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I live on the ocean, write women's fiction, love to read so much that it's an addiction rather than a hobby (I read an average of a book a day). I live on the wet west coast so it's a good thing that I like to walk in the rain.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Hero's Journey - overview

First of all, every time I use the word hero, I really mean the protagonist, the main character of your book whether male or female. And second, I do this with thanks to Joseph Campbell and especially Christopher Vogler, who took Campbell's ideas and made them accessible to those of us who don't have a classical education.

The hero's journey is a way of understanding story - all story. Myths, legends, movies, books - all kinds of stories are really, in some ways, the same story. And that story is the story of a journey, of a quest of some kind whether it's a physical quest (searching for the grail or a lost child or a new home) or an emotional one (searching for love or power). Stories help us in all sorts of ways as readers or viewers.

  • They allow us to compare ourselves to others - are we better or worse? are we doing the right thing or the wrong thing?
  • They entertain us
  • They help us see patterns in the world, in our lives
  • They help us to ask questions of ourselves. Who am I? Why am I here? Is there a god?
  • They give us handles on all these kinds of questions.

But the hero's journey is a way of seeing story in a way that makes sense to almost everyone, even if they haven't studied Joseph Campbell or read myths or legends.

In its simplest form, the hero's journey is the story of a person starting out in the ordinary world, who leaves to descend into the special world (the unknown, whether physical or not), goes through some tests, wins the ultimate test, and returns back to the ordinary world as, hopefully, a better and wiser person.

Christopher Vogler has the hero's journey laid out in twelve stages and each week for the next twelve weeks, I'm going to muse here on Sundays about my ideas on each stage of the journey. Some of it will be what I'm working on, what I'm reading, what movies I'm seeing, and some of it will be ways that you can incorporate this into your book - and maybe not just your book, but your life as well.

Chris Vogler says that studying the hero's journey has made it easier for him to travel, that once he understood this structure, he understood how all journeys could work - I wonder if that will be true for us as well?



Akemi said...

Hello, I'm curious about the definition of the hero (protagonist) as it applies to romance novels.

My confusion is that in romance novels, there doesn't seem to be a main character.

The man and the woman share the story equally and it's always the man chasing the woman around, trying to get her to accept him.

So, a romance novel to me, even though it's written for women, the man seems to be the protagonist/hero of the story.

Are there simply two heros in this kind of story? - Akemi

Kate Austin said...

Hi, Akemi:

In lots of stories, there is more than one journey, more than one protagonist or hero - think of Lord of the Rings. Yes, there's Frodo's journey, but there's also Aragorn's journey, Gandalf's journey. Or Harry Potter - where there's Harry's journey, but there are also the journeys of his friends.

So, often in romance, as in other kinds of stories, there can be more than one journey. What that means is that the two journeys are often interwoven, just as they are in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.