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Write Your Story Using The Heros Journey

By Susan Wallace

Many study myths by studying the different methods used by each writer. Joseph Campbell, however, instead of contrasting the methods studies how they compare them as being the same. This method of study led to the system named the heros journey. Both authors use it to plan their plots and individuals use it to direct their lives.

This idea is much more than just a story structure. It is much more than a plotting element, though it is valuable as that in and of itself. It is a road map for self-development, however. Though it is recognized in psychological perspectives, it is a strong way to plan a story using the same principles to make the protagonist in a story become real to the reader.

One of the steps for this journey is that of departure. The character, or the individual if it is not a story, is called to depart to the unknown. They leave the comfort of their familiar life and venture out, to a great adventure in the case of the story, or to what to a person is somewhat of an adventure because they are not sure of what the future holds.

Once the hero has departed to the unknown, he faces all the trials and catastrophes facing him, such as monsters and other dangers. His skill and ability to deal with conflict is tested. Though he may not always triumph over it all, and really will not, he will persevere in spite of whatever he faces.

During what is called the stage return, the hero comes back home. But, he has made major changes and is not at all the same. He has matured due to the trials he overcame, becoming a more mature person who achieved a goal. This is a path resulting in growth and maturity of the character.

This system can be related to how the drama of a story unfolds. The thesis corresponds to the departure stage. This is the current world for the protagonist. The antithesis is the catastrophes that the character must face, and the antagonist they face. The synthesis stage is at the end, when they character has or has not set out what he wants, but has matured and is attempting to combine the old world he once knew with the one he now faces.

The stages in this process translates into ten steps as Campbell identified. The steps include the ordinary world, the adventure, crossing the first adventure (the point of no return), the trials and foes faced, rescue by a magical mentor, in the dragon's lair, the moment of despair when all seems lost, the ultimate treasure, homeward journey, and the maturity and home at last.

Each of the steps fit into the three stages. These same stages and steps can be seen in a person's personal development as well. Sometimes a character that is part of a series remains static, not maturing. Just as a character can be "stuck" in one or more steps, not showing maturity but remaining static, so too can a person's personal development get stuck. The whole process has been detailed in depth in several book length works, but the process can be seen in outline form to guide a writer's plot.

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