The Hero’s Journey: For Writing & Life

fantasy castle.jpg

You are probably on a journey; I know I am. For me, it’s a writer’s journey, but it’s a hero’s journey, too. Writers have our own battles, allies, and enemies to navigate. Whether we realize it or not, the characters we write about, and ourselves, have embarked upon The Hero’s Journey. Cinch down your cloak, replenish the ink in your sharpest quill, and let’s talk about it.

hero with a thousand faces 1.jpgThe Hero’s Journey is a concept I first read about in Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Campbell explains that there are reoccurring themes that run through almost all stories, myths, and even religious texts. The theme is The Hero’s Journey. Once it’s broken down into pieces, you can’t help but noticing it in most of the books, movies, and mediums you see everyday. Even aspects of our own lives conform to the structure.

While Campbell introduced the idea of The Hero’s Journey, Christopher Vogler does an amazing job of breaking it down into component pieces in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers & Screenwriters. Campbell basically said, “There be dragons ahead,” and Vogler took that statement and wrote a book on how to slay those winged beasts.

Vogler’s step-by-step model of writing stories has been adopted by many writers working in different mediums. You’ll have a hard time finding a Pixar or Disney movie that doesn’t adopt this structure outright. The reason? Well, for one, it works. Two, this plotting method is relatable to most people, because our life experience seems to tie into the myth of the story.

Vogler explains, “The Hero’s Journey, I discovered, is more than just a description of the hidden patterns of mythology. It is a useful guide to life, especially the writer’s life. In the perilous adventure of my own writing, I found the stages of the Hero’s Journey showing up just as reliably and usefully as they did in books, myths, and movies” (p. 5).

With Vogler and Campbell’s twin stars on the horizon as our guide, lets learn about the journey. Also, let’s uncover how it applies to our writing and our lives.

hobbit holeThe Ordinary World. This is where the writer introduces the hero/heroine in their normal environment. Of course, they aren’t a hero yet. They are a street rat (Aladdin), hairy-footed Hobbit in a hole (LOTR), or girl living in the coal district (Hunger Games).

For the writer, this may be the time before you started writing. Maybe you thought about writing. There was a nagging feeling, but you ignored it. You stayed in the comfort of your Ordinary World.

The Call to Adventure.  This is when an external influence causes the hero/heroine to consider abandoning the Ordinary World.  This call to action is often times them learning of a threat to the safety of their Ordinary World.

For writers, this is the moment of inspiration.  Maybe a book, friend, teacher, movie, flash of clarity, or all of these combined, turns the nagging feeling into something more.  The words are calling to you.

refusing the call.jpgRefusal of the Call. This is the moment of doubt. The budding hero doesn’t want to leave the comfort of the Ordinary World. Family, doubt in ability, lack of incentive, and fear are often played upon refusals.

These are those first doubts you feel as a writer. “I can’t do this.  I don’t have a story to tell. I don’t even know how to write well.  Is writing worth it?”

Mentor Pops Up. Aladdin had a genie, the hobbits had Gandalf, and Katniss had Haymitch. These are their guides to push them along.  Some act as a moral compass, some simply push the hero, and some are there to meddle.

A mentor doesn’t have to be a person when it comes to writers. It can be, sure, but it can also be a book/idea/dream that inspires you. Something to guide you along your path and help you step outside of your comfort zone.

door to a new world.jpgCrossing the First Threshold. This is when the story starts getting interesting. The hero puts his/her head down and embarks on the quest.  They accept the adventure, leaving the Ordinary World and entering a special one.

For you wordsmiths, this is when you say, “Screw it – lets do this thing.” You sit down and begin the process. You exit the real world and enter the creative whirlpool. I see many authors quitting their jobs and taking up writing full-time. No doubt, they are crossing toward the First Threshold.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies.  Here we start getting elements sprinkled in. The hero/heroine meets friends, learn of and encounter enemies, and begin facing minor trials. They battle threshold guardians and sometimes, almost always, they come up short. The hero/heroine haven’t yet honed their skills. Or perhaps they haven’t built a strong enough connection with their allies to be effective.

hercules.jpgFor us scribblers, this is the beginning of the process. We seek out others like us. We deal with writers block and creativity issues. We learn that the initial fire, that spark, won’t sustain us. We need something more: dedication and habit. We often fail, but in the process, we begin to get better at the craft.

Approach to the Inmost  Cave. At this point, the hero/heroine (and allies if applicable) have honed their skills, and are preparing to face the enemy.  They stand at the gates, swords/wands/pens in hand with a determined look on their faces. Their scars, whether metaphorical or very real, are a testament to the journey they have taken to this point.

For writers, this when you start getting deeper into the work. You’ve knocked out a couple hundred pages, maybe told a few people what you are up to, and now the pressure is mounting. The end is in very near, but you still have work to do. You hope your resolve and skill will carry you to the end.

The Supreme Ordeal. This is the, “oh crap,” moment when the hero stares death in the face. For the reader/audience, you wonder if they will survive. The hero/heroine does survive the conflict, often barely, and realize they are more powerful/resourceful than they thought.

For the writer, this is the moment when you almost lose the writing battle. You step away for a few days, weeks, or months — sometimes longer.  You reappraise what you are doing. If you are the writing hero I know you are, you’ll return to the desk and finish.

flying carpet.jpgReward. For the hero, they seize the reward after beating the boss; the battle is won. Many times, they gain a boon, trophy, or magic item. The reward may simply be the realization of power they didn’t know existed within themselves.

My friend M.L.S. Weech always says, the more times you type, “The End,” the more confident you will be in your skill. He also says the more of them you type, the easier and quicker the next one is to get to.  This is sentiment I’ve heard echoed by many of the writers I work with, or consider to be mentors in my own journey. Needles to say, for a writer, typing The End is a major reward.  It is also the realization of hidden potential.

The Road Back. The hero begins the return journey back to the Ordinary World with the reward in hand, or inside them.

For the writer, I equate this to the real world versus fantasy world we live in while we write. You improved your skills while you wrote, you finished the work, now you must come back to the Ordinary World and edit/promote/sell it.

TheKnightAtTheCrossroads.jpgResurrection. The hero may have slain the dragon and seized the magic sword that heals the land, but now the dragon’s mother is in pursuit. Often times, the hero must deal with the consequences of their Supreme Ordeal. When power is found, unlocked, or a magic item is gained, there is often the issue of wielding this power responsibly. Sometimes, those around you become wary of what you have become, or what you are capable of.

For the writer, this is the realization that writing The End is just another beginning. There are edits, rewrites, book covers, email lists, agents, publishers, and critics to contend with now.  More ordeals spring up like weeds.

potion.jpgReturn with the Elixir. It’s all meaningless for the hero if they don’t return to the Ordinary World clutching their spoils. These spoils can by physical: an item to cleanse the blighted land, or powerful weapon to protect it. The spoils can be mental: they now have a story to share, become a mentor themselves, or offer insights to protect and enhance their Ordinary World.

For us writers, these are the moments of impact after the book, or work, is out there. The email from an appreciative reader, the five star review, the kind words from friends and family. Maybe your elixir is to compile a book to illuminate the way, much like Campbell and Vogler did for me.

That’s The Hero’s Journey.  This was a longer post, if you made it this far you’ve completed a reader’s journey.  In the future, I want to elaborate on each step, but we needed a point to jump off from – hence the length.

I hope you found this helpful. Do aspects of your life (writing life/life in general) fit The Hero’s Journey? Do you feel like steps are missing or are incorrect? I’d love to talk about it.


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37 responses

  1. ‘If I have to read my book one more effing time…’

    There was a brief period for me when I hated my manuscript because I’d read through it so many times, I’d memorized it. I had to take a holiday and just leave it the hell alone; it is difficult to edit when you’re so sick of yourself, and the story/characters you’ve birthed and nourished.

    The Supreme Ordeal: I can relate. Coming back to my manuscript after a hiatus gave me fresh perspective, and I was on, baby! Bigger and bolder.

    This is a great post. Thank you for sharing. It is a special camaraderie writers have, isn’t it?

    Liked by 3 people

    • I’m glad you persevered through your Supreme Ordeal – only fitting for a heroine of your stature!

      I agree with you about camaraderie. I believe it could be a new age of writing if we want it to be. If we choose, the days of writing in desperate loneliness are behind us. You can see this concept of solitude reflected in the many famous quotes about writing passed down by the greats. In my opinion, any true battle worth waging should be fought with allies by your side. It’s one reason I started this blog. It was in the hope of being a rallying cry. Writing doesn’t have to be always be painful. Sure it will be at times. But beyond those moments, it should be fun, enjoyed, and an adventure shared.

      Thanks for reading today and good luck in your quest!

      Liked by 1 person

      • A heroine of my stature…you are too kind. Thank you. 🙂 Some of my favorite writers were drunks, madmen/women, all tragic in their loneliness. I wonder if they were living today, if they would find a sense of companionship and understanding with their fellow writers through internet communities such as this one. I wish you luck, too!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I feel as though I have been on a journey every time I read your posts! They always keep me coming back to learn more. I had writers block for a period of about 5 years once. No doubt I had hit that wall. It wasn’t just lack of ideas though.

    It was a lack of confidence. I believed myself to have lost what I had before. I used to shell out stories like I was firing a Gatling gun. There was the same type of energy and excitement behind them and within them.

    So when I slowed and stopped, I though, is this the end? I struggled and learned for 5 very long years (an eternity if you ask me). I eventually learned to hone what I had, to let go of the pressure (often I put upon myself), and to just write.

    I learned to trust myself again. I learned to edit my work (quite an underrated process). I began to do as I did before, regaining the ability to write as I once did (realizing I had never lost it), only now with better clarity and understanding of my craft.

    I’m still learning (we all learn every day I’m sure), but I have regained that spark, which subsequently has become an unstoppable energy with which I use to write!

    I’m sharing this to let you know, yes, I have walked ever the writers journey and still do. Also, your post holds great validity, and I appreciate you sharing it with all of us too.

    Cheers! ^_^

    Liked by 1 person

    • Five years, your Hero’s Journey ranks up with the likes of Odysseus! I’m glad the path brought you back into the fold. Where would we be without your musings after all? I really appreciate you sharing your path, I’m sure seeing how you overcame your struggles will motivate many – it motivates me.

      Thanks for your kinds words and for sharing this, good luck on your continuing quest!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I read the section about the mentor, I started thinking about how the antagonist could also be a mentor… just in a negative way. I was thinking of Darth Vader and how he tried to tempt Luke to cross over to the dark side. It was similar to how Voldemort tried to get Harry Potter to join him. Hmm, what do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think you are close to the money, but just a little off at the same time. For both of those examples, these are villains who are attempting to pull the hero from the path (convert them) during the Supreme Ordeal. Instead of the reader worrying the hero might die, they could do something worse, convert to the dark side.

      That’s not to say the antagonist can’t be a mentor, in fact, that’s a really good point and something I should touch on when I get around to posting examples of archetypes and their sub-categories.

      What I think you are talking about is the Treacherous Adviser. The mentor who is manipulating the hero for their own nefarious purposes right from the start.

      I’m a mega-nerd so the example that immediately comes to mind is Ra’s al Ghul in the Batman dark knight series.

      Bruce Wayne (I…am…BATMAN) has left his Ordinary World and embarked on the journey, but is too weak to confront his Supreme Ordeal (clean up the streets of Gotham and restore order). He flounders about until Ra’s al Ghul spots him. Ra’s says, “Here is an impressionable young billionaire driven by vengeance who could be very powerful. If I can mold him, shape him, and mentor him, I can use him to achieve my goals.”

      Bruce Wayne is clueless and see’s Ra’s al Ghul as a helping hand who will teach him to grow stronger and achieve his goals. Little does he know he has unwittingly befriended and idolized a super villain worse than any back in Gotham.

      I don’t know if this example helps clarify it at all – I hope so. I have pre-written all my archetype example posts in my drafts (for those days when the creative well runs dry, or I need a break from the daily grind). I will go into the Mentor archetype post and make sure I enhance this specific sub-category to offer more examples (that are less nerdy).

      Thanks for reading and helping me find more ideas to write about. You always provide extremely intuitive questions, posts, and comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks for the clarification, Corey. Makes total sense, and I can see now where I got things mixed up. The Treacherous Adviser also makes me think of non-living influencers, like the Elder Wand or the Ring from LOTR, though these objects still aim to get the protagonist to serve the antagonist in the end, so perhaps they are extensions of the same thing.

        Interesting Batman example. If my memory serves me correctly, I think Batman overcame Ra’s in the end by surpassing him in skill level and having a better philosophy. It seems like regardless if a protagonist is guided by a Mentor or Treacherous Adviser, the teacher has to die or leave in order for the student to grow. The difference is in how the student grows, so the absence becomes an opportunity for character development and for laying the groundwork for future storylines (Talia avenging her father, etc).

        Just thinking off the top of my head. Maybe there is already a set formula and I just need to find a term for it, like the Treacherous Adviser.

        Glad that my comments are interesting and spark some ideas. I look forward to your Mentor archetype post and other ideas!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I absolutely love non-living influences on characters like you described. I think it’s a concept easily related to by people because many of us feel strange connections, and unreasonable attachments, to certain objects in our own life.

        I hadn’t really thought of it, but now that you mention it, I also see the reoccurring theme of mentors dying or having to leave flowing through many stories. I wonder if this taps into our human experience and becomes relatable because of this (i.e. leaving parents, teachers, mentors). Their absence then leading to more conflict – like Talia (nice catch).

        I always enjoy bouncing ideas back and forth with you Millie. Thanks for swinging in today.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post as usual! You have a very engaging voice so I’m sure your quest for the Elixir will be wildly successful! Thanks for making me think of myself as a hero, now I’m off to slay the mighty dragon of procrastination and get some words on the page!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As writers on our journey, I find success in knowing when I need help. I seek out my comrade when the dragon of editing approaches. This for is my most terrible and draining. Planning your more challenging battles can increase the chance of success. This bringsntonkind another point. Failure is a form of success. I’ll post a blog about that in a few weeks, but just because you didn’t finish THAT book, or it didn’t turn out well doesn’t mean permanent failure anymore than a trip to Hades means death for Hercules.

    As for the structure of the heroe’s journey, I like to play with that arc by pulling out essential points or characters. With 1,200 I removed the mentor. Who would Like have been if he never met On Wan? This is a great twist and wonderful writing prompt for the tires writer.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really liked the points you touched on here. Failure being foremost. In regards to the Hero’s Journey, the hero typically fails over and over again during their journey to the Supreme Ordeal. In fact, it’s essential they do. If they blow through every challenge on the path it’s not very nail biting when the hero encounters the big bad villain, punches them in the face, and turns into bloody confetti.

      For writing, it’s the same. The Allies, Enemies, and Testing period can be much longer for some. And there is still no promise they will win their Supreme Ordeal. But as long as they keep trudging forward their back gets stronger, their mind sharper, and the outlook brighter.

      I love the idea of, who would Luke Skywalker have been if he never met Obi-Wan. Heck, who would Anakin Skywalker have been if he never met Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan? Would he have still became Darth Vader? Those twists offer amazing perspective like you said (this is the kind of nerd talk that can turn our Writer’s Group sessions into a rabbit hole).

      Thanks for the perspective Matt, good luck with your continuing edits of Caught. Oh, and may the Force be with you old chap.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. As I continue to read your daily posts during this 30-Day Blogging Challenge, I marvel at your writing strength and creativity. I enjoyed the content of your post, but I also enjoyed the reading adventure. Your style of writing and your sense of humor make the adventure fun! I am definitely at the beginning of the Hero’s Journey and one day I hope to be a mentor myself. For now, I shall continue to absorb like a sponge and learn from those (such as yourself) who have mastered the art of writing and storytelling.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words and for reading.

      I blushed a little when you said I had mastered the craft, because the truth is, on most days I’m still in the weeds when I sit down to write my stories. I think my Alpha Readers would attest to this.

      Beneath the shiny armor of this blog, is just another writer working every day to straighten out the kinks. For me, the act of writing concepts here and sharing them helps to cement them in my mind. In this way, writing these posts helps me just as much as they hopefully help others.

      Regardless, I really appreciate you leaving this comment and stopping in today. Good luck as you press forward with your 30-Day Challenge!


  7. What a wonderful post! Certainly as writers we are willing to put our characters through all sorts of trials and hardships; it’s great to reframe our own doubts and struggles in the same light. Somehow it seems that little bit more epic than ‘oh crap, I’m going to be stuck with this day job forever…’

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Corey! Great post. As I was reading the post I had a feeling it was written for me 🙂 I recognized myself in the process you were describing in the hero’s journey. It doesn’t seem to me as though you left out something because the journey corresponds to my experiences perfectly.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad The Hero’s Journey resonated with you. It certainly makes life, and the challenge of writing, more entertaining when you think of it as a quest. I think there is something comforting about knowing the struggles we encounter are struggles shared, and also, the stuff of legends.

      I really appreciate you reading and leaving these kind words. Best of luck in your quest 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I am glad to confirm that The Hero’s Journey is true, For some of my stories/books/poetry I’ve reached ‘The End’, however making it with editing/promoting/selling side in the Ordinary World is the battle to get on with because I know I’m focused to a win win situation now. Writing my blog has broken the writer’s block and I having useful articles like this is a bonus. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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  17. Corey,

    So many hero journeys and so many opportunities for people to rule their world. I love how you break this down.

    I just can’t help but think of my hero’s personal arch, Scooby Doo. What a hero journey he had and so fortunate to have Shaggy and the gang as mentors. Is there a better motivation than a Scooby Snack?

    Making me a little hungry but I need to get back to my own character’s journey.


    Liked by 1 person

  18. All the way through I was nodding: saying ‘uh-huh’ and ‘yeah, that’s me’. But it wasn’t until the end that I realized just how important little pick-me-ups (in the form of congrats or people saying how much they enjoyed something of mine) really are. If one person enjoys your creative work, it has to have been worth all the effort – because, if we’re totally honest, writing isn’t painful or exhausting: it’s much too much fun for that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, you can look at yourself as a mentor as well. Your earplug adventures taught me an important lesson: if you like an idea, no matter how outlandish it may seem, pursue the idea to completion and own it. Every time I’m with my family shopping and see earplugs, I can’t help but imagine them having little eyeballs. You made that happen.

      Sidenote: I just snagged the first book in your Junior Earplug Adventures: The Museum of Future Technology. We’ll see if Thor is cheeky enough to enjoy it (he’ll enjoy it; he enjoys everything I read to him).

      Liked by 1 person

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