Wednesday, 22 January 2020

What's Your Story? - Heather Dyer

We’re hardwired to see stories in everything: a mishap, a relationship, a life. Even a recipe has a narrative arc that shows how one thing leads to another. The desired outcome of a story is always discovery and growth – if we understand how and why things happen, we can shape outcomes in the future.

In writing workshops, I use the archetypal story structure ‘The Hero’s Journey’ to help participants reflect on – and reshape – their essays and creative writing.

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story model outlined by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Campbell collected myths from all over the world, identified common elements or stages, and then put them together in a ‘monomyth’. Typically, the hero receives a call to adventure, ventures forth to face challenges and temptations, and ultimately sacrifices something in order to receive the gift of insight, which they bring home to benefit the world.

The hero can of-course be male or female, and the model is flexible rather than prescriptive – but the beauty of the monomyth is that it provides a pattern for the process of growth and change.

The call to adventure:
What motivates your protagonist. What do they want? More importantly, WHY do they want it? What need are they seeking to meet; what problem are they trying to overcome?
Note: Often, a character has a mistaken belief: what they want isn’t what they need. Sometimes, they don’t get what they want and get what they need, instead.

The hero meets helpers and tricksters on the path:
How did your protagonist get here? Who or what has shaped them this far, or influenced their journey? Who or what will trip them up or influence them in future?

The hero faces the monster in the cave
What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? What’s their weakness? What situation would force your character to face this fear head-on? What if their worst fear was realized – what then?
If their fear isn’t obvious, ask yourself what your character would love to see happen – then imagine the opposite.

Death and rebirth:
Your character needs to change and grow. This often means they need to let go of a limiting belief or relinquish something they’ve been pinning their hopes on. Do they have a mistaken belief or are they clinging onto something they need to let go of in order to proceed down a new route?

The Return. The hero brings new knowledge back to the world:
What’s the impact of your protagonist’s discovery or lesson? How will it change things? What will they do differently now? What will be the result?

Here's another suggestion... Apply these questions to yourself, as the protagonist of your own life. Do they reveal anything about your wants and needs, your false beliefs, or what you must let go of in order to grow?

Heather Dyer is a consultant in writing for children. She provides writing and publishing advice through The Literary Consultancy, The Writers' Advice Centre for Children's Books, and privately. If you’re ready for feedback on your work-in-progress contact Heather at 

Heather’s children’s novel The Girl with the Broken Wing was one of Richard and Judy’s book club picks, and The Boy in the Biscuit Tin was nominated for a Galaxy Best British Children’s Book award. Heather also teaches creative writing for the University of the Creative Arts, and facilitates workshops in creative thinking techniques for creatives and academics.


Anne Booth said...

Very interesting questions - both for my story and my life!

Penny Dolan said...

Not sure I'll take the last suggestion, though thank you for the post.