Last week, my 15 year-old son was given a creative writing assignment: Write a short story where your main character follows the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey. When he told me about it, of course I was intrigued. Not only because I had never heard of the Hero’s Journey, but because I wanted to know what type of hero story my son was going write! I mean, come on. How fun is this assignment?
I looked at the worksheet from his teacher and also did a little research of my own. I was surprised to find out the Hero’s Journey is basically the steps each of our main characters go through, but here they are wrapped up in a shiny package for us!
The Ordinary World
Most stories take the hero out of their ordinary world and put them into an exciting new world. But you must first show the ordinary so the reader can see the contrast between the two.
The Call to Adventure
The hero is presented with a problem, challenge, or adventure. The call to adventure establishes the stakes of the game and clearly states the hero’s goal.
Refusal of the Call
Often the hero will balk at the threshold of adventure out of fear of the unknown. The encouragement of the mentor will help the hero to get over this fear.
Meeting with the Mentor
By this time, the hero will have some interaction with a wise merlin type character. The hero-mentor theme is common and very rich in symbolic value as it shows the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, and God and man. The function of the mentor is to prepare the hero to face the unknown. They may give advice, or guidance, or even a magical item. However, the mentor can only do so much and eventually the hero must handle the adventure alone.
Crossing the First Threshold
Here, the hero fully commits to the adventure, steps into the new world, and crosses the first threshold. He agrees to face the consequences or challenge presented to him in the Call to Adventure. This is where the story really takes off and the adventure begins.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Once across the First Threshold, the hero (and his allies) encounters new challenges and learns the rules of this new world. This is where we see the first signs of character growth as the hero and his companions react under stress.
Approach to the Inmost Cave
The hero comes to the last edge of a dangerous place. Often this is the most dangerous place in the new world –the Inmost Cave. As the hero crosses this second major threshold into this fearful place, he will often pause to prepare or plan for the challenge.
The hero hits rock bottom in direct confrontation with his greatest fear. This is a life or death situation and his morals are in dire jeopardy. He faces the possibility of death (or some other major catastrophe) and the audience waits in suspense to see if he will survive. This is the critical moment in the story. The hero must “die” in order to be reborn in a way. The reader’s emotions are temporarily depressed so that they can celebrate at the hero’s “return.”
Having beaten the odds, the hero (and reader) rejoice. The hero retrieves the treasure he has been seeking whether it’s a physical object or some type of intellectual knowledge. Oftentimes the hero will reconcile with his biggest fear.
The Road Back
The hero’s not out of the woods yet. Now he must deal with the consequences of confronting the powerful forces of the Supreme Ordeal. If the hero has not yet reconciled with a parent or raging being, they may come after him. Here, the hero must also make the decision to return to the ordinary world even though there are still challenges to face.
This is often a second life and death moment where the hero will face one final test. Here the reader will know if he has finally learned the lessons from confronting the Supreme Ordeal. The hero is transformed during these events and will return to the Ordinary World a changed person.
Return with Elixir
The hero returns to the Ordinary World but his return is meaningless without the treasure (either physical or intellectual). He shares this treasure with those around him knowing (whether it’s a healing potion or some other lesson learned) that it may be useful to the community around him.
Keep in mind these stages of the Hero’s Journey are flexible and can be customized to any story without losing its power or magic. As I read each of these stages for the first time, I thought of my own middle grade novel. It was a great exercise trying to see if my MC followed the steps of the Hero’s Journey in any way at all. And I was so excited. She pretty much does! Give it a try with your own story. See how heroic your main character is after all.
Oh, and because I can’t resist telling you…my son’s short story followed the Hero’s Journey of Rocky, a brave hockey stick who finds his strength by learning to flex his blade just in time to save the game. He begins his journey on a rack in a hockey shop, and after being chosen by a 15 year-old boy, he faces his fear with the help of a more experienced taller hockey stick owned by the boy’s older brother. He eventually ends up taking the winning puck home to his new rack in the garage and shares his newfound knowledge with the other new sticks. Great fun story!
I hope these 12 steps help you in some way. Every story needs a hero. Now you know the steps he needs to take to navigate the world you put him. If you found this info useful, pass it on if you can. I think its too good not to share! Thanks!
Have a great day, Friends! See you all next week. 🙂