Posted by: Alastair Rosie | December 16, 2012

Part 13 The Summary

THE HERO’S JOURNEY A SUMMARY

Here’s where we put it all together in one short article. There are books out there that delve into the Hero’s Journey and probably do a much better job than this series but here we’ll do it in bullet form as it’s something I find works for me. To reiterate what I said earlier, the stages don’t have to come in this exact order and some might be dropped out completely. You’re not following a formula you’re telling a story and this is something I can’t emphasize strongly enough. Do not think about the money you might earn. Do not try to cash in on the success of whatever novel or movie has inspired your story. This last point is very important if you understand that the marketing program that went into Twilight was months if not years in the planning and your vampire book won’t cause the publishers to leap on you, they’ll probably run the other way.
Just tell the story. You are the storyteller and if you don’t tell the story the way you want it, then it dies with you. Seriously. If the unthinkable happened and you wind up dead tomorrow, even if you’ve left your work to a friend or partner, even they can’t tell the story the way you would have wanted.
With that in mind let’s look at the Hero’s Journey as a recipe and without stretching the roast dinner recipe too far, you need several things for a roast dinner. You need meat or another substitute if you’re a vegetarian. You need vegetables and you need a gravy or sauce. A roast dinner is a good analogy because although you’re limited by certain food groups, there are many foods within those food groups you can use. Your vegetarian loaf may not have meat in it but it’s still a roast dinner, so let’s begin.
The Ordinary World. This is where your story starts, the ordinary world can be like our world, a city like New York or Glasgow or it might be an alien world like Tatooine. It may be functioning perfectly until it’s rudely disturbed or it may be dysfunctional like the world in Apocalypse Now. The ripple in the pond might be faint or a violent disruption. The Ordinary World is where you introduce your reader to this world, lay out some of the rules and we get to meet some of the cast. You don’t need to tell us everything and it’s probably best if you don’t reveal all, just tell us enough to get us to the next stage.
The Call to Adventure. In Star Wars IV, or the first Star Wars if you hated the other three movies, the call to adventure is rescuing the princess. It’s a definite summons from one character to another or it might be an event like a brutal murder that propels your hero forward. It might be the chance to retrieve a rare artefact or treasure or finding a murderer but it needs to be expressed in some shape or form whether vocally or through action.
Refusal of the Call. This doesn’t have to an actual refusal although it often is but it is a place where you outline the risks. You’ve got the Ordinary World, the Call to Adventure or Threat and now you lay out the consequences if they accept the call and what will happen if they refuse it. If it’s a crime story then perhaps your hero has to accept the call if she’s a detective, it is her job but you still need to have some doubt and hesitation, so lay out the risks.
Meeting the Mentor. Your hero might have accepted the challenge and now they need some help because otherwise they might not make it past the first hurdle. Your mentor might be a new character who’s brought in or it might be new information. A clue that gets them started, an old mentor from the past, a wife, husband, a child. You wouldn’t send someone out to build a house without making sure they had a hammer and nails. Here’s where you can equip your hero and this stage can be repeated later on as in Fellowship of the Ring.
Crossing the First Threshold. This is the point of no return. It could be a place where you give the reader and the characters time to reflect, it’s the last time to look before you leap. Is the parachute packed properly? Are we at the right spot? Is there something we’ve forgotten? In storytelling it could be the point an ally or mentor dies. This is often utilised to good effect because the hero has some motivation for carrying on and we want to see justice done.
Tests, Allies and Enemies. This can be as long as you want and the tests, allies and enemies can be as varied as your imagination. Your hero has crossed the First Threshold and are now in a Special World. It’s your task to throw whatever you can at them to try and stop them and introduce characters and situations that can help them. It’s usually heading towards the middle of the book or the end of Act Two in movies. Make sure each test is harder than the previous one, you’re drawing the reader along slowly and if you’ve done it right they’ll follow. Your allies can become a crucial part of the story or perhaps they drift in and out again. It’s this part also where the plot begins to fill out and we find out more information about the villains, the heroes and the overall threat. If you’ve got more information about your world you can have fireside scenes where a mentor imparts more information to the hero.
The Approach to the Inmost Cave. This is where your hero has gone through the tests and we’re gearing up for the big one. It’s where you up the ante on your approach to the bad guy’s hideout or maybe a fortress along the way. Your hero may gain more equipment, a new helper or some new information.
The Ordeal. In a book this is the central tent pole that stops your plot from sagging in the middle and in film it is usually the end of Act Two. You have a supreme ordeal, a test that might demand everything of your hero. You may have your hero die metaphorically at least, perhaps they’re plunged into the water and we have a few minutes to ponder if you’ve done the unthinkable and killed your hero. Then they emerge, hopefully. If they don’t and you’ve done a Hitchcock move, as in Psycho, then you need to have a second hero in the wings to take the story forward. It’s doable but do with caution as killing your hero at this stage can kill your story as well.
The Reward. The reward is the prize they’ve been seeking. It could have been discussed earlier or it might be something else that no one considered until the ordeal, a new prize. Perhaps the original ordeal was a red herring tossed out by the villain. This is the place where you reward your hero or heroes, they’ve completed a truly horrendous test. You confirm their hero status and give them a reward before you start them on the road back.
The Road Back. Now your hero has the reward it’s time to head back towards home and it might be an actual physical journey or it could be a psychic change as in When Harry Met Sally, a realisation but you’re heading for a new crisis, a last battle or a second death. Your hero has survived the Ordeal but they’re not out of the woods yet.
The Resurrection. This is also known as the Second Threshold, the Second Death, or the Climax and in Bond movies is where the villain tries one last time to kill Bond and destroy the world. It could also be a final confrontation between a man and woman who’ve become estranged. This is where your hero has to prove once and for all that she is worthy of the title Hero. You kill your villain here or if you’re writing a series at least kill his right hand man.
The Return with the Reward. This is the part where you tidy up loose ends. Your hero has returned with something to benefit mankind as a whole, their local community or it could be a personal triumph as in Hope Floats. It might be a sacred marriage or it could be an ending that leaves us with more questions.
These stages don’t have to be in that particular order and some can be discarded if you feel confident enough about doing so. You can even repeat some stages like Refusing the Call. In The Terminator, Sarah refuses the call twice and has to be yanked over the threshold by Rhys, the first time in the night club, the second time at the police station. You can vary the tempo and thrust according to the rules of your world. As mentioned last week it’s not a formula, simply a list of check points or guide posts. The Hero’s Journey works because right now sitting with your work in progress in front of you, you’ve started out on a Hero’s Journey. Your goal is to publish your work and there are all kinds of tests and nasty surprises along the way. So go on ahead and revisit your story, sketch out your stages on scene cards or drop the stages into a document and outline each scene beforehand. The method will depend on your own personal preference. Some folks are plotters and like to have it all sketched out and some write by the seat of their pants. Both ways are actually right and I’ve used both methods to write novels. Last month I went back to the plotting methodology for this vampire novel.
Your quest awaits and you are the hero of your own story. I wish you all the very best in your writing career and thank you for going through this quest with me. I’ve certainly applied some of these lessons to my own work in progress so this series has helped me get a grip on the Hero’s Journey. So what are you waiting for? Your quest awaits you.

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Responses

  1. Never a truer word has been spoken! “Do not think about the money you might earn. Do not try to cash in on the success of whatever novel or movie has inspired your story”.

    You have fantastic tips here, Alistair – thank you so much (I’ve bookmarked this page!) 😀


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