that’s popularly used when the main protagonist of a story is intended to become a true hero.
Today, we’re to take an in-depth look at each of the twelve stages in the Hero’s Journey Plot structure. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know if you’re using this structure in your story:
1) The Ordinary World
First, establish the ordinary world of your hero. We need to see what their normal life looks like for them before they go off on their adventure. This is an important element to this plot structure because it’s what allows your readers to relate to your character.
The average person isn’t likely to find themselves in a position to be a hero like your character is in your book. Letting your reader meet and get to know your character in their normal and natural environment will allow your readers to find elements in common with your main character before they go off on their journey to become a hero, which is an experience your reader may not be able to relate to as deeply.
2) The Call to Adventure
Next, your hero gets called to actually be a hero. This will act as the inciting incident for your story. They will be told they have to leave their home and do something very dangerous for the greater good. The call can come in many different ways. There could be a dangerous and immediate threat. There could be a death or some kind of natural disaster. The call could come in the form of a literal person or message. Or it could take a handful of other forms. You can get creative here and come up with a call/inciting incident that makes sense for your world and your character.
3) Refusal to the Call
Next, your hero will typically put up some kind of resistance to the call. They may say they don’t want this responsibility and reject the mission they’ve been tasked with. Or they may argue they have too many of their own responsibilities in their own world. Or perhaps they don’t feel capable. This is also where readers can learn the risks that come with this journey, which will likely be a contributing factor to the character’s refusal.
This is a good point in the Hero’s Journey to allow your character to doubt their own abilities. By doing so, you’ll allow your reader to connect and sympathize with your character. You’ll also give your character a base point for growth. Throughout the course of their journey, they will likely find they do have what it takes, which will serve as a source of inspiration to the reader.
4) Meeting the Mentor
The hero will meet the person who will become their mentor and guide them on this Hero’s Journey. This person often gives the hero the push they need to get things off the ground. The mentor will help the hero to believe in themselves and better understand why they are the best or only person for this job.
If there is some kind of magical ability involved or training required, the mentor will have knowledge and wisdom in this area, which will allow them to guide the hero. This will add to the hero’s confidence and put them in a position where they feel they have a possibility of succeeding.
5) Crossing the Threshold
The hero will accept their task, cross the threshold and leave the known world to begin their hero’s journey. In order for this to happen, the hero must overcome an obstacle which pushes the hero to fully commit to the journey ahead. It is essentially a “no turning back” moment. This may include facing one/some of their fears and insecurities, receiving some kind of direction or map, or a final push from the mentor or a loved one staying behind.
6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Now that the hero has entered the unknown world, they will endure a series of tests and obstacles on their hero’s journey. These tests will push the character mentally and physically, forcing them to grow and change. They will also have to learn who they can and cannot trust. They may find a sidekick or two, or a whole team of supporting characters. They will also make some enemies who are out to do them and their new friends harm.
Additionally, because this is an unknown world, the hero will need to learn the lay of the land. They will need to learn the rules of this world, along with any important geographic or magical information. This step is important because in educating your hero of this new world, you will also be educating your reader.
7) Approach the Inmost Cave
The hero prepares for the main ordeal they know is coming. This can be a bit of a relief in the tension that has been building up until this moment. At this point, your hero should have had to overcome a handful of challenges and will have proven themselves to natives of this world (whether they be friends or enemies).
This is a chance for your hero and his supporting friends to take a moment and collect themselves. Perhaps they’re coming off a trying series of events that they need to grieve and/or process. Or perhaps they need a moment of light-hearted fun before moving forward. This is also a time for your characters to discuss plans for confronting the Ordeal, which is just ahead of them.
The hero is confronted with an extreme ordeal that will call on all of the skills they have learned on this hero’s journey so far, in order to survive. This can be a physical battle with an enemy or it can be a test of mental dexterity. Regardless, the ordeal should force the hero to confront their worst fear.
Additionally, the hero must face death in some form. This death can be literal or metaphorical. It can apply directly to the hero or a member of their team. It can mean your hero or another character has a brush with death but is able to be saved or resuscitated, or it could mean another important character dies for the cause. This can also be applied to the “death” of something important in your character’s life, like a belief or relationship.
After surviving the ordeal, the hero receives some kind of reward for their efforts. This can come in many forms such as an item, information, or a person.
This celebration/break in actions gives both the hero and the reader a chance to breathe before continuing on. The story is building to the climax now, so there won’t be another moment for your characters or readers to relax until you reach the end.
10) The Road Home
The hero recommits to seeing out their journey and forages onward back to the ordinary world. However, the experiences the hero has had on their hero’s journey will make it hard to return. The hero will need another push to enter the known world again, similar to the push they needed to enter the unknown world. This may come from the mentor, another ally or maybe even a threat that is hanging over the known world that adds urgency to your character’s return.
11) The Resurrection
The hero has one final ordeal that typically includes a brush with death and heroic efforts of another to keep the hero alive. This is the final life and death moment and the climax of your story. This time, it should be your hero who nearly (or completely) ends up dead. However, thanks to another character or force, they are able to overcome this final obstacle. The hero then defeats the biggest threat to his/the world’s existence. Others may help with this, but in the end, it has to be the hero who saves the day. This event should allow your character to return home transformed.
12) Return with Elixir
The hero returns to the ordinary world with something to share with the world they left behind. This could be something physical, such as an enchanted object or a cure for a disease, or it could be intangible, such as knowledge. This wraps up the story, either by restoring a balance or tying up loose ends. Your hero is forever changed by the events of your story, and both your hero and your reader should have a fair amount of satisfaction with the end result.
I hope this gives you a good understanding of the Hero’s Journey plot structure!
Now it’s your turn: Have you used the Hero’s Journey plot structure before? If you have, what did you like and dislike? If you haven’t, do you think it can help your story? Tell me about it in the comments!
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