The Hero's Journey

By Kristen
Updated December 04, 2007

The hero's journey is a story pattern recognized by Joseph Campbell. It is a pattern that humans tend to follow when going through a period of mental growth.

Kristen's Pick The Hero with a Thousand Faces (Mythos Books)

I have no intentions of insulting Joseph Campbell's work, but I changed some of the labels to make them more descriptive. I have added Campbell's terminology in parenthesis. I've also added a few steps and rearranged a couple of things because my way simply makes more sense to me. I'm sure there are people who will disagree with my changes, and I welcome your comments.

Any character, not just the protagonist, can go through a hero's journey.

Normalcy

Comforts of Normalcy

The character is comfortable in his current state because it is familiar to him. At some level, he may believe "this is the way it's supposed to be" whether he is living in luxury or in a sad situation, such as slavery or loneliness.

Problems in Normalcy

The character has problems in everyday life that he needs to overcome but doesn't because he isn't powerful enough to do anything about them. Sometimes he simply lacks the strength or ability, but other times he has the power but doesn't realize it and his naivety is his lack of power.

Characters

The Aid to the Journey (The Supernatural Aid)

Something or someone gives the character guidance on the journey. This could be a person, multiple people, an object, or multiple objects (e.g. wise friend, multiple individuals with wise advice, a book, a map, a photograph, a story, a series of clues, intuition, etc.) The aid can appear at anytime in the story prior to actually accomplishing the goal of the journey and may appear multiple times. In many stories, at least one aid appears before the first step of the journey, so the character will have at least an idea of where to go and what to do. The aid can help the character but can't do the journey for him.

The Tempters

Someone or something gives the character the opportunity to give up or go the wrong way. Like aids, the tempters can appear at anytime in the story prior to actually accomplishing the goal of the journey and may appear multiple times. Temptation forces the hero to dig deep into his values and challenge his beliefs.

Starting the Journey (Departure)

Separation from Normalcy

Something happens that doesn't normally happen to the character. It is the beginning of the journey, but the character doesn't realize it yet. It can be subtle or obvious. The time between this separation and the call may be just moments, such as during an emergency, or even years, such as with the gradual changes of life.

The Call to Change (The Call to Adventure)

Things begin to change whether or not the character wants them to change. There is now an opportunity for the character to change to better the situation or to remain normal and let the situation play out. Either way, there may be good or bad outcomes.

Refusing the Call (Refusal of the Call)

The character may, but not always, resist the change. Humans tend to try to maintain normalcy, whatever that normalcy may be, for fear of losing security and comfort. Sometimes the character doesn't hesitate for a moment and is raring to go, but such eagerness can also cause problems.

Accepting the Call / Initial Motivation

The character decides to accept the call and start the journey. The character always has a choice. (Even if there's a gun to his head, the character has the choice to fight, follow, or die.)

The First Step (The Crossing of the First Threshold)

The journey officially begins. If the character is going on a trip, the first step may be leaving the house and heading toward the airport. If the character is going on an emotional journey because his father died, the first step would be setting up the funeral arrangements or starting a new lifestyle by doing something he wouldn't have done before the death.

The First Resistance (The Threshold Guardians)

There are often, but not always, something that resists letting that first step happen. Perhaps our hero going on a plane is begged by a loved one not to go, or perhaps the car breaks down, or maybe his flight is grounded. If our hero is dedicated to taking the journey and accomplishing the goal because the goal is more important that the consequences of facing the resistance, he will be persistent and overcome the resistance. Once the hero overcomes this obstacle, it may seem that it's too late for the hero to change his mind and give up.

Accomplishing the Goal (Initiation)

Deepening Motivation (The Belly of the Whale)

The hero reaches a point where the journey becomes very personal to him. Perhaps the hero is personally attacked or trapped by the villain. Perhaps the hero loses something of deep importance. It is a moment of distress when the character realizes why the journey is absolutely necessary and becomes even more dedicated than before. He may be forced to develop a new outlook and goals that focus on the greater good of the journey. There may be multiple points of deepening motivation, each more intense than the previous. With each point of deepening motivation the desire to accomplish the goal of the journey becomes stronger and the consequences of failure become more dreadful.

The Development of Skills and Assets (The Road of Trials)

The character develops skills to accomplish the goal of the journey by encountering tests and learning from experiences. A character may also gain assets, but without the skill to use those assets, the assets are useless. The development of skills may coincide with points of deepening motivation, and even during the discovery of the supreme motivation. The development of skills may also happen at any time during the journey, even right up to the point of achieving the goal.

Supreme Motivation (The Meeting with the Goddess)

The character discovers the most important reason for accomplishing the goal of the journey and has a deep love for this reason. It may be romantic love, family love, universal love, love of wealth, etc. It could even be an obsession with just achieving the goal. This reason becomes the character's supreme motivation, and he will risk everything for it.

Overcoming the Ultimate Obstacle (Atonement with the Father)

The character has to face and overcome the greatest obstacle that has stopped him from achieving the goal thus far. The character may need to gain acceptance by a powerful group, gain a skill, overcome a fear, etc.

Becoming Capable of Success (Apotheosis)

Once the character has overcome the ultimate obstacle, he achieves a state of power and ability that will allow him to accomplish the goal. Realizing that the character has achieved this state creates a moment of hope and eases tension before the final battle.

Achieving the Goal / The Final Battle (The Ultimate Boon)

The character in his/her new state of competence achieves the goal. This is the climax. It is a moment of succeed or die (physical death, emotional death, death of a dream, etc.). Success isn't guaranteed, and some characters will fail, but that does not mean that the experience was fruitless. There may still be the moment of transformation.

Recognizing Transformation

This is the moment of growth when the character realizes that he has become a new person. Once the character has achieved the goal, he achieves a new sense of self. Even if the character failed to achieve the goal, he develops a new strength and understanding.

Entering the New Normalcy (Return)

Refusing Return to Normalcy (The Refusal of Return)

The character has just hit a great climax and doesn't want to return to mundane normalcy. If he succeeded in achieving the goal, he doesn't want the high of success to be over. If he failed to achieve the goal, he may have intense regret and wish to keep trying.

The Aid to Return

The character needs someone or something to help him want to return to normalcy. It must be important enough to pull him away from his refusal.

The Return to Normalcy (The Magic Flight)

The return to normalcy may involve traveling back home, or it could just be acceptance and settling down.

Entering Normalcy (The Crossing of the Return Threshold)

This is the moment that the character realizes he is in a new state of normalcy. It maybe be marked by a simple realization of this new state or by a grand ceremony.

Mastering Problems in Normalcy (Master of the Two Worlds)

By mastering problems on the journey, the character has learned skills that helps him master problems in normalcy. The new normalcy will continue to have such problems, but the character will handle them in a new way.

Life Goes On (Freedom to Live)

The character recognizes the new normalcy and accepts his new position in life. Now, life will go on in this new direction.