The Hero’s Journey: It’s No Myth (Page 2)

On Page 1, I explained a bit about how the Hero’s Journey is about character arc rather than plot. I then simplified the format into something less metaphysical, using School as a metaphor and the move Grease as an example. I also spoke about how an author MUST USE CAUSE AND EFFECT WHEN OUTLINING (I’ll add an article about that soon). Here’s page 2, with further explanation of the steps. You probably want to read Page 1 first.

Steps on the Journey

Note: Terms in parenthesis are either from Joseph Campbell, Christopher Vogler, or one of the hundreds of teachers trying to clarify the Hero’s Journey.

The End of The Summer (Ordinary World)— The status quo. Something is missing in the character’s world, though they may not know it. There is a hole in your character’s heart that needs to be filled. A great DESIRE (Campbell likes the term “bliss.” He’s the one that coined the term “follow your bliss.” Though he later joked that he should have said, “follow your blisters.” change isn’t easy.)  Think about how in The Wizard of Oz (I know that I said that I wasn’t going to use fantasy for examples but…well…I lied) Dorothy sings out her innermost desire in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”

Here you define your main character, their greatest DESIRE, character VIRTUES AND FLAWS, and the conflicts keeping them from their desire. See character worksheet at the end to help define your character. Note: the character worksheet appears in another article.

Before your character starts the journey, make sure that YOU know at least the basics about your character. The main character is the car that drives the plot. Make sure all the parts are there (good and bad). However, don’t get carried away with fitting it all in the first part. That’s an INFO DUMP. We don’t need to know the color of the character’s cocker spaniel’s eyes. Give us just enough to keep us wanting more.

Example: Sandy and Danny are in love, but Sandy has to go back to Australia. Sandy’s VIRTUE is her ability to love. Her FLAW is innocence, and her hero’s journey will be to overcome that and win Danny.

First Day of School (The Call to Adventure)— BECAUSE (cause and effect) something happened in their world to upset the status quo (the inciting incident), the character can pursue their desire and (hopefully) a positive transformation. The character often balks here and needs further prompting, which Campbell refers to as “refusal of the call.” Here, I’ll call it “I don’t want to go to school today.”

Example: BECAUSE her parents decide to stay, Sandy is now at Danny’s School. She meets Frenchy, who becomes a mentor, and Rizzo, who is an adversary. She reveals the full extent of her summer love (Summer Nights)


First Exam (Crossing the Threshold)–BECAUSE of your character’s actions or repercussions of them (cause and effect), the character is changed and has no choice but to overcome the conflict by pursuing their desire through transformation. This is where the story usually takes off, and there’s no going back.

Example: BECAUSE Sandy befriends the Pink Ladies but earns Rizzo’s disdain, Rizzo forces a meeting with Danny, who rebuffs her. She’s hurt (changed), and takes solace in the Pink Ladies, beginning her transformation away from innocence. (Summer Nights Reprise)

End of Act I

Homework, Classmates, and Tests (The Road of Trials)–BECAUSE your character can’t go back to how things were, they must press forward. This is an “active” step where they meet “catalyst” characters that will shape the hero, leading them closer or further from their goal. Catalyst characters can be mentors, allies, adversaries, love interests, etc. Often they fit more than one role.

Example: BECAUSE she wants to be like the Pink Ladies, Sandy tries to smoke and get her ear pierced, but fails. BECAUSE of that, Rizzo shames Sandy in song. Danny asks her out, but he tries to hide her from his friends. Danny asks Sandy to the dance and dance contest. (Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee. Hopelessly Devoted to You.)


Midterms (The Ordeal)— The greatest test so far, with high stakes. The main character takes what they have learned and tries to overcome a major obstacle that has been thrown in their way. They usually suffer a REVERSAL OF FORTUNE and further transformation, not necessarily for the better.

Example: The high school dance contest. BECAUSE Sandy said yes to Danny, she’s at the dance with her DESIRE, Danny. They’re doing great in the contest, HOWEVER, they end up separated (REVERSAL OF FORTUNE). Danny ends up winning with Cha-Cha, and Sandy watches from the side. (Born to Hand Jive)

The Bad Spring Break (Reward and Repercussions)— Fallout from Midterms that usually sets the character back from their conflict and desire (transformation isn’t easy). A “soul-searching” step that often involves a crisis of faith or complete breakdown of character, but eventually leads to gained wisdom and strength.

Example: BECAUSE Sandy was hurt at the dance, Danny tries to make it up to her with a date at the drive in. She doesn’t trust him, and it’s confirmed when he makes a pass at her. She leaves, finding inner strength, losing some innocence, and abandoning her DESIRE. (Sandy)

Term Paper (The Road Back)–Though the character may have found a revelation after Spring Break, an even greater challenge waits. The stakes are high and lead up to the climax of the story, where the character confronts their great conflict and hopefully finds their desire.

Think about cause and effect and the tennis match metaphor in this and the next step in the journey. You want a lot of back and forth here to ratchet up the tension.

Example: Even though Sandy has given up on Danny, she still loves him. BECAUSE of her love, she cheers him on at the Thunder Road race. BECAUSE she sees Danny’s virtue in racing for Kenickie, putting himself in danger, she realizes that her love for Danny is what’s most important. BECAUSE she is then left out of the celebration, she realizes that she wants to be more than the innocent person she appears to be. BECAUSE she now knows exactly what she wants, she asks Frenchy to help make her over. (Sandra Dee Reprise)

Final Exam (Resurrection)–The final chance at gaining their desire and achieving transformation. The character uses everything they learned along the journey to overcome this final obstacle, but they must be willing to sacrifice something important (victory at great cost). They under go one final revelation and/or transformation, hopefully shedding their fatal flaw.

Depending on the story they will either:

  1. achieve their Great Desire (Happy Ending)

  2. fail to achieve it (Tragic Ending)

  3. achieve it and realize they don’t want it (Ironic Tragedy)

  4. fail to achieve it but realize that they don’t want it (Change of Heart Happy Ending).

Note On transformation: There is a such thing as a TRAGIC TRANSFORMATION, where the character changes for the worse. You can find this in all four kinds of endings.

Example: BECAUSE of her choice to get made over, Sandy shows up at the carnival transformed, with new hair and clothes. She shed her FLAW: her innocence, and wins her DESIRE: Danny. (The One That I Want).


You might consider this a tragic transformation, as Sandy changed who she was so that Danny would love her. Of course, Danny did the same thing, so it’s a wash, though an awkward moral to the story.

Last Day of School (Master of Two Worlds/Freedom to Live)— With the conflict confronted and defeated (or not), the character returns to the way things were, though changed forever. This is where you clean up any loose ends and reinforce the transformation in the character, letting the reader know that the journey is over.

Example: Sandy and Danny fly off in the car singing (We Go Together)

Note: As mentioned above, I did a workshop after this where the audience and I put together a main character and sent her through the first few steps on the Hero’s Journey. I can’t do that here. Surry.

If anyone has any questions, comment of the post and I will do my best to answer them. You can also see the Hero’s Journey work as character arc in my novels Song of Simon and The Watchmage of Old New York.

SoS Practice Ad 1The Watchmage Is Coming

cosmic-cat tripping balls redux