The Novel Writer's Blog

A Character Driven Hero's Journey

25 Jan 2017

character driven hero's journeyI love the Hero’s Journey.

Finding it was my ‘rays of sunshine coming through the clouds’ moment.

Quick aside - If you don’t know what the Hero’s Journey is – it’s a series of steps that the vast majority of satisfying stories go through, from introducing the protagonist’s world, through calling them to action, testing them, meeting with a mentor, through to final confrontation with the big bad. Read about this 'Universal Storyline' in more detail here.

The hero's journey wasn’t invented, but discovered, by Joseph Campbell as he researched the earliest stories ever passed down by word of mouth to modern stories. Most of the elements of the Hero’s Journey can be identified in the vast majority of bestselling novels and blockbuster movies.

However, I often come across an issue when gushing with excitement about the Hero’s Journey, and that is that people’s perception still seems to be heavily influenced by the word ‘Hero’ and to a lesser extent ‘Journey’.

These words make people feel that it only applies to fantasy adventure stories where there’s going to be a swashbuckler slaying dragons with a sword.

But of course this couldn’t be further from the truth. This set of stages can be applied to all genres, including romance, historical fiction, war, crime drama, etc etc .

I recently came across the utterly awesome blog of Allen Palmer – Cracking Yarns – where he has come up with an interesting way to try to ‘dispel notions that this amazing paradigm doesn’t apply to female protagonists, intimate dramas or romantic comedies.’

I highly recommend you go to his blog and read it cover to cover, but here I’m going to reiterate what he says in this particular post:

Allen has come up with a ‘Character Driven Hero’s Journey’. This avoids a lot of the mythological vocabulary and also helps focus on the fact that while plot is of course important, it is transformation of character that moves us.

Here are the steps, with very brief descriptions:



Maps to – introduction to the hero’s world

The protagonist is unfulfilled in their normal life. There will be two things missing – one thing that they think they want (like money, fame, a Porsche – you get the idea) and another thing which they haven’t thought of, but is the real thing that will give them fulfilment. (compassion, self confidence, etc).



Maps to – Call to Adventure

The protagonist’s world becomes unsettled by an outside force. An invitation, threat or attack, perhaps.



Maps to – Refusal of the call

The protagonist refuses to do the right thing. They are afraid, selfish or just have different priorities. This could be a whole scene dedicated to their reluctance, or it could be a moment’s doubt, quickly overcome.



Maps to – Meeting the Mentor

The protagonist gets advice from someone. This meeting should push them on their way, but the advice isn’t necessarily good or the giver helpful – it may be an ultimatum or a challenge.



Maps to – Crossing the Threshold

Now the main character gets pro-active and does something about that thing that unsettled them. Ideally they should take some action that makes it impossible to go back to how they were in the first scene – some burning of bridges.



Maps to – Tests

Now the whole world is different as they try to navigate towards their goal and face unfamiliar challenges and new rules. They will probably fail several times at this stage.



Maps to – The Approach

The protagonist is confronted with their flaw, but they refuse to address it.



Maps to – The Ordeal

This is a slap in the face for the protagonist where they finally realise they have to face their flaw and do something about it or lose everything that is worth having.



Maps to – The Reward

The lead character demonstrates that they are a changed person.



Maps to – The Road Back

Remember right back at the beginning when we said that the character has two things missing from their life – the thing they want and the thing they need? Right here is where you make them face a choice between the two.



Maps to – Resurrection

This is the climax of the story, where the protagonist must actively make their decision. They don’t have to choose right, but the consequences of their choice must be poetic.



Maps to – Return Home

The protagonist gets what they deserve. In the vast majority of cases, they will have correctly chosen what they need and will now be fulfilled in themselves.


If you’d like each of these steps described in more detail by the inventor, like I said, go to:


Or if you have any thoughts, comments or feedback - let me know below! 

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