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How to Write the Hero’s Journey into your Novel

Join us as we delve deep into the Monomyth of Joseph Campbell and explore the rich framework of the Hero's Journey.

“Perhaps some of us have to go through dark and devious ways before we can find the river of peace or the highroad to the soul’s destination.”

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Hey Authocrats, Joseph here.

Myths are everywhere. They’re in the movies we watch; they’re in the stories we read and tell to our children before they fall asleep; they’re even in the advertisments we consume.

Myths are the foundation of our society, and one myth stands out above the rest, and that is the Hero’s Journey.

As writers, we have the responsibility to incorperate these myths into our writing and do them not only justice, but place our own unique spin on the formula.

So, sit back and get your mythological caps on, Authocrats. We’re about to embark on a hero’s journey of our own and learn exactly how to incorperate the monomyth into our writing!

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1) The Comforts of Home

Home is certainly where the heart is!

Our heroes are reclining at home amongst all the comforts of the norm, and yet, there’s something missing.

There’s something out there that our would-be hero needs. He or she is happy, they knows they are, but they long for something more.

Little does he/she know that something will soon find him…

Bilbo Baggins sits outside his home at Bag End, quite content with his life in The Shire. He doesn’t necessarily want an adventure, but deep deep down, he does really!

Luke Skywalker works on his uncle’s moisture farm, but looks to the twin suns in anticipation of an adventure.

Harry Potter sits in his cupboard under the stairs thinking anything could be better than living with the Dursleys. 

Three types of heroes, three different motives for adventure – with one thing in common: it all begins at home!

How to use it: Home doesn’t have to be pleasant. In fact, as Harry Potter has illustrated, it can be a drab place. But one thing is certain – it needs to set the stage for the thrust of adventure. Speaking of which…

2) The Thrust of Adventure

Oh, no, wouldn’t you have it, that home has now been destroyed in some way.

Well, maybe not destroyed, but at least harmed or threatened.

Also called the inciting incident, some tragedy or threat has forced our hero’s hand. Now they must set out into the unknown in order to save what remains from this great evil!

In Luke Skywalker’s case, that home is quite literally destroyed – burnt to a crisp by stormtroopers. But, it’s for the best. After all, who really wants to watch a trilogy about life as a moisture farmer?

Harry Potter’s home is destroyed when he quite literally can no longer stand it. Hogwarts is his home, and yet he has to start each and every one of his adventures back at Privet Drive. There’s never been a greater thrust towards adventure than that!

In the case of Frodo Baggins, however, that threat is quite literally on his doorstep.

He has a choice, embrace the thrust of adventure, or… “Keep it secret, keep it safe.” But again, who wants to see a trilogy of Frodo sitting in the Green Dragon sipping on a half pint?

How to use it: Use the inciting incident to kick off an emotional and thematically appropriate journey for your MC. No-one is going to want to follow a character on an arc if niether you nor the hero has their heart in it. Make the thrust of adventure count!

3) The Death of the Mentor

As if things couldn’t get any worse, now our hero’s only mentor in this unknown world has gone and keeled over.

Can he fight this evil on his own? Well… that’s ultimately up to you, isn’t it?

Let’s admit it, though, we all got a little bit teary eyed when Gandalf fell off the Bridge of Khazad-Dum, just the same as when we all arguably more teary eyed when Dumbledore fell from the Astronomy Tower. 

Falling from things seems to be a prevalent theme here…

At least Obi-Wan Kenobi had the decency to just evaporate into nothing. But, then again, Star Wars has no shortage of people falling down extremely long and functionally redundant shafts.

But I digress…

With the death of our hero’s mentor, he/ she must continue their venture without their wise old sage guiding their every move. 

We can only hope the training has paid off!

How to use it: The Death of the Mentor is a major coming of age moment for your hero. Use it wisely. They are currently knee deep in the unknown world and their only tether to the old one has just been severed. Now is the time to add some emotional punch to your story and have your hero come into their own and attempt to tackle this evil. Now it’s just a matter of whether or not they will succeed...

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4) The Crushing Defeat

Bystander 1: Oh, woe is me! Who shall save us now?

Bystander 2: (Points to the sky) Look! A new hero has emerged in our darkest hour! Hurrah! He shall save our poor souls!

Bystander: (In shocked awe) No… no, he’s been defeated. So much for that… I had such high hopes…

Indeed, we all had high hopes.

Our hero has got him/herself defeated and now there is no chance of good prevailing. If only our mentor had not sacrifced himself to save our hero.

At this point, our hero is worthless and knows it.

  • Luke Skywalker got his hand chopped off… oops, there’s no coming back from that!
  • Harry Potter walked into the Forbidden Forest to exchange his life for those of his classmates… albeit with the resurrection stone, but that’s beside the point.
  • Finally, Frodo Baggins got to Mount Doom and decided he didn’t really fancy doing away with the One Ring and decided to keep it instead.

Evil has triumphed, and all hope has lost. Or is it?

How to use it: This must be the lowest point of your character’s arc. It is rock bottom, truly. From here, the only way to go is up. This is your chance to bring your character’s will to survive to the front and centre, cement them as the hero they dreamed of being in section 1, and achieving that sought after victory they truly deserve.

5) The Rise to Victory

Being called pathetic has stirred something in our hero – something deep inside that they always knew was there.

All that taunting has done the trick and they have gotten back up and kicked the villain in the backside.

Victory is ours this day!

  • It appears that loss of limb was actually quite encouraging for Luke Skywalker after all, spurring him on to redeem his Father and help vanquish the Emperor (albeit by fidgeting on the floor whilst his dad did all the heavy lifting.)
  • Gollum bites Frodo’s finger off because he too wants the ring, and they tumble off the edge of the precipice and into the lava pit. That does the job quite nicely.
  • Harry Potter’s sacrifice was equally as useful, as he got to have another pep talk with his mentor before coming back to life and going into the final battle.

Sidenote: This is another familiar trait in the Hero’s Journey: the mentor usually comes back in some form – whether it as a ghost (I.E. Obi-Wan), a sort of symbol of Death (I.E. Dumbledore) or as a slightly different colour (I.E. Gandalf.)

Needless to say, the day is won! Hurrah! But what happens now?

How to use it: This is the climactic moment in your story. Everything has been building to this moment – every character arc, every aspect of your story since the inciting incident, everything comes to fruition. It’s been a long time coming, but the work isn’t yet over. Make sure your climax has a Cathartic undertone, albeit with a positive spin!

If you are interested in adding an extra Cathartic punch to your story’s climax, or would simply like to know what on Gaia Catharsis actually means, then we would reccommend that you head on over to our article on “7 Ancient Greek Character Traits every Writer should know!”

6) The Return Home

Now that the day is won, it’s time to head home (if there is one left after the inciting incident.) 

  • In Harry Potter’s case, it’s time to reluctantly head back to the Dursley’s, because for some reason these horribly neglectful people remain his lawful guardians, despite the fact everyone knows how terrible they are.
  • Luke Skywalker doesn’t have a home to return to, on account of it being reduced to ash (sidenote: definitely no moisture to farm anymore!) So he wanders the Galaxy for a bit before settling down into quiet hermitage on Ahch-To. A decidedly common retirement option for Jedi who have given up the ghost (pun intended.)
  • Frodo returns home as well – which in the books is slightly more explosive than in the films. In the books, despite having saved the day, the ramifications of war stretched all the way back to The Shire, which is now ruled over by a warlord named Sharkey (secretly Saruman the White.) Not to worry though, it’s nothing a few Hobbit archers can’t fix! Do give it a read if you haven’t. It’s delightfully strange.

Regardless of the circumstance, the return home is always a solemn one. Many objects of sentiment, be they things or people, have been lost along the way, and home simply isn’t the same anymore…

So, maybe it’s time for the next big adventure?

How to use it: The return home can be played in a multitude of ways. Either it can be a victorious affair with lots of drinking and celebrations, or it can be laden with the itch get out there and do it all again. Depending on whether or not you intend to do a sequel, perhaps its best to leave off where you intend to begin with the next one!

And that concludes our segment on Plotting the Hero’s Journey!

I do love tracing out prevalent tropes in literature and film. There are a surprising amount of common themes, especially with regards to how our Heroes go from point A to point B.

Can you think of any more stories that abide by this rule? Let us know in the comment section below!

Until then, stay creative, Authocrats!


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