Being a writer – part 19 – The Hero’s Journey

Hi Everyone,

We’re looking at the overall story-line of your novel in today’s self-publishing update. Specifically the hero, your main character, the guy or girl you want the reader to care about the most.

Firstly, this weeks progress

Some progress on the writing front on the sequel to “Am I really a secret alien spy?” Another busy week for me, but I have still managed to add around 2,000 words. Some slow progress on my joint project, but we’re standing at around 15,000 words. We’re aiming for 40,000.

Some exciting developments – I have got together with a group of people looking to put on a book fair in the new year. More about that in the coming weeks as the project develops.

This week, I’m going to talk about the “hero’s journey.”

What is the hero’s journey?

The theory was documented in 1949 by Joseph Campbell, and broadly speaking is a template in which your main character follows throughout the book.

Isn’t that the plot?

Well, yes and no. While the plot of your book is the sequence of events, the cause and effect – the heroes journey sits within that and focusses on how your hero deals with the events thrown his way.

What are the elements of the hero’s journey?

  1. The departure
  2. The initiation
  3. The return

Or, if you prefer, the start, the middle and the end. Joseph Campbell broke these 3 elements down into 17 subheadings. Some stories will use more than others. Let’s look at more detail.

  1. The departure

Here we join our hero on their day to day, their normal routine. We find out a little bit about them but then something unusual happens to jolt them from the norm. Rose wants to jump off the Titanic, Luke is visited by R2D2, Harry is visited by Hagrid. Often they’re unwilling to go, sometimes they meet a mentor – Jack, Obi-wan, Dumbledore – who convinces them to progress to stage 2.

The subheadings of element 1: (I like Star Wars, sorry all non sci-fi fans out there)

1.1 The call to adventure – “Luke come and defeat the empire.”

1.2 The refusal – “no thanks.”

1.3 External help – “here’s a lightsabre.”

1.4 Cross the threshold – “let’s go to Alderaan.”

1.5 The “point of no return” – escaping in the millennium falcon

Anyone who read last week’s blog about chapter 1 will know that starting with the mundane day-to-day is not a great opener. Remember the opening Star Wars scene was a starship fight and not Luke on Tattooine.

  1. The initiation

This phase sees the hero “settling in” to their new journey. They must use their learnings from phase 1 to apply to a series of challenges. There is a key event – a major turning point. The point that everything has been leading up to and the point where everything that happens subsequently is a result of that major event. The Titanic hitting the iceberg, Harry meeting Voldemort for the first time, Luke joining the rebels.

The subheadings for element 2:

2.1 Trials – shooting Tie fighters, invading the Death Star

2.2 Meet some friends – Han, Chewy and Leia

2.3 Temptation – Han asking Luke to go with him

2.4 The key event – Luke joins the rebels

2.5 Show time – the most difficult part of the journey – defeating the Death Star

2.6 Achieving the goal – destroying the Death Star

  1. Return

The Death Star is destroyed, Voldemort is defeated, Rose escapes the Titanic and her fiancé and now this is the end. The main character realises what it is they want/how they want to live the rest of their days. Luke as a Jedi, Harry a wizard and Rose living every day in a new country outside her old life.

Here, the detail from Joseph Campbell isn’t fully applicable, but I’ve included it anyway:

3.1 Refusal to return to the old way of life

3.2 Flight – escaping with the object of the quest

3.3 The hero may receive help from one of the characters they have met along the way

3.4 Return to the old world

3.5 Balance – balancing the new with the old

3.6 Finally we leave the hero, their work complete…at least until the sequel.


As with all advice you will see on writing, the theory is hugely subjective and there are many other theories on how to develop your main character.

If you would like any assistance with your hero’s journey or anything self-publishing related, contact me here.

See you next time

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