Using the Hero’s Journey to Help Finish that Novel

Using the Hero’s Journey to Help Finish that Novel

I gave this as a workshop at the Hampton Roads Writers conference back in 2015, but I thought it might be good to put up as a blog post for someone looking for a little assistance in getting their story bones down on paper.

Really, when I first got the title of the workshop, I thought it was bogus. And then I realized how many ways it applies to most stories. Sometimes you might leave a step out, or combine steps, but its still a pretty good way to look at the story, especially when looking at the overall structure. Its great for outlining, but also equally good to use on a completed work that you’re trying to edit or revise. You can look at the big picture and decide if you’ve got what you need, or if one area is a little weaker than another.

So here’s the basic, quick and dirty outline of the hero’s quest:

  • The Ordinary World (AKA the beginning, the before)
    • You can’t have your character come full circle unless you give us a hint of what they were like before the adventure starts.
  • The Call to Adventure (The challenge is given)
    • Whether it’s a kidnapping, a magic relic that needs rescuing, or a dragon the next county over, you have to provide the Thing for your character to go after. It doesn’t have to be a real object. Sometimes its knowledge or a person, or even a state of mind.
  • The Refusal (But I don’t Wanna Go!)
    • Few heroes start out thinking, “yeah! I wanna fight a dragon!” But they end up going anyway. They can buck the system, but you’ll have to help them get started eventually.
  • The Mentor/Helper (Here’s a Shiny Thing to Help You)
    • This one is the plucky sidekick, the wise wizard, or even a ghost or spirit. Eventually the hero will have to continue without them, but they have a special place in the story. Make them count.
  • Crossing the Threshold (Point of No Return)
    • Yup, exactly what it sounds like. They can resist, but after this point, they are stuck on the path, whether they like it or not (and frequently, they don’t.).
  • Test/Allies/Enemies (You and I are going to have Problems)
    • Every good hero needs an anti-hero, right? Again, not necessarily another villan in a cape, could be mental, physical, environmental, or otherwise.
  • Approach (Are we there yet? We’re Getting Closer!)
    • The hero finally approaches the location of the object of the quest. Often its inside a cave, castle, Death Star, or other dark place. Sometimes, it is a dark mental place. It depends on the quest.
  • Ordeal (That’s no Moon, it’s a Space Station!)
    • This is the ultimate crisis of the story. The darkest place for the hero, often involving serious danger, fights, and brushes with death. This is the climax of your story, with all the highest emotions.
  • Reward (Yay! I got it!)
    • This is when the hero achieves their goal – they gather the object of the quest, and in the process may also resolve other issues. There may be reconciliation with other characters, a romance, or other victory.
  • Road Back (Crap! Rolling Boulders! Let’s Go Home!)
    • This is not the end. Rarely does the hero walk away without someone trying to take back what has been achieved. If there is conflict between characters, this is where those would come to a head as well and be resolved, one way or another.
  • Atonement (All the Bad Guys are gone, finally. Home. For Reals.)
    • This is where there is another mini-climax of some kind. The end of the conflict to keep the quest object, and resolution of any conflict between your hero and villains.
  • Return (I’m Back! This place is smaller than I remember it….)
    • Hero returns to the ordinary world, with their goal completed, whatever form that takes. Sometimes it isn’t an object, but a lesson or knowledge. Either way, the character must return changed in some way, or the quest would have been for nothing.

Like I said, you can combine anything you like. The stuff towards the end has a tendency to roll into itself for me. I even made a worksheet you can download to help work through your questions. Just click on the link below to download it. If it works for you, I’d love to hear about it!

One Reply to “Using the Hero’s Journey to Help Finish that Novel”

  1. Need summore thots, ideers, wirdz or ironclad iconoclasms? Look no firdr…

    VERBUM SAT SAPIENTI: As an ex-writer of the sassy, savvy, schizophenia we all go through in this lifelong demise, I just wanna help U.S. git past the whorizontal more!ass! we’re in (Latin: words to [the] wise)…

    “This finite existence is only a test, son,” God Almighty told me in my coma. “Far beyond thy earthly tempest is where you’ll find corpulent eloquence” (paraphrased). Lemme tella youse without d’New Joisey accent…

    I actually saw Seventh-Heaven when we died: you couldn’t GET any moe curly, party-hardy-endorphins, extravagantly-surplus-lush Upstairs when my beautifull, brilliant, bombastic girl passed-away due to those wry, sardonic satires.

    “Those who are wise will shine as brightly as the expanse of the Heavens, and those who have instructed many in uprightousness as bright as stars for all eternity” -Daniel 12:3

    Here’s also what the prolific, exquisite GODy sed: ‘the more you shall honor Me, the more I shall bless you’ -the Infant Jesus of Prague.

    Go git’m, girl. You’re incredible. See you Upstairs. I won’t be joining’m in the nasty Abyss where Isis prowls

    PS Need summore unique names, too? Lemme gonna gitcha started, brudda:

    Oak Woods, Franky Sparks, Athena Noble, Autumn Rose, Faith Bishop, Dolly Martin, Willow Rhodes, Cocoa Major, Roman Stone, Bullwark Burnhart, Magnus Wilde, Kardiak Arrest, Will Wright, Goldy Silvers, Penelope Summers, Sophie Sharp, Violet Snow, Lizzy Roach, BoxxaRoxx, Aunty Dotey, Romero Stark, Zacharia Neptoon, Mercurio Morrissey, Fritz & Felix Franz, Victor Payne, Isabella Silverstein, Mercedes Kennedy, Redding Rust, Martini Phoenix, Ivy Weed, Sauer Wolf, Yankee Cooky, b9…

    God blessa youse
    -Fr. Sarducci, ol SNL

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