There are many ways to structure your stories but one of the most common is known as The Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell identified this monomyth in his seminal book The Hero With A Thousand Faces, and it was later taken up by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey.
These great myths from all over the world are really about growing up. The stages the Hero journeys through bring him face to face with his own unconscious, forcing a reaction, forcing growth. In summary, the idea is to slay the dragon of your instinct to remain unconscious, to stay a child, and emerge into a Sacred Marriage of opposites, reborn as a whole person.
Vogler divides The Hero’s Journey into twelve stages grouped into three acts:
- Act 1 is the separation or departure from the hero’s ordinary world: something happens which requires a response and the hero must do something – he must change.
- Act 2 details the trials and victories on the hero’s path of initiation, and shows exactly what the hero does in response to the challenge.
- Act 3 is the return and reintegration with society and shows the consequences of the actions taken, whether successful or not.
It’s important to remember – this is just a template. In truly great stories we are rarely aware of the structure as we watch a film or read a novel. Not all stories will need every stage and they don’t even have to happen in this order. With that caveat, here is the whole journey:
1. In Act 1 we meet the Hero in their ORDINARY WORLD
2. The Hero receives a CALL TO ADVENTURE
3. Reluctant to change, the Hero REFUSES THE CALL
4. But after MEETING THE MENTOR, changes their mind
5. The Hero rises to the challenge and CROSSES THE FIRST THRESHOLD
6. In Act 2 the Hero encounters TESTS in this Special World, making ALLIES AND ENEMIES
7. The Hero APPROACHES THE INMOST CAVE where
8. They experience the SUPREME ORDEAL
9. Leading to a REWARD where they Seize the Sword
10. In Act 3 the Hero is pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World
11. The Hero crosses the threshold and experiences another death followed by a RESURRECTION
12. Transformed, the Hero RETURNS WITH THE ELIXIR to share his Boon/Treasure with the Ordinary World.
In this series we’ll take a look at each stage of the journey using examples from the 2011 film Thor.
Part 1 begins in the best place to start, with Thor’s Ordinary World.