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Thoughts on "The Hero's Journey"

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by ShadeZ, Jul 1, 2021.

  1. ShadeZ

    ShadeZ Maester

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    Wondering what you all think of the basic outline for fantasy known as "the hero's journey"? Is it over used? Is it still valid?
     
  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

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    It is absolutely still valid. From the Bible to Star Wars to Harry Potter, just to name a few from Western Civilization, the Hero's Journey resonates with something in the collective unconscious to draw in the human imagination. If anything, it's a bit under-used. In our culture where the default MC is mostly straight, white, cis, neurotypical, and male, a lot of people don't get to see themselves as the hero, much less take the journey. We need more Mako Mori's, the Japanese young lady from Pacific Rim who is granted a rare opportunity to walk her own journey independent of Raleigh Becket's character arc.
     
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  3. Chasejxyz

    Chasejxyz Inkling

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    It is a very, very basic archetype that many stories fit into. Of course it's not always a 1-to-1 thing (see this video), but not every recipe utilizes salt, fat, acid and heat, but they can still be good and/or interesting.

    The danger with the hero's journey is that an inexperienced writer will take their story and force it into the formula because they feel like they HAVE to in order for it to be "good." There are a lot of "rules" of writing (such as never use adverbs, never use passive voice, never start a story with a character waking up, always use consistent point of view) that people follow blindly without really knowing WHY these are "rules" and when it's okay to break those rules. You NEED to cook fish in order not to get sick, right? But sushi and sashimi exist. Ceviche exists. Hell, even beef tartare exists. But if you know what you're doing and use good ingredients, then you won't get sick from those dishes. If you know what you're doing and the ingredients of your story are good, you can break any rule you want and it'll come out good.

    The reason why the hero's journey is "good" is because it fits well into the 3 act structure and a lot of cultural norms of storytelling. A character starts off as a Joe Everybody, they're forced to go on a quest, they learn, they face some hardships, they hit their lowest point, they triumph over evil, and then they go home learning something important. A story is, ultimately, about a growth or change. A character that doesn't change is inherently boring, because what was the point of everything? But you can also have a character that is faced with pressures to change and doesn't, for whatever reason, and if that's handled well that can be just as interesting. Your main character can think hes the hero but at the big climactic battle he learns that he is, actually, The Baddie. He's forced to face the truth that all he's done has caused irreparable harm to countless others. And if he consciously chooses to stay on his path and do evil, well, that can be very powerful! You can communicate how even "good" people are capable of doing evil, how people can justify to themselves into harming others, lots of stuff.
     
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  4. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    Like 3 Act (which is so fundamental, pretty much everything folks conjure for story structure fits into it) HJ is very flexible, and therefore likely to stay relevant up until humans cease to exist… one can only guess about alien species, heh heh.
     
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  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    I think where a lot of people mess up is that they believe the hero’s journey is a formula for writing stories. It’s more of a way to better understanding heroic story (mythical, fantasy or otherwise).

    I tend to see it as being like the verse-chorus-verse structure of a pop song. Not exactly a rule, common but not universal, practical in a way and usually when someone writes a pop song, they’ll default to that formula often without even realizing it.

    There are alternatives to the three act structure - especially in Asia. I’m sure aliens would be able to make their own alternatives assuming they also tell stories.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2021
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  6. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Inkling

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    That depends on what you mean by "the hero's journey". Classically, its about the hero (or heroine) undertaking some (usually physical) journey or quest and growing in the process, which makes it the character arc or character development in the story. That's why it fits so well in the typical three act structure that many stories follow. The theory behind it is controversial, but that shouldn't stop you using it as a framework if you think it's appropriate for your work.

    I don't use it, or the usual three act structure, because it doesn't fit with my writing style. That doesn't mean my characters don't have their own development arcs, nor does it mean that there aren't various plot points and a climax in the stories.

    I think that you can apply the concept rather more broadly than some writers and critics say. The journey can be more metaphorical than physical and you can explore other aspects of character growth in the process. You can subvert the journey too, if you want to do something different, Or lampshade the journey as a concept and use it as a basis for a parody of some kind. As Chasejxyz says, if you know what you're doing and have good ingredients you can create any number of variations.
     
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  7. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Minstrel

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    It is a useful tool, but as with tropes one should ask oneself at each stage how one can take the ideas and do something unique with those ideas. I would also suggest taking a concept common in martial arts of learning form but understanding that the goal is to move beyond form as one learns the underlying theories that made form work, so that one may find flow.
     
  8. ladyander

    ladyander Dreamer

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    I think it's okay to view a story through the lens of the heroes journey. However, my issue with it is that it's often seen as the only way to write a story or the only way to view a story. That not everything needs to be written to fit a hero's journey, neither does every story need to be twisted to fit it so someone can proclaim that every story is a hero's journey. That there aren't any alternative that might help a writer approach what they want to write or view a story better. Sometimes a story doesn't fit a hero's journey. Not every story will fit into the perspective of it. Which relates to my writing.

    I don't think everything I write, or want to write, fits into a hero's journey. And this is my lens of viewing things on how I approach writing the kind of fantasy novels I want to write. And what I want to write, isn't about here is a hero going about doing heroic things. I think the closet thing I've seen to date that fits my way of thinking is probably the dramatica theory.
     
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2021
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  9. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

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    It's a story structure tool. As such, I think it's impossible to overuse it, that would be like saying 3-act structure is overused. Like with all tools you can use it well or you can use it badly. If it's used badly, then it will stand out and anoy readers. If it's used well then it will be invisible to the average reader and it will make your story flow nicely.

    The best explanation I've come across about why the Hero's Journey is such a powerful story structure is that it mirrors real life. Growing up, leaving your parental home, going out into the world and becoming an adult are a all steps of the hero's journey (without the dragons usually). This makes it resonate with readers.

    As a side note, I've tried reading Joseph Campbell's Hero with a thousand faces, and it's hard to get through (and actually make sense of what he's writing).
     
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  10. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Archmage

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    It doesn't have to be though. There's a great many very succesful stories and series where the character doesn't change. The two best known examples are James Bond and Dirk Pitt. If we ignore the most recent few James Bond films where they stepped away from this a bit, James Bond doesn't change or grow. He starts off as a bad-ass spy and he ends as a bad-ass spy. No character growth in there at all. We enjoy the story because we like seeing a character be bad-ass and solve insurmountable problems. It's a different kind of story, but it's still an enjoyable story.
     
  11. ButlerianHeretic

    ButlerianHeretic Minstrel

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    Same here. Do not recommend. Plenty of online resources will get one the info needed in a condensed, digestible form. Confused how everyone has a different take on the steps in the heroes journey? Yeah that shows it isn't a formula but an outline.
     
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  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    HJ is a bit like a good prophecy: It’s so open to interpretation that you fit most things into it, heh heh. That, and you don’t really need every step, nor do they even have to be in the same order. The fact that HJ is essentially a bildungsroman makes it pretty much eternal to the human experience.

    As for change, it’s more accurate to say that something must (should) change in every scene. I’m sure one can find examples against this, I can think of a chapter in GoT where nothing important changes… a travel scene with internal blah blah blah… but in general, every scene should change something.to keep the tension rolling. This is probably most true in modern story telling and (good) movies.

    As for other lead characters that don’t really change, in the movie Barfly, with Mickey Rourke playing Bukowski, the Barfly doesn’t really change. The world around him change, people come and go, but Barfly is Barfly, even if we think he might change… although it’s been many years since I watched the movie, LOL.

    ``Oh wait! Dumb and Dumber! heh heh.
     
    Last edited: Jul 2, 2021
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  13. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

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    It is. The real original big brain writers go with the 5-act structure.

    But seriously, I’m curious if any writers have tried finding or creating alternate formulas. Like, every writer has some general guidelines with outlining a story and this thread shows that the basic concept of the monomyth is pretty well understood.
    And I’ve tried creating and seeking out alternatives so I imagine someone else has.
     
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  14. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Istar

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    “There is no structure, there is do or do not,” said the mentor archetype in Act 1.
     
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  15. StrawhatOverlord

    StrawhatOverlord Minstrel

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    It's too broad and vague to really be relevant imo. If you can skip steps or do some of them metaphorically and it still counts, how meaningful is it really ?

    It's also in good part a question of practical necessity. You have an imaginary world, need to explain it, best option is to explain it to the POV we're following. But it'd be weird to explain stuff the character already knows, so make them ignorant of it. But then, why is this random ignorant person the hero ? Destiny/prophecy. Boom, chosen one hero.

    Now you need your hero to learn he's the hero, be trained to fight, etc. Most efficient to make all these roles the same person. Boom, Mentor. But wait though, the person who already knows all the things and is so good they can train the hero to be pretty good themselves in short order, how come they don't solve everything ? Just kill them. Narrative problem solved and extra drama as a bonus.

    Then of course the hero will have a low point somewhere, cause you need struggles to make it interesting. And obviously they're changed by the journey cause it'd be weird if an ordinary person went on epic adventures and stayed the same.
     
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  16. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I agree with WooHooMan: the hero's journey isn't a tool for writing. It's a tool for analysis of something already written. Joseph Campbell simply observed that there were common themes and structures across many stories across many cultures and time periods. He abstracted what he viewed s be as the key elements and called them the Hero's Journey.

    It's an observation, not a formula. That hasn't prevented uncounted writers from using it as a formula. Some have done this and written very good stories; some have done this and written lousy stories. Even if you treat it as a formula, it's not one with a guaranteed result. But it will produce a structure that feels familiar, and many have argued that this helps sell a manuscript to agents and publishers.

    It will never be over used and will always be valid. Campbell makes a pretty good case that the Hero's Journey appears in so many times and places precisely because it speaks to something nearly universal in humanity.

    Probably not a good choice for a police procedural, though. <g>
     
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