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Why the hero's journey?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by EccentricGentleman, Jul 24, 2013.

  1. I'm familiar with the concept of the hero's journey, when I took a course in creative writing my tutor laid out each step for me. Told me that every great story ever told or whatever would be told is a hero's journey. But I still don't understand why we need it. What's the point of moulding our story around this pre-existing skeleton? I've been told that we all relate to the hero's journey but I don't understand how or why.

    Also, my understanding of the hero's journey is that the hero starts out with some kind of character flaw, cowardice, emotional issues, lack of experience etc… and when he goes to the hero's journey specifically targets that flaw and forces him to fix it so by the end he is a much more evolved, well rounded person. But I'm planning on writing a series of books involving the same characters, and if I have to have them overcome an inherent flaw at the end of every book then eventually they're going to have no flaws left and no one likes a character like that.
    Last edited by a moderator: Oct 11, 2017
  2. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    Because it works.

    Most books you read and movies you watch can be fit into this structure.

    Valid comment, and one that I don't feel entirely qualified to answer. Perhaps because most stories we've ever had told to us has this basic format, we expect it and respond to it. Perhaps there's something innate about the format that speaks to us psychologically.

    All I know is that it works and, if you're not going to use it, you probably need to pay a lot more attention to your story arc. I will say that the trick, I think, isn't to think of it as a formula as much as a structure and to be creative in your application of it.

    I think you have to consider the entire series and how that fits into the structure. The growth in the character doesn't happen, necessarily, after the first book but at the end when the final challenge is overcome. The trick is to have a character arc that progresses throughout the series.
  3. I haven't thought that far ahead, i'd like the freedom to just make up each installment as I go.

    Again, is every story a hero's journey?
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Not every story is a hero's journey, and you don't have to use it in your own writing. But it seems to have a sort of universal appeal to human beings.
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    The hero's journey works because somebody gave it a name and a package and explained it.

    But I really wish somebody would name and package and explain some other formulas because I'd love to see people talk about new things and then mix and match.
  6. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror


    I'm going for the mountain...
  7. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    That's an interesting link, Butterfly. I don't think these are necessarily mutually-exclusive, though. I think you could follow "the mountain" and still have a hero's journey.
  8. Trick

    Trick Auror

    Because the villains journey doesn't have a readership.

    I'm not saying you can't write from the POV of the villain, but often times in works like that, they turn out to be the hero anyway. This, as BW said, is a structure. It's not so tightly controlled that you can't be a writer with a story like none other - it just means that stories follow a certain structure and most successful books and movies etc can be broken down this way. There is also the idea of open ended stories that don't complete the structure so you can always go that route.

    If you watch Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (which is hysterical BTW) it's story arc is actually kind of unique. It follows a villain who is obviously good at heart and there's a hero who is so prideful, narcissistic and careless that he's almost a villain. The ending is what get's you though.

    When the girl he loves dies in a debacle between him and the 'hero' Dr. Horrible actually becomes a real villain because he now has the darkness one needs to be evil. It ends that way, without him ever being redeemed and with the 'hero' being in therapy. Loved the idea of a broken story structure.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  9. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I like the idea of a hero's journey as a more emotional/internal one. Life itself is a journey, so this is something we can all relate to. Journeys take on different approaches so it doesn't all have to be cheesy. My current WIP is a personal journey of how the protagonist grows to become a villain in the next story. I find it fascinating.
    Trick likes this.
  10. Thanks for the feedback.

    But to get back to one of my points, how do I write a series if my main character has to resolve something within himself every time? As I said, I want to make it up as I go.

    On the other hand, d9o I have to do this? as far as I can see this emotional journy didn't happen in Indiana Jones or any of the Sherlock Holmes stories.
  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Like I said above, you don't have to follow it. Its something that shows up across cultures in myths and seems to resonate with humans on a certain level. You aren't bound by it.
  12. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    First off, no you don't have to do this. Many stories feature main characters that are unchanging. However, many of those have supporting characters who do change. They help move the story.

    Second, you don't have to have your character resolve something each installment. There are many different story options within a character arc. Resolution is but one of those ways.

    The three major topics for arc are growth, change, & fall. Within these the variations are limited only by your imagination.
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  13. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

    There are a few genres where it is typical that the protagonist doesn't change at all. Sherlock Holmes is a perfect example. Some swashbuckling action, especially episodic stuff that's also the case. It works in those kind of stories.

    In fantasy, if your protagonist is a hero with nothing to overcome except for beating up bad guys, then they already possess everything needed to do the job. It can be entertaining, but only so far as the action is interesting.

    The protagonist doesn't need to be a hero. They can be many other things, but there is an expectation of transformation. When it doesn't happen, most people will become bored with the character. Indiana Jones does transform. but it's subtle. He tries not to care for anything except the treasure, but only when he cares more for people does he succeed. Indy constantly fails, all the time because he is always after the treasure. It's a kind of repetitive moral lesson. But, he's got just enough wiles that once in a wile he tricks fate that seems to want to teach him to be a "good boy".
    Last edited: Jul 24, 2013
  14. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    It's better to just write the story, then let others determine what interpretation they can use to make it fit their models. Because the hero's journey can be so broadly interpreted, it's only natural that most stories can be squeezed into it, like a horoscope that's accurate for everyone who reads it.
    Jamber likes this.
  15. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    Absolutely, Feo.

    Another example that comes to mind is Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple in Agatha Christie's crime series. I'm a huge Christie fan and have a hefty collection of her works. Even though both of these characters stay the same throughout their series, I'm still drawn to them and the way they solve cases. There's always something new going on with the stories and their approach to what's going on. So its totally possible to have a good fan base that follows your character throughout several stories and still have freshness going on for your audience.
  16. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver


    Most (all?) of the major characters in Glen Cooks popular 'Black Company' series do not follow the 'hero's journey'. They end up doing the 'right thing', but do so out of self interested pragmatism.

    Likewise, the major 'Bridgeburner' characters in Eriksons 'Malazan' series remain largely unchanged throughout the series, something true of many or most of the other characters. This despite engaging in innumerable philosophical debates.

    I'd also argue that most of GRRM's characters in 'Game of Thrones' are not on the hero's journey. Indeed, some appear to be heading down the opposite track.

    In my own writing...

    ...with 'Labyrinth', the MC does change - and that change is what the core of the tale is about - but its not a heroic transformation. His top sidekick...matures somewhat.

    In the Toki/Hock-Nar tales, Toki (fails) to grapple with his personality flaws for a long while.
  17. SineNomine

    SineNomine Minstrel

    Oh god, don't listen to anyone who tells you there is a single way to construct a story. Hero's journey has a relatively bad reputation among a lot of writers for this reason, the people that like it go all the way and make ludicrous claims about it being the One True Path. They are, excuse me, full of crap.

    There are LOTS of good ways to construct a story, and some people get by with no intentional structure anyway. In the end, how you construct your story is likely not going to be the way people deconstruct it unless you spend time telling everyone the specific way you constructed it or you end up making it so by the rules that it is completely predictable and bland (Perfect example for hero's journey being Eragon).
  18. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    Does anyone remember the name of that critic who hated Star Wars because it doesn't follow the Hero's Journey properly? (I remember he said it was ruined because the princess is freed and the villain is defeated in the wrong order.)
  19. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Guy must not have understood The Hero's Journey. It's one of the movies most cited as an example of it, and if I remember correctly, Lucas actually consciously used it.
  20. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

    What I find most frustrating about the standard Hero's Journey is its presumption that all stories need to center on character change, or more specifically how they have to be about a character's psychological maturation. It's like we're only allowed to write stories with some obvious moral message (or Aesop as the TV Tropes people would call it). Now I can appreciate a story with a moral, don't get me wrong, but I resent having to force in a moral fable into everything I write.

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