The Hero’s Journey for Outlining

Posted by JoshWhit

If you’re not on TikTok then what even are you doing with your life?

TIkTok has really taken over the world by storm. You could even make an argument that former President Trump’s attack on the popular app helped it get even more users.

If you don’t know how TikTok works then a crash course is that you can make short videos to try and get a lot of views. If someone else makes a funny video, then you can use the sound of their video and put a funny variation on it with your own acting.

So, there is a pretty popular sound that is a comedian making fun of how the story of Harry Potter is actually a total rip off of Star Wars. They basically tell the same story, but one uses lightsabers and the other uses wands.

As a total nerd this kind of irks me.

Not because it’s wrong, but because it’s an incomplete argument.

Both stories follow the narrative structure outlined by Joseph Campbell in his monomyth theory. It’s more commonly known as the Hero’s Journey.

For Joseph Campbell’s theory, the monomyth is the idea that all great stories follow this single outline. He makes a good argument, but there are tons of story structures. He is correct in stating that this is a good basic outline of what is going on in a coming-of-age story or a coming into one’s own story.

The difference between these 2 kinds of stories is that one is dependent on the character’s age. It’s often used for young adult literature as the character hits a specific age. The coming into one’s own is less dependent on the age and is just about the main character finding their purpose in life, which can come at any age in all honesty.

The Hero’s Journey as an Outline

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I like the idea of using the Hero’s Journey as a form of outline for a story. But what is the story structure?

Well, it’s a 12-step process that’s broken into 2 worlds: The Ordinary World and the Special World.

The Ordinary World is the beginning where the main character is just stuck in life. Everything is kind of lame and predictable.

Then there is the Special World. The Special World is easily explained in Harry Potter as the Wizarding World. It’s the place where magic exists and is totally different than the normality of everyday life.

An interesting aspect to the Hero’s Journey is that it’s cyclical. The structure is often outlined in a circle. That means that the story starts in the Ordinary world, ventures into the Special World for the bulk of the story, but eventually resolves back into the Ordinary World.

Again, this is most obviously seen in Harry Potter because Harry starts the story at the Dursley’s then at the end of the novel he must return to the Dursley’s.

Another easy example is Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The subtitle is literally “there and back again.” We see the story of Bilbo where he goes out on an adventure, but after the adventure, he simply returns home.

The 12 Steps of the Hero’s Journey

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[Image via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency]

When it comes to the Hero’s Journey there are 12-steps that organize it.

I know when I wanted to learn to outline a story that I struggled to understand how these steps work together, so I will state the steps and how they roll into the next stage.

The use of the examples in these steps will give you a better understanding of what each scene means, and it’ll help you get the gist of how the story will flow.

1. Ordinary World

This is where the story begins. There’s not much to it honestly. You get introduced to the main character. Typically, there will be a scene to kind of set up the scenario to get an understanding of the main character and the major problem in their life. Luke Skywalker is dissatisfied with being a farmer; Harry is abused by the Dursley’s; Bilbo is living the most boring and repetitive life.

2. Call to Adventure

The call to adventure is what sparks the story forward. This is when Luke gets R2-D2 and sees the message to get Obi-Wan Kenobi to help; Harry starts getting letters to go to Hogwarts; Bilbo first meets Gandalf the Grey is told to host a group planning an adventure.

3. Refusal of the Call

The refusal of the call is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when the main character denies the adventure that is obviously being put at his feet. Luke is calling nonsense on the idea of searching out Obi-Wan and the Force; Harry isn’t able to get the letter to go to Hogwarts because Uncle Vernon doesn’t let him; Bilbo quite literally just hates the idea of an adventure and doesn’t want to go.

4. Meeting the Mentor

Meeting the mentor is a big part of the story. The mentor is an important character that will help the main character throughout the rest of the story. The mentor is essential to introduce the main character into the Special World. Typically, the meeting of the mentor involves a basic explanation of the Special World. Luke meets up with Obi-Wan who tells him he is a Jedi; Harry is taken away from the Dursley’s by Hagrid; Bilbo has a group of Dwarves eat at his house and Gandalf helps them plan their mission.

5. Crossing the Threshold

The crossing of the threshold is cool because it starts to set up the Special World. The main character may still be skeptical, but they have accepted the call. The easiest example of this is the literal crossing of the threshold that happens in Harry Potter: Hagrid takes Harry through a literal wall.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

This part takes up a few scenes. It’s the part in the story where the main character is officially in the Special World, and the main character gets some tests, makes new friends, and starts getting enemies. I’m going to use Harry Potter again because it’s my all-time favorite series. At this point, Harry is tested by the Sorting Hat, he makes friends with Ron, and enemies with Draco. This continues because he makes friends with Hermione and faces the test of fighting a troll. He also is tested by flying on a broom. I can go on and on, but the main character is starting to build up some power in the Special World.

7. Approach of the Inmost Cave

The most important aspect of this is that the hero isn’t going in the cave, but just the approaches it. For Star Wars, Luke has made it to the Death Star; Harry finds the door hidden by Fluffy. It’s kind of like hinting at where the big climax is going to take place.

8. Ordeal

So, now we get to the big ordeal of the story. This is the part where the hero faces what is the biggest task yet. They are challenged in a way that pushes them further than every before. For Harry, he and his friends are now going in the cave. They got past Fluffy and are working their way toward Voldemort. There are various challenges that push all the characters to their limits. It’s an ultimate test to see if they are really ready for the final battle. They earn the title “hero.”

9. Reward or Seizing the Sword

This is the main point of the story. The hero gets what they were after the whole time. Harry finally comes into possession of the Sorcerer’s Stone and defeats Voldemort. He is then able to use his newfound magic to totally decimate the bad guy. His reward is that, despite not having parents, he was loved. The love is his special magic and reward.

10. The Road Back

The road back is often a boring part of the story. Sometimes you get fun things that happen that are total twists here, but for the sake of storytelling it’s the hero making his way back after defeating the big bad. In Harry Potter and The Hobbit, we skip this because the hero becomes unconscious.

11. Resurrection

The resurrection moment is when the hero is kind of going over what had happened and getting the lessons learned from his mission audibly stated. Harry wakes up and talks with Dumbledore in this part. He is learning what the ultimate outcome of everything was. For Harry it is a symbolic resurrection because he was only unconscious and not actually dead. You can see another example of this in The Dark Knight Rises when Alfred sees Bruce Wayne and they simply nod to each other because Alfred, and everyone for that matter, was under the impression he had died as Batman.

12. Return with the Elixir

This is the finale of everything. For Harry, he returns to the Dursley’s. For Luke, he blew up the Death Star but didn’t kill Darth Vader. It’s where the story has completely resolved itself. Sometimes there will be some loose end to carry on into a series, such as Vader being alive or Voldemort’s dusty spirit thing escaping to be fought again another day in another way.

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