Plotting with The Hero’s Journey

There are many, many ways to plot a book. But, quite honestly, almost all of them… okay the good ones… all tie back in some way to The Hero’s Journey. They may use different names for the steps or plot points. They may not ask you to come up with as many steps or plot points, but the overall flow and idea came in some way from The Hero’s Journey. So no matter what plotting method you settle on for your writing, having some knowledge of plotting with The Hero’s Journey is, if not a must, a very good idea.

plotting with the hero's journey

Sidenote: If you arrived at this page without really knowing what exactly The Hero’s Journey is or why writer’s love plotting with The Hero’s Journey, you may want to visit What is the Hero’s Journey? and come back.

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Let’s do it.

Plotting with The Hero’s Journey, Some Tips

The Hero’s Journey contains a lot of symbolism. You can go more or less literal with this. For example The Belly of the Whale. I wouldn’t go completely literal with this. There really aren’t that many stories that call for someone being swallowed by a whale. But you can choose to put your character in a dark and scary, even damp, setting or you could just put your character in that state of mind. Both are legitimate choices. I do, though, think it is fun to try to be more literal on some of these when you can. It gives you something to play with.

Also, you can leave steps out and you can move steps around. The main thing you want to make sure of is that you maintain movement of rising and falling action in your story. You need to put your character in a place of resistance, then let up a bit… then hit him again. (I talk about this a bit in my article on The W Plot.)

Finally, as you learn more about The Hero’s Journey, you will begin to see it everywhere. Use that. Watch for it. See what steps and stages you can name in your favorite movies and books. The plot for the original Star Wars movie was written to follow The Hero’s Journey and in each step I’ve listed the matching scenes from Star Wars A New Hope.

Now, really, let’s do this…

Plotting with The Hero’s Journey – Stage One (Act One in a Three-Act Structure): Departure

Ordinary World

Life as character knows it before the adventure begins. Often only a small slice of this is shown in modern genre fiction—or not at all. (Star Wars: Luke on the farm.)

The Call to Adventure

When the character is first notified everything is about to change.  (Star Wars: Obi-Wan “You must come with me to Alderaan”)

Refusal of the Call

Just what the title says. The character’s first reaction is “no, not me.” (Star Wars: Luke says “No, I’m staying on the farm.”)

Supernatural Aid

After character commits to journey a mentor or aid appears. This meet with the mentor also might be what gives the character a nudge to commit to the journey. (Star Wars: Obi-Wan and to some degree droids.)

The Crossing of the First Threshold

The character actually enters the new world created by taking the call. Shows the reader that the main character is somewhere new/away from the ordinary world. (Star Wars: Mos Eisley spaceport and the cantina.)

The Belly of the Whale

Point where the character is transitioning between two worlds (ordinary and new) and two selves (before changes needed to succeed at the journey and after). Often symbolized as something dark and scary…like being trapped in the belly of a whale.  Character shows at this point that he is ready to die (at least let his old self die). (Star Wars: the trash compactor.)

Plotting with The Hero’s Journey – Stage Two (Act Two in a Three-Act Structure): Initiation

The Road of Trials

Series of tests, tasks, or ordeals that the character has to undergo to begin the transformation that he came to grips with in the Belly of The Whale. The character often fails at one or more of these tasks…he is learning to become a character capable of ending the journey victorious. (Star Wars:  events leading to the destruction of Death Star and rescue of Princess Leia.)

The Meeting with the Goddess

Point where the character experiences a love that is powerful and significant, like the love of a mother or the mother goddess. This may take place within the character—a marriage of sorts of his two halves, spiritual and physical or this may be represented by the character loving another character in this all-encompassing way.  (Unconditional love and/or self-unification) (Star Wars: Luke’s feelings for Princess Leia.)

Woman as the Temptress

Does not have to be a woman, but something that represents the hero’s need to step away from his physical/earthly needs. This is, however, often shown with a woman, the lust the hero feels for her, and his own disgust over this lust that could pull him away from his journey. (Star Wars: Princess Leia is both Goddess and Temptress.)

Atonement with the Father

This is the midpoint in the journey. The character confronts and is initiated by whatever holds the most power in his life—taking on the father to become a man of his own. Everything has led us to this point. It is where the character proves he is capable of going on alone. Character’s old self dies at this point, sometimes literally.  (Star Wars: Luke puts aside the computer and lets the force lead him.)

Apotheosis

Point of divine knowledge after death. In modern fiction short this is a period of peace and fulfillment before the character begins the final stage of the journey. (Star Wars: Luke’s high after putting aside the computer.)

The Ultimate Boon

Achievement of the goal of the journey. (Star Wars: Things look bad for the Death Star and Luke understands the ways of the Force.)

Plotting with The Hero’s Journey – Stage Three (Act Three in a Three-Act Structure): Return

Refusal of the Return

The character may not want to return from the journey.He may think of staying in this new place.

The Magic Flight

The character may have to escape with the “boon” while others give chase.  (Star Wars: Luke is chased by Millennium Falcon.)

Rescue from Without

Guide or assistant who helps bring the character back to the world or convinces them they need to bring the “boon” to the world. (Star Wars: Hans Solo returns to save Luke from being blown up.)

The Crossing of the Return Threshold

The character returns to the old world, often to find it changed. Getting “boon” to work for this world may prove difficult.  (Star Wars: We don’t see Luke return to his original world, the farm, but we know this world has changed from the earlier scene where the farm was destroyed. We do see Luke return to the rebel base, his new world.)

Master of the Two Worlds

Character hits the balance between spiritual and material worlds/inner and outer worlds. (Star Wars: Luke is star pilot but can also use the Force.)

Freedom to Live

The character is master of his own destiny, capable of living in the moment, free from fear of death and doesn’t regret the past or worry about the future.

Those are all the stages of The Hero’s Journey. Are you a convert? Post any questions you have in the comments and let me know how you plan to use The Hero’s Journey when plotting your next book! Or maybe you will use it for inspiration

Want more? Read up on Hero’s Journey Archetypes.

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Lori Devoti is the author of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and young adult fiction. Under the name Rae Davies, she writes the USA Today Bestselling Dusty Deals Mystery series. Check out her books at www.LoriDevoti.com and RaeDavies.com. Looking for help with your writing? Lori also does developmental editing and critiques for other authors and publishers. See our Editorial Services page for contact information and pricing. Or check out Lori’s classes at the Continuing Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin.

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