Before you scout locations or render your visual effects or get your Tokyo camera rentals, you have to write the script, but where do you start? The Hero’s journey can help you write a story. It’s a template for structure and to help make your story dynamic. The order things happen, and the content in each story will always be different, but there’s always a journey. These ideas are primarily founded and contributed to Joseph Campbell, but other writers and scholars have added and modified his views.
Famous examples of the Hero’s Journey are Star Wars, Rocky, Lord of the Rings, The Avengers, The Lion King, and the Matrix, just to name a couple.
There are 12 steps to the Hero’s journey, and each one can be broken down into smaller subsections, but let’s just focus on the 12.
Let’s break down exactly what these steps mean using Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope since most people have heard of it, and it closely follows each step of the journey.
The Ordinary World
This is where the Hero’s exists before his story begins, not knowing of the adventure to come. It’s his everyday life where we learn about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities, and outlook on life.
🌟 Luke Skywalker is living an everyday and humble life as a farm boy.
Call to Adventure
The Hero’s adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life, or to the peace of the community where he lives.
🌟 Luke is called to his adventure by R2-D2 and later Obiwan Kenobi. Luke gets a message from R2-D2 about a Princess that needs help.
Refusal of the Call
The Hero may be hesitant to accept the quest, but at this stage, he or she will have fears, second thoughts, or doubts about accepting the challenge.
🌟 Luke refuses Obiwan Kenobi, telling him that he can’t leave his duty as a farmer and his Aunt and Uncle behind.
Meeting the Mentor
The Hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
🌟 Luke meets Obiwan an old Jedi master who tells Luke about ancient powers and gives Luke knowledge about the past and world outside of Luke’s hometown.
Crossing the Threshold
The Hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether physical, spiritual, or emotional. He may go willingly, or he may be pushed,
🌟 When Luke discovers that soldiers from another planet have killed him, Aunt and Uncle, while he was away. They are searching for a robot, R2-D2.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Now out of his comfort zone, the Hero is confronted with an ever more complex series of challenges that test him in various ways. The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who can’t.
🌟 Luke, Obiwan, and some robots hire a crazy man named Han Solo and Chewbacca to help them escape the planet. Obi-Wan gets in a fight and cuts a guy’s arm off; Luke gets in a gunfight, and Han Solo outruns the bad guys with his ship.
The Approach To The Inmost Cave
The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero’s story, such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face.
🌟 They make plans to go to a peaceful planet, but the Evil Empire blows it up, and the group ends up trapped in the enemy’s fortress.
The Supreme Ordeal can be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face to survive. Only through some form of “death” can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey’s end.
🌟Luke sees his friend and mentor Obiwan die, and Luke sees the big boss himself, Darth Vader, for the first time. Luke gets an idea of what he’s up against.
After defeating the enemy, surviving death, and finally overcoming his most significant personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.
🌟After a series of fights on land and space, Luke is now a warrior. Luke saves the princess and escapes from the evil fortress to safety. Also, Luke gets an ancient weapon and the ability to use the Force.
The Road Back
The Hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his objective and that of a Higher Cause.
🌟 Luke, The Princess, Han, Chewbacca, and the R2-D2 make plans with other good guys about defeating the empire. Han chooses to forget about the evil empire and focus on his own problem’s leaving the group. Luke decides to go back to the enemy fortress and destroy it.
This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death.
🌟 Luke comes close to death at the hands of Darth Vader. Han Solo, who was thought to have left the fight before it began, returns and helps Luke destroy the evil fortress. Luke summons the power of the Force and with it destroys the fortress.
This is the final stage of the Hero’s journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death but now looks forward to starting a new life. The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization, or an end to strife, but whatever it is, it represents three things: change, success, and proof of his journey.
🌟 Luke and Han return to the Rebellion base and receive medals for the heroic journey. There is peace throughout the galaxy, for now.
The best way I found to use the Hero’s journey is to outline your story when you first start writing it. Try to include as many steps as possible.
Joseph Campbell was a very wise and understanding person. His books and videos can help you understand the story on a cultural and human condition level. Try watching any movie or show and see if it follows this structure. You might be surprised by how many shows follow this structure. Lastly, on a personal note, I’ve learned about story writing because the more unique it is, the more people will watch it.