Creating a Compelling Plot by Using the Mythic Hero’s Journey – Part 1

Gods and GoddessesI was introduced to the concept of the Hero’s Journey by a wonderful book editor, Lesley Kellas Payne. She was kind enough to help me when I first started writing and her lessons proved invaluable. One of the first things she stressed was using the Hero’s Journey to help create a compelling plot.

Joseph Campbell noted in his seminal work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces that there were certain story elements that defied cultural boundaries and were universally accepted. The Hero’s Journey arose as a result of this analysis by Campbell and subsequent works by others. Another good discussion of the Hero’s Journey is by Christopher Vogler and I highly recommend Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey.

How do I use the Hero’s Journey to write my story?

The Hero’s Journey will help you identify the different story elements to include in your novel and the most logical order in which they should appear. Of course, there is nothing which dictates that you must begin in this order, but whenever I am struggling with a book, I find that it’s because I’ve deviated from what I consider the most important story element in the Hero’s Journey — The Ordinary World.

What is ‘the Ordinary World’?

The Ordinary world:

  • Shows the hero in her customary element.
  • Sets the tone and suggests the dramatic question of the story
  • Make the Ordinary World as different as possible from the Special World
  • Why is the Ordinary World so important? Because it sets the stage for what is “normal” for your characters and your job as a writer is to shake up that “normal” and get them started on their journey.

    For example, in DARKNESS CALLS, Diana is all caught up in being a hard-nosed FBI Agent and Ryder is all brooding immortal. I show them in their regular worlds — Diana investigating a case and Ryder catwalks of The Lair — to demonstrate what their lives are like now before we begin their adventure.

    The Call to Adventure

    The Ordinary World tells the reader what is the status quo for your hero/heroine. Now it’s time to layout the details of the challenges the adventure will bring them. What does this do? It:

  • Establishes the stakes of the game
  • Makes the hero’s goal clear
  • Hero is presented with a challenge or adventure to undertake and cannot remain in her Ordinary World
  • For example, in DEATH CALLS (December 2006), we once again meet with Ryder and Diana after they have been involved for two years. The stakes of the game are whether the two will continue to be lovers. Their goals? For Diana, to decide whether to have a normal life or stay with Ryder. For Ryder, whether he will let death claim Diana when it is her time. What is their challenge/adventure? They must move forward emotionally and decide what to do and the adventure that will challenge them to do this is Diana’s investigation of her best friend’s murder.

    What happens if the Hero Refuses the Call to the Adventure?

    It’s not uncommon that the hero/heroine may refuse to move from the Ordinary World and begin their adventure. The hero/heroine is acting the way we all might when confronted with having to do something different. The hero/heroine is refusing to begin the journey because they are fearful of where it will lead. Because of this, the hero/heroine may require the assistance of a Mentor.

    What is a Mentor?

    The Mentor is one of the most important themes in mythology. It stands for the bond between parent and child, teacher and student, god and man. Think Obi Wan and Yoda as the classic mentors. Meeting with the Mentor provides the hero knowledge, confidence, etc. to undertake the Journey. A Mentor doesn’t necessarily need to be kindly. Think of Lou Gossett’s role as the drill sergeant in Officer and a Gentleman. The drill sergeant is a harsh mentor, but goads Zach Mayo into undertaking the journey.

    In fact, if you want to see how the Hero’s Journey works, two great movies to watch are Star Wars and Officer and a Gentleman since they both follow the Hero’s Journey in exactly the order I will be laying out in this discussion.

    ****Coming soon****

    The next three steps in the Hero’s Journey:

  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Tests, Allies and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • Copyright 2006 Caridad Pineiro Scordato

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