Most - if not all - contemporary stories are modelled around Joseph Campbell's classic 'Hero's Journey', which he says represents ‘the pattern that lies behind every story ever told’. It’s a pattern that maps both outer journeys and inner, spiritual journeys.
Joseph Campbell created this mythic pathway by travelling the world collecting myths from primitive cultures. He discovered that all myths had certain sequences of actions, or stages, in common.
Typically, The Hero’s Journey follows the protagonist’s progress as he/she crosses the threshold from the known world into the unknown. The protagonist then faces various challenges and meets archetypal characters who perform specific roles. Typically, the hero confronts a dragon or the equivalent, and either dies or appears to die in order to be resurrected. He/she may then receive a gift, which they take back to the known world to benefit humanity.
Personally, I wouldn't advocate crafting your story according to a formula like this - but it's fascinating how (even without intending it) when a story 'works' it does seem to follow this pattern.
It can be helpful, therefore, to superimpose this pattern onto our stories at the first draft stage and ask ourselves the following questions:
- Have we established our protagonist in the 'ordinary world' before we turn their lives upside down and make them venture out into the 'unknown'?
- Does our protagonist need to meet a mentor - or gain wisdom from some other external source - in order to help them on their journey of transformation?
- What is the 'dragon' that our protagonist has to face? Is it something or someone outside themselves? Or might the dragon be their own internal 'demons'?
- Does our protagonist face their dragon and reach a point of 'death and rebirth' - which could mean that they have to face their worst fears, relinquish their strongest beliefs or greatest dreams - and change and evolve as a result?
- What is the 'gift' that they get? Is it knowledge, courage or something more concrete?
- Does their new insight or situation then allow them to overcome an old problem, or help somebody else?
Heather Dyer - children's author and Royal Literary Fund Consultant Fellow
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