Hero’s Journey 101: How to Use the Hero’s Journey to Plot Your Story

What Is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a common story structure for modeling both plot points and character development. A protagonist embarks on an adventure into the unknown. They learn lessons, overcome adversity, defeat evil, and return home transformed.

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

For writers, the purpose of the Hero’s Journey is to act as a template and guide. It’s not a rigid formula that your plot must follow beat by beat. Indeed, there are good reasons to deviate-not least of which is that this structure has become so ubiquitous.

  1. The Call of Adventure
  2. Refusal of the Call
  3. Meeting the Mentor
  4. Crossing the First Threshold
  5. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  6. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  7. The Ordeal
  8. Reward (Seizing the Sword)
  9. The Road Back
  10. Resurrection
  11. Return with the Elixir

#1: The Ordinary World

This is where we meet our hero, although the journey has not yet begun: first, we need to establish the status quo by showing the hero living their ordinary, mundane life.

#2: The Call to Adventure

The journey proper begins with a call to adventure-something that disrupts the hero’s ordinary life and confronts them with a problem or challenge they can’t ignore. This can take many different forms.

#3: Refusal of the Call

Oops! The hero chooses option A and attempts to refuse the call to adventure. This could be for any number of reasons: fear, disbelief, a sense of inadequacy, or plain unwillingness to make the sacrifices that are required.

#4: Meeting the Mentor

Okay, so the hero got cold feet. Nothing a little pep talk can’t fix! The mentor figure appears at this point to give the hero some much needed counsel, coaching, and perhaps a kick out the door.

#5: Crossing the First Threshold

At this juncture, the hero is ready to leave their ordinary world for the first time. With the mentor’s help, they are committed to the journey and ready to step across the threshold into the special world. This marks the end of the departure act and the beginning of the adventure in earnest.

#6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now we are getting into the meat of the adventure. The hero steps into the special world and must learn the new rules of an unfamiliar setting while navigating trials, tribulations, and tests of will. New characters are often introduced here, and the hero must navigate their relationships with them. Will they be friend, foe, or something in between?

#7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

#8: The Ordeal

The ordeal marks the hero’s greatest test thus far. This is a dark time for them: indeed, Campbell refers to it as the “belly of the whale.” The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, which causes them to hit rock bottom.

#9: Reward (Seizing the Sword)

The ordeal was a major level-up moment for the hero. Now that it’s been overcome, the hero can reap the reward of success. This reward could be an object, a skill, or knowledge-whatever it is that the hero has been struggling toward. At last, the sword is within their grasp.

#10: The Road Back

We’re now at the beginning of act three, the return. With the reward in hand, it’s time to exit the inmost cave and head home. But the story isn’t over yet.

#11: Resurrection

Now comes the true climax of the story. This is the hero’s final test, when everything is at stake: the battle for the soul of Gotham, the final chance for evil to triumph. The hero is also at the peak of their powers. A happy ending is within sight, should they succeed.

#12: Return with the Elixir

Hooray! Evil has been defeated and the hero is transformed. It’s time for the protagonist to return home in triumph, and share their hard-won prize with the ordinary world. This prize is the elixir -the object, skill, or insight that was the hero’s true reward for their journey and transformation.

Writing Your Own Hero’s Journey



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