Applying the Hero’s Journey

This entry is part 11 of 24 in the series The plot thickens (Mwahahaha)

The Hero’s Journey is one of the more useful plotting methods we’ve looked at so far, because of the specific nature of most of the steps. And I can say this from experience—I’ve used the Hero’s Journey (both Vogler’s and Jung’s versions) to plot at least six books. Of those, I’ve actually written two of them (one with Vogler’s outline and the other with Jung’s).

The Hero’s Journey is a fun method to use for plotting, because it gives a great structure that we instinctively recognize (since it’s based on archetypes from fairy tales and all those myths we had to study in high school). It has some very specific steps to follow, so you have clear suggestions on the types of events to include.

However, sometimes I’ve been disappointed by the Hero’s Journey as a plotting method—when I expect to look at a list of steps and magically have the list tell me exactly how I should handle each of those scenes. That’s not really what it’s for—we still have to use our imagination.

And, as with all plotting methods, we have to be flexible. Not all books require all steps. A murder mystery, for example, may open after the hero has finally accepted the call—when he arrives on the crime scene. He may have another call to adventure, though—something that makes the case personal, if it isn’t already. And, of course, in writing, we have to stay flexible, too. My Hero’s Journey outlines bear only a passing resemblance to the finished products—in fact, I’m not totally sure I even have all the steps left in the manuscripts.

Sometimes it’s tough to see how the Hero’s Journey applies to different genres. Like I said, sometimes in mysteries, we jump in in the middle of the Journey. At Annette’s presentation a few months ago, someone asked about applying the Hero’s Journey to a romance. I was actually convinced to use the Hero’s Journey by The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel, which I won on the Romance Writers’ Revenge blog—and tomorrow, we’ll have co-author Faye Hughes here to discuss how the Hero’s Journey plays out in a romance!

Now the Hero’s Journey is one of my favorite methods of plotting. Have you used the Hero’s Journey? How have you seen it applied in your works or in others’?

Image credit: Svilen Mushkatov

Series NavigationPros and cons of the Snowflake MethodA quick overview of the Hero’s Journey

5 thoughts on “Applying the Hero’s Journey”

  1. Jordan, this blog series has been great. I am plotting out my second book in a trilogy and realize this analysis of “The Hero’s Journey” is really going to help me. Thank you for taking the time to do such well thought out, well written posts.

  2. Thanks, Daron (and Trisha and Carol and Andrew and everybody else who’s commented so nicely)!

  3. Excellent point here–while I LOVE using The Hero’s Journey as a launching point, I never keep to it as a strict rule that guides every moment of the story. It’s been helpful to go back to it at times when I’m stuck to think about hmm, maybe I need a Threshold Guardian here, or maybe the Hero’s sacrifice isn’t strong enough, or maybe what’s lacking is a Resurrection scene. And then I’m back on my way. That’s how *I* use it. It’s a general guideline, one of many places I look to for help when I’m stuck or wondering how I can make something better. But it’s definitely not the only way to plot a story, and I don’t think I’ve ever used it to plot an entire story from start to finish.

  4. So far I’ve used it to identify “what’s wrong” with plots I’ve written previously.
    Now I’m using it to plot a new story.
    And it’s a Romance at the core, so I’m very interested in your guest blogger.

    The Hero’s Journey is really the story about learning and growing, something all of us do and can relate to. The point is that if your main character undergoes a transformation, then he’s been on the Hero’s Journey. I think what trips people up is that a Hero’s Journey is not like real life. People want to create realistic characters and situations (or fantastic characters and situations). Fiction isn’t just about imagination and character development. It’s the embodiment of the author’s own life lessons as told through characters who represent the warring factions in your mind. In real life, we don’t engage in the Hero’s Journey. Or if we do, we get off whenever we want to, at any step.

    I just saw a preview for the new movie “The Box”. The premise is that if you press a button on the box, you get a million dollars, but someone you don’t know dies. I had two thoughts: 1) No one in real life would press the button unless they are a sociopath, and 2) There’s absolutely no way in a fictional book that that button will NOT be pressed. It’s the only way the hero is going to learn his lesson.
    In real life, we have all the knowledge we need (hopefully). In fiction, Heroes are clueless. They have that one blind spot, that one weakness. What the Hero’s Journey is saying is that “the Hero starts at Point A. He ends up at Point B. In between, he is gonna push that button, because it’s the only way he can face his worst fears, to confront his greatest weakness. And, he’s not gonna get that million dollars either. Not in a million years. Serves him right. But he’ll end up with something far greater. And it’s something he had all along.”


  5. The Hero’s Journey is a great plotting method. After reading your post, Jordan, I checked through my manuscripts to make sure I had added everything. Luckily I had and I’ll make sure I use this method as a guide in my future work. Thanks so much for this great blog series.

    I just realised that The Hero’s Journey applies to my writing journey. 🙂 All Authors have a Hero’s Journey, whether they’re published or not.

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