8 Key Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

8 Key Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

by Lewis / July 14, 2018 / Character Development

Archetypes are something we experience every day…

An older coworker passing along important tips at your new job or a friend turns out to be talking behind your back. Most of us can recognize these as archetypes, but can we apply these familiar patterns to our fictional worlds and characters? The answer is a resounding yes!

Just as we see these character archetypes mirrored in our own lives, they’ll show up in our storytelling as well. Not only do they provide guidelines for making our characters feel like real people, but they can add a whole new layer of complexity and depth to our stories too.

What Is an Archetype?

  • 1 What Is an Archetype?
  • 2 Our Case Study: Solo
  • 3.1 The Hero:
  • 3.2 The Shadow:
  • 3.3 The Mentor:
  • 3.4 The Ally:
  • 3.5 The Threshold Guardian:
  • 3.6 The Herald:
  • 3.7 The Trickster:
  • 3.8 The Shapeshifter:
  • 4 Repeat Archetypes and How They Work
  • 5 Using Archetypes in Your Own Novel

8 Key Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

An archetype is a repeated motif or trait found in storytelling.

Based on that definition, you might initially think of the classic “damsel in distress” or “knight in shining armor” from European fairy tales. Both of these do fall under the umbrella of archetypes, however, these aren’t the archetypes we’ll be exploring here.

Instead, the character archetypes of the Hero’s Journey are universal archetypes, roles all characters can fill at different points along their journey. These archetypes help you flesh out your story with a complete cast, while ensuring no character exists without a purpose.

“The archetypes are part of the universal language of storytelling, and a command of their energy is as essential to the writer as breathing.” – Christopher Vogler, The Writer’s Journey

While most of these ideas originated with Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth and the Hero’s Journey, these eight universal archetypes are actually based on Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey. This book is beyond excellent, and breaks down the ideas of Campbell into a more usable storytelling guide—versus the highly academic The Hero With a Thousand Faces .

Both books are well worth your time, but we’ll be covering Vogler’s description of character archetypes here.

Hero's Inner Journey

Of course, throughout this article I’ll assume you have at least a basic understanding of the Hero’s Journey. If you’re not familiar with this story structure, then check out my breakdown of the Hero’s Journey here.

Our Case Study: Solo

solo a star wars story

Rather, Solo is great for studying universal archetypes because each of its characters exhibits archetypal roles in interesting ways. Far from being stereotypes, Solo proves that these universal archetypes are the building blocks for forming unique characters.

For those unfamiliar with the movie, Solo is the origin story of Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy—and there will be major spoilers for Solo in this article.

Please enter at your own risk.

If you wish to continue but need a refresher on the plot, check out the Movie Structure Archives entry for Solo. It’ll give you a full breakdown of all the plot points I’ll be referencing here.

The 8 Universal Character Archetypes

You’re likely already familiar with the basics of the Hero archetype. After all, your protagonist will fill this role for most of your story as they overcome their flaws, drive your plot forward, and make important sacrifices.

Ultimately, their decisions will determine the outcome of the Climax .

However, other characters can also wear the Hero archetype at different points in your story. An Ally may become the Hero while your protagonist is incapacitated, or a Trickster may face a sudden change of heart. This dynamic allows other characters to temporarily take the spotlight and fulfill important story functions or resolve subplots.

In our case study, Han Solo fills the role of the Hero, though various Allies such as Val also fill it under special circumstances.

This makes sense because—beyond being on all the posters—this is Han’s journey. He grows the most from beginning to end, and is the catalyst for the movie’s progression. When the cast gets into a tight spot with Dryden Vos, it’s Han’s choices that propel them into the conflict. Not only that, but he is who the audience identifies with the most, meaning he checks all the boxes of the Hero archetype.

Of course, because the Hero is such a central archetype, it also has a whole host of specific traits and trials that go along with it. For more on the Hero’s character arc, check out this article.

The Shadow:

Just as the Hero archetype aligns with your protagonist, the Shadow is linked to your antagonist. This archetype seeks the antithesis of your Hero’s goals, often the destruction of what the Hero wishes to preserve.

Essentially, the Shadow embodies the dark aspects of the Hero.

The Shadow is meant to personify the suppressed wounds and inner struggles that the Hero will need to overcome—and this is why antagonists are often called “foil characters.” They’re a warning about what your protagonist will become if they fail to learn.

Of course, just like many characters can act as the Hero, many characters take on aspects of the Shadow. Your Hero may behave like the Shadow in moments. Allies, Heralds, and Threshold Guardians may do so as well, allowing you to create depth in characters that have thus far served only one purpose.

In Solo, Dryden Vos—from his name to his appearance and demeanor—screams antagonist. Because of this, it’s fairly obvious that Vos serves as the Shadow for most of the story.

However, he’s not the only character who plays this role.

While it’s easy to see Vos as the Shadow, Qi’ra actually fills this archetype in an even more crucial way. You see, Qi’ra’s role as a Shadow is intrinsically tied to Han’s character arc. Both begin from the same place and both are seeking to escape to a better life, but where Han’s journey molds him into a Hero, Qi’ra becomes a Shadow. This is a powerful contrast, and one we’ll be returning to later in the article.

The Mentor:

Acting as the Hero’s main guidance throughout their journey, the Mentor comes in many forms, but they always serve a critical purpose.

An elderly woman giving a soon-to-be bride a magic mirror to see the true face of her new husband or a veteran sports coach training young players both embody the Mentor archetype. This archetype is there to equip the Hero through knowledge, encouragement, and skills that allow them to overcome the conflict of the story and eventually surpass their flaws.

Of course, Mentors are a great opportunity to add depth to a story.

Because of this, Mentors often take on aspects of Threshold Guardians as Heroes prove their worth in exchange for help. Meanwhile, Shadow Mentors may seem to guide the Hero while actually misleading them—sometimes maliciously, sometimes mistakenly.

For example, while Han works under the guidance of a variety of Mentors throughout Solo , Tobias Beckett fills this role most often. He guides Han in how to deal with Vos, he teaches Han about this new world of crime, and he encourages Han at every step to leave it. Tobias clearly wears the mask of the Mentor archetype, but we’ll be coming back to him soon, as that isn’t the only archetype he wears.

The third of the well-known archetypes, Allies are seen in every story.

After all, Heroes need a friend to lean on, someone to lighten the load of the journey or to practice their growing skills with. That’s the role of the Ally, seen through characters like Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings , or Toto in The Wizard of Oz .

Because of how broad this archetype is, it serves many functions and can take on the aspects of many other archetypes. An Ally might act as a Mentor or may descend into a period of being a Shadow or Trickster. Thanks to this complexity, Allies are a great tool for humanizing your Hero, relieving tension, and furthering explore your story’s themes through subplots.

Fortunately, Ally archetypes are usually easy to identify, and primary Ally for Han is Chewbacca.

Audiences knew Chewie well before the story of Solo began, and he has served the same Ally role throughout the Star Wars series. Chewie is someone for Han to banter with and rely on, and he ends the movie as Han’s only lasting companion. While other characters such as Lando and Qi’ra wear the Ally archetype for only a short period of time, Chewie remains an Ally archetype for the entirety of Han’s life.

The Threshold Guardian:

Often an aspect of the Shadow, Threshold Guardians are there to represent the fears of your Hero and to challenge them as they progress along their journey. Of course, much like the midterm exams you may have had in school, Threshold Guardians aren’t the final test. Still, without your Hero proving they’ve mastered their new skills, these Guardians will prevent them from reaching their final test at all.

While Threshold Guardians are often henchmen of the Shadow, Mentors and Allies can also fulfill this role. For example, an Ally who has second thoughts about their quest might challenge the resolve of your Hero, forcing them to overcome their own doubts to convince their uncertain ally.

One of the primary Threshold Guardians on Han’s journey—though there are many—is a familiar character: Tobias Beckett.

Beckett’s role as a Threshold Guardian cannot go understated, and he actually embodies this role before he takes on the mantle of Mentor. When Han is struggling to get out of the Imperial Army, Tobias refuses to allow him into his gang and even gives him up to Imperial forces as a traitor. Fortunately, Han is persistent, and proves his value to the gang through his quick thinking. Only after he proves himself does Tobias allow him to join, fulfilling the role of the Threshold Guardian.

The Herald:

The Herald’s name gives away much of its function—your story’s Herald is there to give the Call to Adventure, to foreshadow the coming conflict, and to warn the audience that your Hero’s Ordinary World will soon fall away.

Based on this description, the Herald may sound like another aspect of the Shadow, and it certainly can be. However, it can also be a positive force, such as the spitfire young girl who coaxes the lonely bounty hunter out of his shell in, True Grit .

In Solo , the Herald is a character we’ve mentioned before.

From the start of Han’s journey, his mission has been the same—go back for Qi’ra. When he gets caught up with Beckett and his gang, this is still his focus. However, when he finally finds Qi’ra again, she’s not the scrappy child he remembers. This Qi’ra is powerful, elegant, respected, and under the frightening control of Vos.

Suddenly the dynamics of Han’s journey have shifted, and he can no longer live with the “one-day” mentality he had previously been had. His goal becomes urgent and firmly focused on the present, all thanks to Qi’ra’s role as the Herald.

The Trickster:

Next up, we’ll be looking at the Trickster archetype. A classic comedy character seen in sidekicks from a variety of genres, Tricksters are a great way to manage the pace your story. These moments of comedy relieve the tension built up by more action-packed moments, letting your readers take a moment to breathe.

Used in reverse, Tricksters are also great at increasing the weight of key scenes.

A character that’s been light-hearted throughout your story can suddenly turn serious as they approach the Climax. Your readers will take notice, and will soon find themselves anxiously wondering about what’s to come. If this previously comedic character is suddenly changing their tune, then the stakes of the adventure must be rising.

Serving as the Trickster in Solo , we have another repeat character from the original Star Wars trilogy: Lando Calrissian, along with his droid L3-37.

They provide the audience with plenty of antics and absurdities, lightening the mood between darker segments. For periods of the story Lando also serves as an Ally, but his true alliance is always with himself. Fortunately this isn’t malicious and is instead played for laughs, making him a strong Trickster character.

The Shapeshifter:

If you like to fill your stories with suspense you likely have one—if not many—important Shapeshifter characters.

Like the example of the traitorous friend we talked about at the start of this article, the Shapeshifter shows a different face when looked at from different angles. Seductresses, both sexually and in other ways, work to trick the Hero by presenting an alluring offer to their problems while seeking to trap or defeat them when they aren’t looking.

Shapeshifters aren’t always Shadows either.

For instance, the Hero may believe they have an Ally only to find a Shadow, leaving them betrayed and confused. Other times the Shapeshifter may start out as a Shadow, before becoming an Ally later on. This flexibility lets you layer the Shapeshifter archetype into existing characters to create suspense and tension in your story.

Unfortunately for Han, one of his key allies and his Mentor both embody the Shapeshifter archetype, causing suffering on two fronts. For starters, Beckett spends much of the movie acting as a pseudo father-figure, only to betray Han to Vos. This forces Han to kill Beckett to save himself and Chewie, robbing him of his Mentor figure.

Qi’ra engages in a similar betrayal after killing Vos. Han believes he has achieved his goal and that the pair can finally be together, but Qi’ra reveals her allegiance to the Sith and abandons Han. Her betrayal is arguably even more painful for Han than Beckett’s, as it robs him of everything he’s worked towards on his journey.

Repeat Archetypes and How They Work

By this point in the article, you may be wondering…

Why does Qi’ra show up in so many of these archetypes?

Well, to a large extent, this is a sign of how complex her character is. At its core,  Solo is about Han and Qi’ra’s shared journey. While Han takes the traditional Hero’s path, Qi’ra represents the failed Hero.

In Qi’ra’s desperation to improve her life, she accepts the horrible actions committed by herself and other to gain power in exchange for using that power to protect herself. While the Climax sees Han letting go of his past and adhering to his moral compass, Qi’ra gives into her inner struggle, choosing security at the expense of happiness.

Ultimately, her archetypal roles reflect her struggle against herself. In the end, power and safety are more important than anything else—she’s suffered too much to make any other choice.

Using Archetypes in Your Own Novel

Like many other aspects of story structure , the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey are a guide—and as you’ve seen, they can be combined to create an infinite cast of characters. To help manage this complexity, I would recommend thinking of these archetypes in terms of primary and secondary archetypes.

  • Primary Archetype:  the main role the character embodies for the majority of their story.
  • Secondary Archetype: the other, smaller archetypal roles they play during specific moments.

Each character has a primary archetype, such as the Mentor, and at different stages of the journey will wear secondary archetypes, such as the Trickster.

From there, if you feel someone is missing from your cast of characters, look at what archetypes aren’t represented. Likewise, if your cast feels bloated, look for characters with repeated archetypes you can remove or combine into one. As we’ve seen, individual characters can serve many archetypal roles, making extraneous characters often unnecessary.

Above all, I would recommend reading up on both the work of Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler. Each of them have a lot to offer, and they go into much more detail than I can here.

How do these archetypes appear in your own story? Let me know in the comments!

Thoughts on 8 key archetypes of the hero’s journey.

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I’ve always thought that Qi’ra chooses safety in the end, yes, but is also a hero because she saves Han. She takes all eyes off of him and buys his freedom by absorbing responsibility.

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Thanks for this.

I loved how detailed these descriptions are. I can see I need to learn more about shapeshifters and my first thought is going to be taking one of the antagonists in my story and shifting them over to being an ally character. This is going to be interesting.

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Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

archetypal hero's journey

You’ve  read about George  Lucas’s  use of Joseph  Campbell’s Monomyth found in his 1949 book, A Hero with a Thousand Faces ,  which   is  a  common  narrative pattern found in many stories from many different cultures worldwide. This narrative journey typically involves several character archetypes that affect the  hero’s journey from beginning to end.

After the successful debut of  Star Wars   and  Lucas’s  discussions on using  Campbell’s work as inspiration for his space opera, many producers, development executives, filmmakers, and screenwriters have explored the Monomyth with deeper and simplified approaches.

archetypal hero's journey

Christopher Vogler's Interpretation of the Hero's Journey

When Christopher Vogler, a development executive and screenwriter at Disney, was inspired by Joseph  Campbell's  concept of the story monomyth, he crafted a seven-page memo for  Disney's  development team and incoming screenwriters.

This memo,  A Practical Guide to Joseph  Cambell’s  The Hero with a Thousand Faces , laid the groundwork for what would later become  Vogler's  1992 book,  The  Writer's  Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters . In this book, Vogler expanded upon  Campbell’s  ideas.

He adapted  Campbell's  mythical story structure into twelve distinct stages (from  Campbell’s  initial seventeen). Our concise interpretations of these stages include:

  • The Ordinary World : We see the  hero's   normal  life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
  • Call to Adventure : The hero faces an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
  • Refusal of the Call : The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fear, insecurity, or  any  other issues.
  • Meeting the Mentor : The hero encounters a mentor who can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
  • Crossing the Threshold : The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies : The hero learns the  rules of the new world  and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
  • The Approach : The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
  • The Ordeal : Things go wrong, and added conflict  is introduced . The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
  • The Reward : After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that  they've  earned that allows them to take on the  biggest  conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
  • The Road Back : The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
  • The Resurrection : The climax.  The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
  • The Return : The hero  brings  their knowledge or the  " elixir "  back  to the ordinary world.

Within these stages are character archetypes that help to shape the  hero’s   journey, and their eventual character arc throughout the story.

Read More: Exploring the Twelve Stages of the  Hero’s  Journey

Two people racing on light motorcycles in 'Tron: Legacy,' Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

'Tron: Legacy' (2010)

What Are Character Archetypes?

A character archetype is a common  recurring  representation of a character that embodies a set of universal and recognizable traits or characteristics. These archetypes  are seen  throughout literature, film, and other storytelling mediums—and they resonate with audiences because they  are based  on  common human experiences or cultural norms.

Archetypes work well because they are instantly recognizable to readers and audiences.  For writers, character archetypes can  be adapted and molded with ease  during character development.

Character archetypes are not specific characters in a story but  rather broad categories or templates that individual characters can be based on or inspired by. They represent typical roles characters play in the narrative, and their actions and motivations are often predictable based on the archetype they represent.

However, writers can also choose to subvert those expectations to create a more dynamic character , as well as  introduce much-needed twists and turns within the story.

Read More: 10 Character Archetypes in Comedies

Chunk (Jeff Cohen), Mikey (Sean Astin), Mouth (Corey Feldman), and Data (Ke Huy Quan) looking a treasure map in 'The Goonies,' Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

'The Goonies' (1950)

The benefits of using character archetypes include:

  • Universality : Archetypes are universally understood and have similar meanings across cultures and historical contexts.  This  can  especially  help in the cinematic realm  as  movies  are released  in multiple countries and languages.
  • Symbolism : These character traits can symbolize a particular  aspect of  human experience or life.  Once again, symbolism is identifiable across many cultures.
  • Predictability :  Because they  are based  on common patterns,   their behaviors and roles in stories can often be anticipated .  Because of that anticipation, writers can choose between subverting those expectations or using the predictability of the archetypes to service the story and protagonist with ease.  
  • Variability : While archetypes are typical patterns, they allow for variations and depth, meaning a single archetype can manifest in different ways across various stories, allowing writers  can  adapt these traits to any character. 

Character archetypes can  be used   as tools  to tell a compelling and universal story. 

Four fishes in the dentist fish tank smiling at Nemo in 'Finding Nemo,' Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

'Finding Nemo' (2003)

What Are the Character Archetypes in the Hero's Journey?

Many archetypes in the hero's journey—the threshold guardian, the herald, the shapeshifter, the trickster, the ally, and the tempter/temptress—are more defined in later interpretations and expansions of Campbell's  work. People like Vogler applied his theories to modern storytelling so writers, readers, and audiences could more easily understand the dynamics of  Campbell’s  monomyth.

Here,  we’ll break down the main character archetypes in the hero's journey utilized in  Campbell’s  Monomyth and  Vogler’s  expanded breakdowns and interpretations. 

The hero is the  central figure of the story  (protagonist) who undergoes a journey, facing challenges and transformations.  The hero often starts as an ordinary person who  is  then  called  to adventure. They are present throughout the  entire   journey , from the ordinary world to the return with newfound knowledge or power.

Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Indiana Jones ( Raiders of the Lost Arc ), Katniss Everdeen ( The Hunger Games ), Barbie ( Barbie ), and Harry Potter (the  Harry Potter series) are perfect examples of the hero character archetypes. You can include any protagonist within a story that goes on a physical or emotional journey.

As mentioned above, the hero in the  hero’s  journey usually begins their adventure within their ordinary world.  This   offers readers and audiences the chance  to relate to the protagonist, empathize with their plight, and see the beginning of their character arc.  

Read More: Why the 'Barbie' Movie is the Perfect Example of the Hero’s Journey

The shadow is the main antagonist of the story. The shadow reflects the darker aspects of the hero, sometimes represented as the mirror image (opposite) of the hero and their beliefs. Overall, they are the antagonist or villains  present throughout the whole  story in varied ways. 

Read More:  15 Types of Villains Screenwriters Need to Know  

The shadow can also be represented  in metaphorical terms. If a  story’s hero journey is the protagonist dealing with alcoholism or addiction, those vices can serve as the shadow/antagonist/villain.

The quintessential shadows in cinema include characters like Darth Vader ( Star Wars ), Voldemort (the Harry Potter series), and Sauron ( The Lord of the Rings series). But you can also find a less villainous shadow that takes on a lighter antagonistic role without purely evil intentions.

A perfect example of that would be  Principal Rooney in  Ferris Bueller’s Day Off .  He  doesn’t  have evil intentions like a villain does. However, he is the shadow or mirror image of Ferris Bueller. Ferris believes in freedom  an expression . Rooney believes in order and control of others.

Edward "Ed" R. Rooney (Jeffrey Jones) smiling at a group in 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off,' Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)

This character serves as a guide or teacher to the hero, providing them with advice, training, or magical assistance.  The mentor is often a wise or experienced figure, although there have been literary and cinematic variances.

Look no further than the likes of Obi-Wan Kenobi ( Star Wars ), Yoda ( The Empire Strikes Back ), Mr. Miyagi ( The Karate Kid ), and Gandalf ( The Lord of the Rings series ) as core examples of the mentor.

Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) watching Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) in 'The Karate Kid'

'The Karate Kid' (1984)

Allies are friends or companions who support and accompany the hero through their journey. They often complement the  hero's  skills and help them face challenges.

In  Star Wars , the allies of Luke Skywalker include Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the droids. In  The Lord of the Rings series , the fellowship companions of Frodo encompass this character archetype. You can also look to any sidekick-type character as the perfect example of an ally:

  • Goose in  Top Gun
  • Patrick in  Spongebob Squarepants
  • Ron in  Harry Potter
  • Billy in  Big
  • Julie in  Lady Bird
  • Rod in  Get Out
  • Ned in the  Spider-Man  movies
  • Sam in  The Lord of the Rings
  • Short Round in  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Allies can also be characters who  aren’t  as close to the hero but offer  some  type of help along the way.

Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan) and Julie (Beanie Feldstein) looking at houses in 'Lady Bird'

'Lady Bird' (2017)

The Threshold Guardian

These characters serve as obstacles the hero must overcome or circumvent on their journey. They are not always enemies but are present within the story to test the hero and give them the belief and ability to continue on their adventure.

Little John in the  Robin Hood   stories is initially the threshold guardian of the Sherwood Forest. 

He eventually becomes an ally to Robin. But he’s initially a threshold guardian. 

You can turn to   Monthy Python and the Holy Grail  as well. The Black Knight  isn’t  necessarily King  Arthur’s  foe. However,  he’s there to defend the bridge at all costs.

 The Herald

The herald is the character that initiates the call to adventure, pushing the hero to  action,  or providing the news or event that triggers their journey.

In  Star Wars , R2-D2 is the herald of  Luke’s  journey because he delivers the message from Princess Leia  to him . If Luke  doesn’t  see that message, he  doesn’t  show it to Obi-Wan Kenobi. And if Obi-Wan  doesn’t  see that message, he  doesn’t  convince Luke to come with him to join the Rebellion. 

In  Barbie , Weird Barbie is the one who tells Barbie the truth about what she is going through and what she must do to seek out the answers she needs. 

The herald can be a  major  character, a supporting character, or even a minor character. In  The Lord of the Rings , Gandalf is both mentor  and  herald, as he is the one who appears to Frodo, telling him he must bring the ring to Mordor. 

The Shapeshifter

This  archetype's loyalty and role are often unclear, and they can serve as an ally or an enemy to the hero. Sometimes both. Their unpredictable nature adds complexity to the story, usually resulting in twists and turns within the plot.

Snape in the  Harry Potter series is one of the greatest shapeshifters in literature and film. His motives are unknown, mistaken, and hidden. He acts as both a shadow to Harry and later an ally.

Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean   series is another  great  example, embodying the role of an unpredictable ally whose loyalty is often questionable. Yes, he can  be  looked  upon as an antihero protagonist of the movie. However, the clear hero of the story is Will.

Captain Jack Sparrow standing on the top of his sinking ship in 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'

'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl' (2003)

The Trickster

The trickster usually adds  levity  to the story through comic relief. They can be allies or enemies, but typically  they  cause trouble for both.

Jack Sparrow falls under this character archetype as well. But a better example may be Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe   movies. He embodies the definition of a trickster.  He brings more comic relief to the  movies   after his initial first appearance in  Thor .

Perhaps the better example would be Genie in  Disney's   Aladdin . He uses his powers for humorous and unexpected effects, often bending the rules and adding a lighthearted element to the story.

Tempter/Temptress

This archetype can be of any gender and represents temptation or distraction that diverts the hero from their path.

Catwoman in the  Batman  movies often plays the role of a temptress to Batman, combining allure with a morally ambiguous character.

Many of the Bond Girls in the   James Bond  films serve as temptresses, combining allure and mystery and often leading Bond into dangerous situations.

The Indiana Jones variation would be Elsa from  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade . 

One of the best examples of the Tempter playing a more pivotal role in the story is Avery Tolar in The Firm .  He’s  a senior partner at  the law firm  Bendini, Lambert & Locke. His role is crucial in seducing the protagonist, Mitch McDeere, into the luxurious and corrupt world of the law firm.

He has a charismatic and persuasive personality. He mentors Mitch and exposes him to the high-stakes, high-reward lifestyle  that the  firm offers, including wealth, prestige, and power.  Tolar's  character is complex. He is a nuanced character who embodies the charm and allure  that the  firm uses to entice and trap its young associates.

His influence on Mitch is significant, as he represents the allure of success and the moral compromises that often accompany it.  Tolar's  character effectively demonstrates how  the tempter archetype can be used  to explore themes of corruption, temptation, and ethical dilemmas in a narrative.

The character archetypes  found  within the h ero’s  journey offer writers the ability to take universal character templates and mold them to fit into stories that embrace the monomyth structure or use it as a starting point to tell a compelling and engaging story. 

Use them in whatever way  you’d like. They can encompass the more traditional definition within your story, or you can use these archetypes to set up expectations and later subvert those expectations to create a more enthralling and surprising plot.

Read More: Is Joseph Campbell's "The Hero's Journey" Dead in Screenwriting Today?

CHECK OUT OUR PREPARATION NOTES SO YOU START YOUR STORY OFF ON THE RIGHT TRACK!

ScreenCraft Preparation Notes

Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.

He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner, the feature thriller Hunter’s Creed, and many Lifetime thrillers. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies and Instagram @KenMovies76

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archetypal hero's journey

The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

archetypal hero's journey

Classic trickster.

In The Hero of a Thousand Faces , Joseph Campbell demonstrated that many of the most popular stories, even over thousands of years and across cultures, shared a specific formula. That formula is now commonly referred to as mythic structure, or the hero’s journey . Even if you’ve never heard of it before, you’ve consumed this “ monomyth ” in works like Star Wars and Harry Potter.

Along with a specific plot structure, the hero’s journey has a repeating cast of characters, known as character archetypes. An archetype doesn’t specify a character’s age, race, or gender. In fact, it’s best to avoid stereotyping by steering clear of the demographics people associate with them. What archetypes really do is tell us the role a character plays in the story. Thinking about your characters in terms of their archetype will allow you to see whether they’re pulling their weight, or if they’re useless extras.

There are many way to categorize the cast of the hero’s journey, but most central characters fall into one of these eight roles:

J men in black

The hero is the audience’s personal tour guide on the adventure that is the story. It’s critical that the audience can relate to them, because they experience the story through their eyes. During the journey, the hero will leave the world they are familiar with and enter a new one. This new world will be so different that whatever skills the hero used previously will no longer be sufficient. Together, the hero and the audience will master the rules of the new world, and save the day.

J is the heroic tour guide in Men in Black . A cop at the top of his beat, he is suddenly taken behind the masquerade of everyday life. Waiting for him is a world where aliens are hiding among everyday people, and a galaxy can be as small as a marble. While he’s still a cop in essence, his adversaries – and the tools he must wield against them – are nothing like he’s previously known.

Other heroes: any protagonist fits the hero role. Some heroes from stories that stick closely to the hero’s journey are Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Luke Skywalker from Star Wars.

glinda

The hero has to learn how to survive in the new world incredibly fast, so the mentor appears to give them a fighting chance. This mentor will describe how the new world operates, and instruct the hero in using any innate abilities they possess. The mentor will also gift the hero with equipment, because a level one hero never has any decent weapons or armor.

Glinda the Good Witch from The Wizard of Oz appears soon after Dorothy enters Oz. She describes where Dorothy is, and explains that she’s just killed the Wicked Witch of the East. Then, before the Wicked Witch of the West can claim the ruby slippers, Glinda gifts them to the hero instead.

Often, the mentor will perform another important task – getting the plot moving. Heros can be reluctant to leave the world they know for one they don’t. Glinda tells Dorothy to seek the Wizard, and shows her the yellow brick road.

Once the hero is on the right path and has what they need to survive, the mentor disappears. Heroes must fight without their help.

Other mentors: Morpheus from the Matrix, Dumbledore from Harry Potter, and Tia Dalma from Pirates of the Caribbean 2 and 3.

samwise

The hero will have some great challenges ahead; too great for one person to face them alone. They’ll need someone to distract the guards, hack into the mainframe, or carry their gear. Plus, the journey could get a little dull without another character to interact with.

Like many allies, Samwise looks up to Frodo in The Lord of the Rings . He starts the story as a gardener, joining the group almost by accident. He feels it’s his job to keep Frodo safe. But not all allies start that way. They can be more like Han Solo, disagreeable at first, then friendly once the hero earns their respect. Either way, the loyalty and admiration allies have for the hero tells the audience that they are worthy of the trials ahead.

Other allies: Robin from Batman, Ron and Hermione from Harry Potter, and the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz.

boar-spirit-princess-mononoke

The herald appears near the beginning to announce the need for change in the hero’s life. They are the catalyst that sets the whole adventure in motion. While they often bring news of a threat in a distant land, they can also simply show a dissatisfied hero a tempting glimpse of a new life. Occasionally they single the hero out, picking them for a journey they wouldn’t otherwise take.

The great boar demon that appears at the beginning of Princess Mononoke is a herald bearing the scars of a faraway war. Ashitaka defeats him, but not without receiving a mark that sends him into banishment. This gets the hero moving and foreshadows the challenges he will face.

Heralds that do not fill another role will appear only briefly. Often, the herald isn’t a character at all, but a letter or invitation.

Other heralds: Effie from the Hunger Games, R2D2 from Star Wars, and the invitation to the ball in Cinderella.

5. Trickster

dobby

The trickster adds fun and humor to the story. When times are gloomy or emotionally tense, the trickster gives the audience a welcome break. Often, the trickster has another job: challenging the status quo. A good trickster offers an outside perspective and opens up important questions. They’re also great for lampshading the story or the actions of the other characters.

Dobby from Harry Potter is an ideal trickster. He means well, but his efforts to help Harry Potter do more harm than good. And every time he appears in person, his behavior is ridiculous. However, underlying the humorous exterior is a serious issue – Dobby is a slave, and he wants to be free of his masters.

Other tricksters: Luna Lovegood (also from Harry Potter), Crewman #6 from Galaxy Quest, and Merry and Pippin from LoTR.

6. Shapeshifter

dr-elsa-last-crusade

The shapeshifter blurs the line between ally and enemy. Often they begin as an ally, then betray the hero at a critical moment. Other times, their loyalty is in question as they waver back and forth. Regardless, they provide a tantalizing combination of appeal and possible danger. Shapeshifters benefit stories by creating interesting relationships among the characters, and by adding tension to scenes filled with allies.

Dr. Elsa Schneider, from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , is a very effective shapeshifter. Even after she reveals she is working for the enemy, she and the hero still have feelings for each other. She allows him to steal an item back without getting caught, and he allows her to discover the McGuffin with him. But the distrust between them remains.

Other shapeshifters: Gollum from LoTR, Catwoman from Batman, and Gilderoy Lockhart from Harry Potter.

7. Guardian

Stardust wall guardian

The guardian, or threshold guardian, tests the hero before they face great challenges. They can appear at any stage of the story, but they always block an entrance or border of some kind. Their message to the hero is clear: “go home and forget your quest.” They also have a message for the audience: “this way lies danger.” Then the hero must prove their worth by answering a riddle, sneaking past, or defeating the guardian in combat.

The Wall Guard in Stardust is as classic as guardians get. He stands alone at a broken section of stone wall between real world England and the fairy realm of Stormhold. The guard is friendly when Tristan tries to pass into the fairy realm to start his adventure, but he carries a big stick and he’s not afraid to use it.

Other guardians: The Doorknob from Alice in Wonderland, the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Heimdall from Thor.

faux-darth-vader

Shadows are villains in the story. They exist to create threat and conflict, and to give the hero something to struggle against. Like many of the other archetypes, shadows do not have to be characters specifically – the dark side of the force is just as much a shadow for Luke as Darth Vader is.

The shadow is especially effective if it mirrors the hero in some way. It shows the audience the twisted person the hero could become if they head down the wrong path, and highlights the hero’s internal struggle. This, in turn, makes the hero’s success more meaningful. The reveal that Darth Vader is Luke’s father, right after Luke had ignored Yoda’s advice, makes the dark side feel more threatening.

Other shadows: Voldemort from Harry Potter, Sauron from LoTR, and Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty.

It’s unusual for stories to have exactly one character per archetype. Because archetypes are simply roles a character can take, Obi Won and Yoda can both be mentors, J can be a hero and a trickster, and Effie Trinket can be first a herald, then later an ally. While you shouldn’t rush to add archetypes that are missing, any character that fits more than one is probably important to the story. If you have a character that doesn’t fit any, make sure they are strengthening, and not detracting from, your plot.

Learn More About These Archetypes

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Comments on The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey

Thanks for this great guide!!

Thank you, very informative. Gives a better understanding on how to create a story and “important” NPCs.

Like your name. :)

I like your name

I have a question. In Disney’s/ABC’s Once Upon a Time would you consider Rumplestiltskin/The Dark One to be a Trickster or a Shapeshifter? He’s not a ‘true’ villain though the writer’s class him as a villain. He’s way too complicated to just be a villain!!! He does evil things, bad things, neutral things and sometimes good things, but he keeps changing back and forth. He has the ability to love (his son and his wife Belle) but he ALWAYS puts power above them (it’s more important to him than his son or wife). I always thought of him as ‘the Trickster’ but when I read your description of the Shapeshifter it started me thinking again! hmmmmmm

I haven’t watched enough Once Upon a Time to tell you for sure based on my personal knowledge of Rumplestiltskin, but if he is often working together with the good guys but is liable to betray them or do other bad things, he’s probably a shapeshifter. Tricksters almost always provide comic relief. In the few episodes I watched, it did not look like Rumplestiltskin was a comical character.

However, because the archetypes are roles, characters can have more than one or change what they are. It sounds like sometimes when he is doing especially bad things, he might be a Shadow temporarily.

Shapeshifter

Dianne its a very good question but its really what you think he is.he is apart of many difrent grous and some arnt on this site . The most common thing ppl think he is is a villan but it really isnt like that at all but its up to you. hope i help . sincerely wesh

Would I be right in saying that Magneto in X-Men would be considered a shapeshifter?

Based on my very crude knowledge of X-Men, Magneto is mostly a shadow. Like a good shadow, he is a dark reflection of Professor X. However, he also takes on the role of shapeshifter during their temporary alliances.

No no, the shapeshifter is Mystique. ;)

HA! Good one :D

She can turn into other people, too, so, in literal sense, she is one. I think Chris was talking figuratively.

You’re Welcome!!!!!!!!!!

Msytique es da best chicka in da world mahhh boi

dont do drugs kids

bahahahahah

The description of the shadow is a little misleading. He is not the antagonist, and not evil. He mirrors the side of the hero that he/she is not aware of, but must acknowledge in order to continue and be sucessful on his/her journey.

The Star Wars example with the cave sets it: Yes, Darth Vader is evil (he is antagonist and shadow all in one), but he is also Lukes father. Therefore, he wasn´t always evil. Luke knows this.

A great example for a shadow in film are the two girls in American Beauty. Angela is Janes Shadow. She represents everything that Jane must leave behind in order to get on with her life, find her destiny etc. But Angela is not evil. She is a rather normal teenager. She is Janes friend.

Interesting approach :) (I’m not being ironic)

Usually, shadows are antagonists.

I’m not super familiar with American Beauty, so I could be totally wrong on this, but it sounds like the character dynamic you are describing is the use of a foil. A foil is character who starkly contrasts with attributes of a character (nearly always the main character) in order to highlight certain attributes of a character.

The Shadow is most definitely the opposing force in a literary work. It is true that the shadow – when it is a character – is most effective if it is also a foil of the protagonist as this helps to illustrate how the hero’s conflict is as much internal as external, but existing expressly to mirror the hero in some way is not a defining feature of the shadow.

The villain of American Beauty is societal pressure to be “normal” and the havoc it wreaks on people who are unique and special.

All the characters in the movie in some way rebel against that pressure, some prevail and others are destroyed.

It would be interesting to think up ways to realign quest stories to make different figures the protagonist. Like, say, in the Matrix, they really had me going that Neo wasn’t the one – I thought it would turn out to be Morpheus. Which would mean we were seeing Morpheus’s Hero journey through the eyes of one of his last Guardians (the obstacle preventing Morpheus seeing the Hero he sought was himself).

That would have been really cool. Nobody thinks of themselves as the hero (no competent person anyway). And it would fit perfectly with the Oracle telling Trinity that she would love The One, because love can also be fraternal.

I have only a secondary knowledge of Science Fiction and mythical creatures, gleaned from sitting with my husband and son when they watch shows in the same room with me. I found your page very informative, interesting, and helpful so that I may understand what I am watching Sci-Fi shows or shows about mythology with my family. Thank you.

Thanks for this article! I am actually a sculptor building a portfolio for character modeling. I was told by an industry recruiter to include different archetypes. For the longest time I only vaguely knew what he meant until I read your post. Currently reading the recommended book – excellent by the way! – which I see is the industry bible on this subject. I now have a much clearer picture on what direction to take my work! I also am now starting to see the types as I watch and read things. Great article :-)

I actually feel like Snape is a better example of the shapeshifter than Lockhart.

Good point. He’s always portrayed as evil … up until the end, when you see he was on the other side the whole time.

Zuko from Avatar the Last Airbender seems to be a perfect shapeshifter to me.

Yes. The most common form of the shapeshifter is one who begins as Ally and betrays the hero, but a character taking the inverse course of action is also an example of a shapeshifter. What defines the shapeshifter is that there is at least a key moment where the audience is left to wonder for themselves if the character is friend or foe. Zuko is also a wonderfully written character who undergoes a Heroes quest of his own with Iroh serving as his mentor and Azula taking on the role of shadow. He can be viewed as many roles in series depending on which part of the series you are thinking about.

Sir Didimus (sp?) from Labyrinth would be a penultimate Guardian.

Welcome to the Mythcreants comment section, Jemma Caffyn!

p.s. You have the same name as my favorite scientist (a made-up spec fic scientist, of course)

what about a villian that goes from bad to good?

Unless somehow showing up as the shadow, redeemed villains are not part of Joseph Campbell’s monomyth. The overwhelming majority of myths and stories written before the romantic period had clear villains and heroes. Nietschze explained this by saying that all myths are morality tales; if people believe that there is a definite good and evil then it will be easier for them to accept anything their leaders do so long as their is a greater enemy. It is no coincidence that so many mythical heroes are of noble birth. It has even be argued that morally ambiguous characters are a feature of democracy ( https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2017/03/whats-so-american-about-john-miltons-lucifer/519624/ ).

If you are interested in redeemed villains, this blog has an article and a podcast about them: https://mythcreants.com/blog/creating-your-villains-journey/ https://mythcreants.com/blog/122-redeeming-a-villain/

Can the Drayo State feasibly be attained by a character who doesn’t just confront his or her shadow but cannibalises it and therefore digests the darker side of his or her own nature? Asking for a friend.

Well, first of all, what is the “Drayo State”?

Fantastically useful site & not just for sf & fantasy writers. I’ve learned such a lot. Thanks!

i agree, very useful.

Thanks for helping me do my homework!

Archetypes are kind of like personas in life in general.

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The Role of Archetypes in Literature

Christopher Vogler's work on archetypes helps us understand literature

  • Tips For Adult Students
  • Getting Your Ged
  • The Hero's Journey

The Job of the Herald

The purpose of the mentor, overcoming the threshold guardian, meeting ourselves in shapeshifters, confronting the shadow, changes brought about by the trickster.

archetypal hero's journey

  • B.A., English, St. Olaf College

Carl Jung called archetypes the ancient patterns of personality that are the shared heritage of the human race. Archetypes are amazingly constant throughout all times and cultures in the collective unconscious, and you'll find them in all of the most satisfying literature. An understanding of these forces is one of the most powerful elements in the storyteller’s toolbox.

Understanding these ancient patterns can help you better understand literature and become a better writer yourself. You'll also be able to identify archetypes in your life experience and bring that wealth to your work. 

When you grasp the function of the archetype a character expresses, you will know his or her purpose in the story.

Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure , writes about how every good story reflects the total human story. In other words, the hero's journey represents the universal human condition of being born into this world, growing, learning, struggling to become an individual, and dying. The next time you watch a movie, TV program, even a commercial, identify the following archetypes. I guarantee you'll see some or all of them.

The Hero's Journey

The word "hero" comes from a Greek root that means to protect and serve. The hero is connected with self-sacrifice. He or she is the person who transcends ego, but at first, the hero is all ego.

The hero’s job is to incorporate all the separate parts of himself to become a true Self, which he then recognizes as part of the whole, Vogler says. The reader is usually invited to identify with the hero. You admire the hero's qualities and want to be like him or her, but the hero also has flaws. Weaknesses, quirks, and vices make a hero more appealing. The hero also has one or more inner conflicts. For example, he or she may struggle over the conflicts of love versus duty, trust versus suspicion, or hope versus despair.

In The Wizard of Oz  Dorothy is the story's hero, a girl trying to find her place in the world.

Heralds issue challenges and announce the coming of significant change. Something changes the hero’s situation, and nothing is the same ever again.

The herald often delivers the Call to Adventure, sometimes in the form of a letter, a phone call, an accident.

Heralds provide the important psychological function of announcing the need for change, Vogler says.

Miss Gulch, at the beginning of the film version of The Wizard of Oz , makes a visit to Dorothy's house to complain that Toto is trouble. Toto is taken away, and the adventure begins.

Mentors provide heroes with motivation , inspiration , guidance, training, and gifts for the journey. Their gifts often come in the form of information or gadgets that come in handy later. Mentors seem inspired by divine wisdom; they are the voice of a god. They stand for the hero’s highest aspirations, Vogler says.

The gift or help given by the mentor should be earned by learning, sacrifice, or commitment.

Yoda is a classic mentor. So is Q from the James Bond series. Glinda, the Good Witch, is Dorothy's mentor in The Wizard of O z.

At each gateway on the journey, there are powerful guardians placed to keep the unworthy from entering. If properly understood, these guardians can be overcome, bypassed, or turned into allies. These characters are not the journey's main villain but are often lieutenants of the villain. They are the naysayers, doorkeepers, bouncers, bodyguards, and gunslingers, according to Vogler.

On a deeper psychological level, threshold guardians represent our internal demons. Their function is not necessarily to stop the hero but to test if he or she is really determined to accept the challenge of change.

Heroes learn to recognize resistance as a source of strength. Threshold Guardians are not to be defeated but incorporated into the self. The message: those who are put off by outward appearances cannot enter the Special World, but those who can see past surface impressions to the inner reality are welcome, according to Vogler.

The Doorman at the Emerald City, who attempts to stop Dorothy and her friends from seeing the wizard, is one threshold guardian. Another is the group of flying monkeys who attack the group. Finally, the Winkie Guards are literal threshold guardians who are enslaved by the Wicked Witch.

Shapeshifters express the energy of the animus (the male element in the female consciousness) and anima (the female element in the male consciousness). Vogler says we often recognize a resemblance of our own anima or animus in a person, project the full image onto him or her, enter a relationship with this ideal fantasy, and commence trying to force the partner to match our projection.

The shapeshifter is a catalyst for change, a symbol of the psychological urge to transform. The role serves the dramatic function of bringing doubt and suspense into a story. It is a mask that may be worn by any character in the story, and is often expressed by a character whose loyalty and true nature are always in question, Vogler says.

Think Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion.

The shadow represents the energy of the dark side, the unexpressed, unrealized, or rejected aspects of something. The negative face of the shadow is the villain, antagonist, or enemy. It may also be an ally who is after the same goal but who disagrees with the hero’s tactics.

Vogler says the function of the shadow is to challenge the hero and give her a worthy opponent in the struggle. Femmes Fatale are lovers who shift shapes to such a degree they become the shadow. The best shadows have some admirable quality that humanizes them. Most shadows do not see themselves as villains, but merely as heroes of their own myths.

Internal shadows may be deeply repressed parts of the hero, according to Vogler. External shadows must be destroyed by the hero or redeemed and turned into a positive force. Shadows may also represent unexplored potentials, such as affection, creativity, or psychic ability that goes unexpressed.

The Wicked Witch is the obvious shadow in the Wizard of Oz.

The trickster embodies the energies of mischief and the desire for change. He cuts big egos down to size and brings heroes and readers down to earth, Vogler says. He brings change by drawing attention to the imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant situation and often provokes laughter. Tricksters are catalyst characters who affect the lives of others but are unchanged themselves.

The Wizard himself is both a shapeshifter and a trickster.

  • The Approach to the Inmost Cave in the Hero's Journey
  • The Hero's Journey: Crossing the Threshold
  • An Introduction to The Hero's Journey
  • The Hero's Journey: Refusing The Call to Adventure
  • The Ordeal in the Hero's Journey
  • The Reward and the Road Back
  • The Hero's Journey: Meeting with the Mentor
  • The Ordinary World in the Hero's Journey
  • The Resurrection and Return With the Elixir
  • "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" Study Guide
  • Therapeutic Metaphor
  • The Definition of Quest in Literature
  • Foreshadowing in Narratives
  • The Tin Man's Toxic Metal Makeup
  • The Heroes of Ancient Greece and Rome
  • What Is an Antagonist?

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The Hero’s Journey Ultimate Writing Guide with Examples

archetypal hero's journey

by Alex Cabal

What do Star Wars , The Hobbit , and Harry Potter have in common? They’re all examples of a story archetype as old as time. You’ll see this universal narrative structure in books, films, and even video games.

This ultimate Hero’s Journey writing guide will define and explore all quintessential elements of the Hero’s Journey—character archetypes, themes, symbolism, the three act structure, as well as 12 stages of the Hero’s Journey. We’ll even provide a downloadable plot template, tips for writing the Hero’s Journey, and writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story structure that follows the personal metamorphosis and psychological development of a protagonist on a heroic adventure. The protagonist goes through a series of stages to overcome adversity and complete a quest to attain an ultimate reward—whether that’s something tangible, like the holy grail, or something internal, like self confidence.

In the process of self-discovery, the archetypal Hero’s Journey is typically cyclical; it begins and ends in the same place (Think Frodo leaving and then returning to the Shire). After the epic quest or adventure has been completed by overcoming adversity and conflict—both physical and mental—the hero arrives where they once began, changed in some as they rose to meet the ultimate conflict or ordeal of the quest.

Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler

The Hero’s Journey has a long history of conversation around the form and its uses, with notable contributors including Joseph Campbell and the screenwriter Christopher Vogler , who later revised the steps of the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” framework is the traditional story structure of the Hero’s Journey archetype. Campbell developed it through analysis of ancient myths, folktales, and religious stories. It generally follows three acts in a cyclical, rather than a linear, way: a hero embarks on a journey, faces a crisis, and then returns home transformed and victorious.

Campbell’s ideation of the monomyth in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces was influenced by Carl Jung’s perspective of psychology and models of self-transformation , where the Hero’s Journey is a path of transformation to a higher self, psychological healing, and spiritual growth.

While Campbell’s original take on the monomyth included 17 steps within the three acts, Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer’s Journey , refined those 17 steps into 12 stages—the common formula for the modern structure many writers use today.

It’s also worth checking out Maureen Murdock’s work on the archetype, “The Heroine’s Journey.” This takes a look at the female Hero’s Journey, which examines the traditionally masculine journey through a feminist lens.

Hero’s Journey diagram: acts, steps, and stages

Below, you can see the way Volger’s Hero’s Journey is broken into twelve story beats across three acts.

A diagram representing the Hero’s Journey. The 12 steps of the journey surround a circle, which goes in a direction from act 1 to the final act.

Why is the Hero’s Journey so popular?

The structure of the Hero’s Journey appears in many of our most beloved classic stories, and it continues to resonate over time because it explores the concept of personal transformation and growth through both physical and mental trials and tribulations. In some sense, every individual in this mythic structure experiences rites of passage, the search for home and the true authentic self, which is mirrored in a protagonist’s journey of overcoming obstacles while seeking to fulfill a goal.

Additionally, the Hero’s Journey typically includes commonly shared symbols and aspects of the human psyche—the trickster, the mother, the child, etc. These archetypes play a role in creating a story that the reader can recognize from similar dynamics in their own relationships, experiences, and familiar world. Archetypes allow the writer to use these “metaphorical truths”—a playful deceiver, a maternal bond, a person of innocence and purity—to deeply and empathetically connect with the reader through symbolism. That’s why they continue to appear in countless stories all around the world.

Hero’s Journey character archetypes

Character archetypes are literary devices based on a set of qualities that are easy for a reader to identify, empathize with, and understand, as these qualities and traits are common to the human experience.

It should be noted that character archetypes are not stereotypes . While stereotypes are oversimplifications of demographics or personality traits, an archetype is a symbol of a universal type of character that can be recognized either in one’s self or in others in real life.

The following archetypes are commonly used in a Hero’s Journey:

The hero is typically the protagonist or principal point-of-view character within a story. The hero transforms—internally, externally, often both—while on their journey as they experience tests and trials and are aided or hindered by the other archetypes they encounter. In general, the hero must rise to the challenge and at some point make an act of sacrifice for the ultimate greater good. In this way, the Hero’s Journey represents the reader’s own everyday battles and their power to overcome them.

Heroes may be willing or unwilling. Some can be downright unheroic to begin with. Antiheroes are notably flawed characters that must grow significantly before they achieve the status of true hero.

The mentor often possesses divine wisdom or direct experience with the special world, and has faith in the hero. They often give the hero a gift or supernatural aid, which is usually something important for the quest: either a weapon to destroy a monster, or a talisman to enlighten the hero. The mentor may also directly aid the hero or present challenges to them that force internal or external growth. After their meeting, the hero leaves stronger and better prepared for the road ahead.

The herald is the “call to adventure.” They announce the coming of significant change and become the reason the hero ventures out onto a mysterious adventure. The herald is a catalyst that enters the story and makes it impossible for the hero to remain in status quo. Existing in the form of a person or an event, or sometimes just as information, they shift the hero’s balance and change their world.

The Threshold Guardian

This archetype guards the first threshold—the major turning point of the story where the hero must make the true commitment of the journey and embark on their quest to achieve their destiny. Threshold guardians spice up the story by providing obstacles the hero must overcome, but they’re usually not the main antagonist.

The role of the threshold guardian is to help round out the hero along their journey. The threshold guardian will test the hero’s determination and commitment and will drive them forward as the hero enters the next stage of their journey, assisting the development of the hero’s character arc within the plot. The threshold guardian can be a friend who doesn’t believe in the hero’s quest, or a foe that makes the hero question themselves, their desires, or motives in an attempt to deter the hero from their journey. Ultimately, the role of the threshold guardian is to test the hero’s resolve on their quest.

The Shape Shifter

The shape shifter adds dramatic tension to the story and provides the hero with a puzzle to solve. They can seem to be one thing, but in fact be something else. They bring doubt and suspense to the story and test the hero’s ability to discern their path. The shape shifter may be a lover, friend, ally, or enemy that somehow reveals their true self from the hero’s preconceived notion. This often causes the hero internal turmoil, or creates additional challenges and tests to overcome.

The shadow is the “monster under the bed,” and could be repressed feelings, deep trauma, or festering guilt. These all possess the dark energy of the shadow. It is the dark force of the unexpressed, unrealized, rejected, feared aspects of the hero and is often, but not necessarily, represented by the main antagonist or villain.

However, other characters may take the form of the shadow at different stages of the story as “foil characters” that contrast against the hero. They might also represent what could happen if the hero fails to learn, transform, and grow to complete their quest. At times, a hero may even succumb to the shadow, from which they will need to make sacrifices to be redeemed to continue on their overall quest.

The Trickster

The trickster is the jester or fool of the story that not only provides comic relief, but may also act as a commentator as the events of the plot unfold. Tricksters are typically witty, clever, spontaneous, and sometimes even ridiculous. The trickster within a story can bring a light-hearted element to a challenge, or find a clever way to overcome an obstacle.

The Hero’s Journey can be found all across comparative mythology

Hero’s Journey themes and symbols

Alongside character archetypes, there are also archetypes for settings, situations, and symbolic items that can offer meaning to the world within the story or support your story’s theme.

Archetypes of themes, symbols, and situations represent shared patterns of human existence. This familiarity can provide the reader insight into the deeper meaning of a story without the writer needing to explicitly tell them. There are a great number of archetypes and symbols that can be used to reinforce a theme. Some that are common to the Hero’s Journey include:

Situational archetypes

Light vs. dark and the battle of good vs. evil

Death, rebirth, and transformation in the cycle of life

Nature vs. technology, and the evolution of humanity

Rags to riches or vice versa, as commentary on the material world and social status

Wisdom vs. knowledge and innocence vs. experience, in the understanding of intuition and learned experience

Setting archetypes

Gardens may represent the taming of nature, or living in harmony with nature.

Forests may represent reconnection with nature or wildness, or the fear of the unknown.

Cities or small towns may represent humanity at its best and at its worst. A small town may offer comfort and rest, while simultaneously offering judgment; a city may represent danger while simultaneously championing diversity of ideas, beings, and cultures.

Water and fire within a landscape may represent danger, change, purification, and cleansing.

Symbolic items

Items of the past self. These items are generally tokens from home that remind the hero of where they came from and who or what they’re fighting for.

Gifts to the hero. These items may be given to the hero from a mentor, ally, or even a minor character they meet along the way. These items are typically hero talismans, and may or may not be magical, but will aid the hero on their journey.

Found items. These items are typically found along the journey and represent some sort of growth or change within the hero. After all, the hero would never have found the item had they not left their everyday life behind. These items may immediately seem unimportant, but often carry great significance.

Earned rewards. These items are generally earned by overcoming a test or trial, and often represent growth, or give aid in future trials, tests, and conflicts.

The three act structure of the Hero’s Journey

The structure of the Hero’s Journey, including all 12 steps, can be grouped into three stages that encompass each phase of the journey. These acts follow the the external and internal arc of the hero—the beginning, the initiation and transformation, and the return home.

Act One: Departure (Steps 1—5)

The first act introduces the hero within the ordinary world, as they are—original and untransformed. The first act will typically include the first five steps of the Hero’s Journey.

This section allows the writer to set the stage with details that show who the hero is before their metamorphosis—what is the environment of the ordinary world? What’s important to the hero? Why do they first refuse the call, and then, why do they ultimately accept and embark on the journey to meet with the conflict?

This stage introduces the first major plot point of the story, explores the conflict the hero confronts, and provides the opportunity for characterization for the hero and their companions.

The end of the first act generally occurs when the hero has fully committed to the journey and crossed the threshold of the ordinary world—where there is no turning back.

Act Two: Initiation (Steps 6—9)

Once the hero begins their journey, the second act marks the beginning of their true initiation into the unfamiliar world—they have crossed the threshold, and through this choice, have undergone their first transformation.

The second act is generally the longest of the three and includes steps six through nine.

In this act, the hero meets most of the characters that will be pivotal to the plot, including friends, enemies, and allies. It offers the rising action and other minor plot points related to the overarching conflict. The hero will overcome various trials, grow and transform, and navigate subplots—the additional and unforeseen complexity of the conflict.

This act generally ends when the hero has risen to the challenge to overcome the ordeal and receives their reward. At the end of this act, it’s common for the theme and moral of the story to be fully unveiled.

Act Three: Return (Steps 10—12)

The final stage typically includes steps 10—12, generally beginning with the road back—the point in the story where the hero must recommit to the journey and use all of the growth, transformation, gifts and tools acquired along the journey to bring a decisive victory against their final conflict.

From this event, the hero will also be “reborn,” either literally or metaphorically, and then beginning anew as a self-actualized being, equipped with internal knowledge about themselves, external knowledge about the world, and experience.

At the end of the third act, the hero returns home to the ordinary world, bringing back the gifts they earned on their journey. In the final passages, both the hero and their perception of the ordinary world are compared with what they once were.

The 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey

The following guide outlines the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey and represents a framework for the creation of a Hero’s Journey story template. You don’t necessarily need to follow the explicit cadence of these steps in your own writing, but they should act as checkpoints to the overall story.

We’ll also use JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a literary example for each of these steps. The Hobbit does an exemplary job of following the Hero’s Journey, and it’s also an example of how checkpoints can exist in more than one place in a story, or how they may deviate from the typical 12-step process of the Hero’s Journey.

Step One: “The Ordinary World”

1. The Ordinary World

This stage in the Hero’s Journey is all about exposition. This introduces the hero’s backstory—who the hero is, where they come from, their worldview, culture, and so on. This offers the reader a chance to relate to the character in their untransformed form.

As the story and character arc develop, the reader is brought along the journey of transformation. By starting at the beginning, a reader has a basic understanding of what drives the hero, so they can understand why the hero makes the choices they do. The ordinary world shows the protagonist in their comfort zone, with their worldview being limited to the perspective of their everyday life.

Characters in the ordinary world may or may not be fully comfortable or satisfied, but they don’t have a point of reference to compare—they have yet to leave the ordinary world to gain the knowledge to do so.

Step One example

The Hobbit begins by introducing Bilbo in the Shire as a respectable and well-to-do member of the community. His ordinary world is utopian and comfortable. Yet, even within a village that is largely uninterested in the concerns of the world outside, the reader is provided a backstory: even though Bilbo buys into the comforts and normalcy of the Shire, he still yearns for adventure—something his neighbors frown upon. This ordinary world of the Shire is disrupted with the introduction of Gandalf—the “mentor”—who is somewhat uncomfortably invited to tea.

2. Call to Adventure

The call to adventure in the Hero’s Journey structure is the initial internal conflict that the protagonist hero faces, that drives them to the true conflict that they must overcome by the end of their journey.

The call occurs within the known world of the character. Here the writer can build on the characterization of the protagonist by detailing how they respond to the initial call. Are they hesitant, eager, excited, refusing, or willing to take a risk?

Step Two example

Bilbo’s call to adventure takes place at tea as the dwarves leisurely enter his home, followed by Gandalf, who identifies Bilbo as the group’s missing element—the burglar, and the lucky 14th member.

Bilbo and his ordinary world are emphasized by his discomfort with his rambunctious and careless guests. Yet as the dwarves sing stories of old adventures, caverns, and lineages, which introduce and foreshadow the conflict to come, a yearning for adventure is stirred. Though he still clings to his ordinary world and his life in the Shire, he’s conflicted. Should he leave the shire and experience the world, or stay in his comfortable home? Bilbo continues to refuse the call, but with mixed feelings.

Step Three: “Refusal of the Call”

3. Refusal of the Call

The refusal of the call in the Hero’s Journey showcases a “clinging” to one’s original self or world view. The initial refusal of the call represents a fear of change, as well as a resistance to the internal transformation that will occur after the adventure has begun.

The refusal reveals the risks that the protagonist faces if they were to answer the call, and shows what they’ll leave behind in the ordinary world once they accept.

The refusal of the call creates tension in the story, and should show the personal reasons why the hero is refusing—inner conflict, fear of change, hesitation, insecurity, etc. This helps make their character clearer for the reader.

These are all emotions a reader can relate to, and in presenting them through the hero, the writer deepens the reader’s relationship with them and helps the reader sympathize with the hero’s internal plight as they take the first step of transformation.

Step Three example

Bilbo refuses the call in his first encounter with Gandalf, and in his reaction to the dwarves during tea. Even though Bilbo’s “Tookish” tendencies make him yearn for adventure, he goes to bed that night still refusing the call. The next morning, as Bilbo awakes to an empty and almost fully clean hobbit home, he feels a slight disappointment for not joining the party, but quickly soothes his concerns by enjoying the comfort of his home—i.e. the ordinary world. Bilbo explores his hesitation to disembark from the ordinary world, questioning why a hobbit would become mixed up in the adventures of others, and choosing not to meet the dwarves at the designated location.

4. Meeting the Mentor

Meeting the mentor in the Hero’s Journey is the stage that provides the hero protagonist with a guide, relationship, and/or informational asset that has experience outside the ordinary world. The mentor offers confidence, advice, wisdom, training, insight, tools, items, or gifts of supernatural wonder that the hero will use along the journey and in overcoming the ultimate conflict.

The mentor often represents someone who has attempted to overcome, or actually has overcome, an obstacle, and encourages the hero to pursue their calling, regardless of the hero’s weaknesses or insecurities. The mentor may also explicitly point out the hero’s weaknesses, forcing them to reckon with and accept them, which is the first step to their personal transformation.

Note that not all mentors need to be a character . They can also be objects or knowledge that has been instilled in the hero somehow—cultural ethics, spiritual guidance, training of a particular skill, a map, book, diary, or object that illuminates the path forward, etc. In essence, the mentor character or object has a role in offering the protagonist outside help and guidance along the Hero’s Journey, and plays a key role in the protagonist’s transition from normalcy to heroism.

The mentor figure also offers the writer the opportunity to incorporate new information by expanding upon the story, plot, or backstory in unique ways. They do this by giving the hero information that would otherwise be difficult for the writer to convey naturally.

The mentor may accompany the hero throughout most of the story, or they may only periodically be included to facilitate changes and transformation within them.

Step Four example

The mentor, Gandalf, is introduced almost immediately. Gandalf is shown to be the mentor, firstly through his arrival from—and wisdom of—the outside world; and secondly, through his selection of Bilbo for the dwarven party by identifying the unique characteristics Bilbo has that are essential to overcoming the challenges in the journey. Gandalf doesn’t accompany Bilbo and the company through all of the trials and tribulations of the plot, but he does play a key role in offering guidance and assistance, and saves the group in times of dire peril.

Step Five: “Crossing the Threshold”

5. Crossing the Threshold

As the hero crosses the first threshold, they begin their personal quest toward self-transformation. Crossing the threshold means that the character has committed to the journey, and has stepped outside of the ordinary world in the pursuit of their goal. This typically marks the conclusion of the first act.

The threshold lies between the ordinary world and the special world, and marks the point of the story where the hero fully commits to the road ahead. It’s a crucial stage in the Hero’s Journey, as the hero wouldn’t be able to grow and transform by staying in the ordinary world where they’re comfortable and their world view can’t change.

The threshold isn’t necessarily a specific place within the world of the story, though a place can symbolize the threshold—for example a border, gateway, or crossroads that separate what is safe and “known” from what is potentially dangerous. It can also be a moment or experience that causes the hero to recognize that the comforts and routine of their world no longer apply—like the loss of someone or something close to the hero, for example. The purpose of the threshold is to take the hero out of their element and force them, and the reader, to adapt from the known to the unknown.

This moment is crucial to the story’s tension. It marks the first true shift in the character arc and the moment the adventure has truly begun. The threshold commonly forces the hero into a situation where there’s no turning back. This is sometimes called the initiation stage or the departure stage.

Step Five example

The threshold moment in The Hobbit occurs when the party experiences true danger as a group for the first time. Bilbo, voted as scout by the party and eager to prove his burglar abilities, sneaks upon a lone fire in the forest where he finds three large trolls. Rather than turn back empty-handed—as he initially wants to—Bilbo chooses to prove himself, plucking up the courage to pickpocket the trolls—but is caught in the process. The dwarves are also captured and fortunately, Gandalf, the mentor, comes to save the party.

Bilbo’s character arc is solidified in this threshold moment. He experiences his first transformation when he casts aside fear and seeks to prove himself as a burglar, and as an official member of the party. This moment also provides further characterization of the party as a whole, proving the loyalty of the group in seeking out their captured member.

Gandalf’s position as the mentor is also firmly established as he returns to ultimately save all of the members of the party from being eaten by trolls. The chapter ends with Bilbo taking ownership of his first hero talisman—the sword that will accompany him through the rest of the adventure.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once the hero has crossed the threshold, they must now encounter tests of courage, make allies, and inevitably confront enemies. All these elements force the hero to learn the new ways of the special world and how it differs from the hero’s ordinary world—i.e. how the rules have changed, the conditions of the special world vs. the ordinary world, and the various beings and places within it.

All these elements spark stages of transformation within the hero—learning who they can trust and who they can’t, learning new skills, seeking training from the mentor, and overcoming challenges that force and drive them to grow and transform.

The hero may both succeed and fail at various points of this stage, which will test their commitment to the journey. The writer can create tension by making it clear that the hero may or may not succeed at the critical moment of crisis. These crises can be external or internal.

External conflicts are issues that the character must face and overcome within the plot—e.g. the enemy has a sword drawn and the hero must fight to survive.

Internal conflicts occur inside the hero. For example, the hero has reached safety, but their ally is in peril; will they step outside their comfort zone and rise to the occasion and save their friend? Or will they return home to their old life and the safety of the ordinary world?

Tests are conflicts and threats that the hero must face before they reach the true conflict, or ordeal, of the story. These tests set the stage and prime the hero to meet and achieve the ultimate goal. They provide the writer the opportunity to further the character development of the hero through their actions, inactions, and reactions to what they encounter. The various challenges they face will teach them valuable lessons, as well as keep the story compelling and the reader engaged.

Allies represent the characters that offer support to the protagonist along the journey. Some allies may be introduced from the beginning, while others may be gained along the journey. Secondary characters and allies provide additional nuance for the hero, through interactions, events, and relationships that further show who the hero is at heart, what they believe in, and what they’re willing to fight for. The role of the allies is to bring hope, inspiration, and further drive the hero to do what needs to be done.

Enemies represent a foil to the allies. While allies bring hope and inspiration, enemies will provide challenges, conflicts, tests, and challenges. Both allies and enemies may instigate transformative growth, but enemies do so in a way that fosters conflict and struggle.

Characterization of enemies can also enhance the development of the hero through how they interact and the lessons learned through those interactions. Is the hero easily duped, forgiving, empathetic, merciful? Do they hold a grudge and seek revenge? Who is the hero now that they have been harmed, faced an enemy, and lost pieces of their innocent worldview? To answer that, the hero is still transforming and gestating with every lesson, test, and enemy faced along the way.

Step Six example

As the plot of The Hobbit carries on, Bilbo encounters many tests, allies, and enemies that all drive complexity in the story. A few examples include:

The first major obstacle that Bilbo faces occurs within the dark and damp cave hidden in the goblin town. All alone, Bilbo must pluck up the wit and courage to outriddle a creature named Gollum. In doing so, Bilbo discovers the secret power of a golden ring (another hero talisman) that will aid him and the party through the rest of the journey.

The elves encountered after Bilbo “crosses the threshold” are presented as allies in the story. The hero receives gifts of food, a safe place to rest, and insight and guidance that allows the party to continue on their journey. While the party doesn’t dwell long with the elves, the elves also provide further character development for the party at large: the serious dwarf personalities are juxtaposed against the playful elvish ones, and the elves offer valuable historical insight with backstory to the weapons the party gathered from the troll encounter.

Goblins are a recurring enemy within the story that the hero and party must continue to face, fight, and run from. The goblins present consistent challenges that force Bilbo to face fear and learn and adapt, not only to survive but to save his friends.

Step Seven: “Approach to the Inmost Cave”

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The approach to the inmost cave of the Hero’s Journey is the tense quiet before the storm; it’s the part of the story right before the hero faces their greatest fear, and it can be positioned in a few different ways. By now, the hero has overcome obstacles, setbacks, and tests, gained and lost allies and enemies, and has transformed in some way from the original protagonist first introduced in the ordinary world.

The moment when the hero approaches the inmost cave can be a moment of reflection, reorganization, and rekindling of morale. It presents an opportunity for the main characters of the story to come together in a moment of empathy for losses along the journey; a moment of planning and plotting next steps; an opportunity for the mentor to teach a final lesson to the hero; or a moment for the hero to sit quietly and reflect upon surmounting the challenge they have been journeying toward for the length of their adventure.

The “cave” may or may not be a physical place where the ultimate ordeal and conflict will occur. The approach represents the momentary period where the hero assumes their final preparation for the overall challenge that must be overcome. It’s a time for the hero and their allies, as well as the reader, to pause and reflect on the events of the story that have already occurred, and to consider the internal and external growth and transformation of the hero.

Having gained physical and/or emotional strength and fortitude through their trials and tests, learned more rules about the special world, found and lost allies and friends, is the hero prepared to face danger and their ultimate foe? Reflection, tension, and anticipation are the key elements of crafting the approach to the cave.

Step Seven example

The approach to the cave in The Hobbit occurs as the party enters the tunnel of the Lonely Mountain. The tunnel is the access point to the ultimate goal—Thorin’s familial treasure, as well as the ultimate test—the formidable dragon Smaug. During this part of the story, the party must hide, plot, and plan their approach to the final conflict. It’s at this time that Bilbo realizes he must go alone to scout out and face the dragon.

8. The Ordeal

The ordeal is the foreshadowed conflict that the hero must face, and represents the midpoint of the story. While the ordeal is the ultimate conflict that the hero knows they must overcome, it’s a false climax to the complete story—there’s still much ground to cover in the journey, and the hero will still be tested after completing this, the greatest challenge. In writing the ordeal phase of the Hero’s Journey, the writer should craft this as if it actually were the climax to the tale, even though it isn’t.

The first act, and the beginning of the second act, have built up to the ordeal with characterization and the transformation of the hero through their overcoming tests and trials. This growth—both internal and external—has all occurred to set the hero up to handle this major ordeal.

As this stage commences, the hero is typically faced with fresh challenges to make the ordeal even more difficult than they previously conceived. This may include additional setbacks for the hero, the hero’s realization that they were misinformed about the gravity of the situation, or additional conflicts that make the ordeal seem insurmountable.

These setbacks cause the hero to confront their greatest fears and build tension for both the hero and the reader, as they both question if the hero will ultimately succeed or fail. In an epic fantasy tale, this may mean a life-or-death moment for the hero, or experiencing death through the loss of an important ally or the mentor. In a romance, it may be the moment of crisis where a relationship ends or a partner reveals their dark side or true self, causing the hero great strife.

This is the rock-bottom moment for the hero, where they lose hope, courage, and faith. At this point, even though the hero has already crossed the threshold, this part of the story shows how the hero has changed in such a way that they can never return to their original self: even if they return to the ordinary world, they’ll never be the same; their perception of the world has been modified forever.

Choosing to endure against all odds and costs to face the ordeal represents the loss of the hero’s original self from the ordinary world, and a huge internal transformation occurs within the hero as they must rise and continue forth to complete their journey and do what they set out to do from the beginning.

The ordeal may also be positioned as an introduction to the greater villain through a trial with a shadow villain, where the hero realizes that the greatest conflict is unveiled as something else, still yet to come. In these instances, the hero may fail, or barely succeed, but must learn a crucial lesson and be metaphorically resurrected through their failure to rise again and overcome the greater challenge.

Step Eight example

Bilbo must now face his ultimate challenge: burgle the treasure from the dragon. This is the challenge that was set forth from the beginning, as it’s his purpose as the party’s 14th member, the burglar, anointed by Gandalf, the mentor. Additional conflicts arise as Bilbo realizes that he must face the dragon alone, and in doing so, must rely on all of the skills and gifts in the form of talismans and tokens he has gained throughout the adventure.

During the ordeal, Bilbo uses the courage he has gained by surmounting the story’s previous trials; he’s bolstered by his loyalty to the group and relies upon the skills and tools he has earned in previous trials. Much as he outwitted Gollum in the cave, Bilbo now uses his wit as well as his magical ring to defeat Smaug in a game of riddles, which ultimately leads Smaug out of the lair so that Bilbo can complete what he was set out to do—steal the treasure.

Step Nine: “Reward”

The reward of the Hero’s Journey is a moment of triumph, celebration, or change as the hero achieves their first major victory. This is a moment of reflection for both the reader and the hero, to take a breath to contemplate and acknowledge the growth, development, and transformation that has occurred so far.

The reward is the boon that the hero learns, is granted, or steals, that will be crucial to facing the true climax of the story that is yet to come. The reward may be a physical object, special knowledge, or reconciliation of some sort, but it’s always a thing that allows for some form of celebration or replenishment and provides the drive to succeed before the journey continues.

Note that the reward may not always be overtly positive—it may also be a double-edged sword that could harm them physically or spiritually. This type of reward typically triggers yet another internal transformation within the hero, one that grants them the knowledge and personal drive to complete the journey and face their remaining challenges.

From the reward, the hero is no longer externally driven to complete the journey, but has evolved to take on the onus of doing so.

Examples of rewards may include:

A weapon, elixir, or object that will be necessary to complete the quest.

Special knowledge, or a personal transformation to use against a foe.

An eye-opening experience that provides deep insight and fundamentally changes the hero and their position within the story and world.

Reconciliation with another character, or with themselves.

No matter what the reward is, the hero should experience some emotional or spiritual revelation and a semblance of inner peace or personal resolve to continue the journey. Even if the reward is not overtly positive, the hero and the reader deserve a moment of celebration for facing the great challenge they set out to overcome.

Step Nine example

Bilbo defeats the dragon at a battle of wits and riddles, and now receives his reward. He keeps the gifts he has earned, both the dagger and the gold ring. He is also granted his slice of the treasure, and the Lonely Mountain is returned to Thorin. The party at large is rewarded for completing the quest and challenge they set out to do.

However, Tolkien writes the reward to be more complex than it first appears. The party remains trapped and hungry within the Mountain as events unfold outside of it. Laketown has been attacked by Smaug, and the defenders will want compensation for the damage to their homes and for their having to kill the dragon. Bilbo discovers, and then hides, the Arkenstone (a symbolic double edged reward) to protect it from Thorin’s selfishness and greed.

Step Ten: “The Road Back”

10. The Road Back

The road back in the Hero’s Journey is the beginning of the third act, and represents a turning point within the story. The hero must recommit to the journey, alongside the new stakes and challenges that have arisen from the completion of the original goal.

The road back presents roadblocks—new and unforeseen challenges to the hero that they must now face on their journey back to the ordinary world. The trials aren’t over yet, and the stakes are raised just enough to keep the story compelling before the final and ultimate conflict—the hero’s resurrection—is revealed in the middle of the third act.

The hero has overcome their greatest challenge in the Ordeal and they aren’t the same person they were when they started. This stage of the story often sees the hero making a choice, or reflecting on their transformed state compared to their state at the start of the journey.

The writer’s purpose in the third act is not to eclipse the upcoming and final conflict, but to up the stakes, show the true risk of the final climax, and to reflect on what it will take for the hero to ultimately prevail. The road back should offer a glimmer of hope—the light at the end of the tunnel—and should let the reader know the dramatic finale is about to arrive.

Step Ten example

What was once a journey to steal treasure and slay a dragon has developed new complications. Our hero, Bilbo, must now use all of the powers granted in his personal transformation, as well as the gifts and rewards he earned on the quest, to complete the final stages of the journey.

This is the crisis moment of The Hobbit ; the armies of Laketown are prepared for battle to claim their reward for killing Smaug; the fearless leader of their party, Thorin, has lost reason and succumbed to greed; and Bilbo makes a crucial choice based his personal growth: he gives the Arkenstone to the king as a bargaining chip for peace. Bilbo also briefly reconnects with the mentor, Gandalf, who warns him of the unpleasant times ahead, but comforts Bilbo by saying that things may yet turn out for the best. Bilbo then loyally returns to his friends, the party of dwarves, to stand alongside them in the final battle.

11. Resurrection

The resurrection stage of the Hero’s Journey is the final climax of the story, and the heart of the third act. By now the hero has experienced internal and external transformation and a loss of innocence, coming out with newfound knowledge. They’re fully rooted in the special world, know its rules, and have made choices that underline this new understanding.

The hero must now overcome the final crisis of their external quest. In an epic fantasy tale, this may be the last battle of light versus darkness, good versus evil, a cumulation of fabulous forces. In a thriller, the hero might ultimately face their own morality as they approach the killer. In a drama or romance, the final and pivotal encounter in a relationship occurs and the hero puts their morality ahead of their immediate desires.

The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been, and the hero must often choose to make a sacrifice. The sacrifice may occur as a metaphoric or symbolic death of the self in some way; letting go of a relationship, title, or mental/emotional image of the self that a hero once used as a critical aspect of their identity, or perhaps even a metaphoric physical death—getting knocked out or incapacitated, losing a limb, etc.

Through whatever the great sacrifice is, be it loss or a metaphoric death, the hero will experience a form of resurrection, purification, or internal cleansing that is their final internal transformation.

In this stage, the hero’s character arc comes to an end, and balance is restored to the world. The theme of the story is fully fleshed out and the hero, having reached some form of self-actualization, is forever changed. Both the reader and the hero experience catharsis—the relief, insight, peace, closure, and purging of fear that had once held the hero back from their final transformation.

Step Eleven example

All the armies have gathered, and the final battle takes place. Just before the battle commences, Bilbo tells Thorin that it was he who gave the Arkenstone to the city of men and offers to sacrifice his reward of gold for taking the stone. Gandalf, the mentor, arrives, standing beside Bilbo and his decision. Bilbo is shunned by Thorin and is asked to leave the party for his betrayal.

Bilbo experiences a symbolic death when he’s knocked out by a stone. Upon awakening, Bilbo is brought to a dying Thorin, who forgives him of his betrayal, and acknowledges that Bilbo’s actions were truly the right thing to do. The theme of the story is fully unveiled: that bravery and courage comes in all sizes and forms, and that greed and gold are less worthy than a life rich in experiences and relationships.

Step Twelve: “Return with the Elixir”

12. Return with the Elixir

The elixir in the Hero’s Journey is the final reward the hero brings with them on their return, bridging their two worlds. It’s a reward hard earned through the various relationships, tests, and growth the hero has experienced along their journey. The “elixir” can be a magical potion, treasure, or object, but it can also be intangible—love, wisdom, knowledge, or experience.

The return is key to the circular nature of the Hero’s Journey. It offers a resolution to both the reader and the hero, and a comparison of their growth from when the journey began.

Without the return, the story would have a linear nature, a beginning and an end. In bringing the self-actualized hero home to the ordinary world, the character arc is completed, and the changes they’ve undergone through the journey are solidified. They’ve overcome the unknown, and though they’re returning home, they can no longer resume their old life because of their new insight and experiences.

Step Twelve example

The small yet mighty hero Bilbo is accompanied on his journey home by his mentor Gandalf, as well as the allies he gathered along his journey. He returns with many rewards—his dagger, his golden ring, and his 1/14th split of the treasure—yet his greatest rewards are his experience and the friends he has made along the way. Upon entering the Shire Bilbo sings a song of adventure, and the mentor Gandalf remarks, “My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you, you are not the hobbit you were.”

The final pages of The Hobbit explore Bilbo’s new self in the Shire, and how the community now sees him as a changed hobbit—no longer quite as respectable as he once was, with odd guests who visit from time to time. Bilbo also composes his story “There and Back Again,” a tale of his experiences, underlining his greatest reward—stepping outside of the Shire and into the unknown, then returning home, a changed hobbit.

Books that follow the Hero’s Journey

One of the best ways to become familiar with the plot structure of the Hero’s Journey is to read stories and books that successfully use it to tell a powerful tale. Maybe they’ll inspire you to use the hero’s journey in your own writing!

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.

The Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Odyssey by Homer.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Writing tips for the Hero’s Journey

Writing a Hero’s Journey story often requires planning beforehand to organize the plot, structure, and events of the story. Here are some tips to use the hero’s journey archetype in a story:

Use a template or note cards to organize and store your ideas. This can assist in ensuring that you tie up any loose ends in the plot, and that the cadence of your story is already outlined before you begin writing.

Use word count goals for writing different sections of your story. This can help you keep pace while you plan and write the first draft. You can always revise, edit, and add in detail at later stages of development, but getting the ideas written without bogging them down with details can assist in preparing your outline, and may perhaps provide additional inspiration and guidance along the way.

Lean into creativity and be flexible with the 12 steps. They don’t need to occur in the exact order we’ve listed above, but that ordering can offer great checkpoint moments for your story.

Invest in characterization and ensure that your main character is balanced with credible strengths and weaknesses. A perfect, pure hero has no room to grow. A one-dimensional villain who relies on the trope of “pure evil” without any motivations for their actions is boring and predictable.

Ensure tension and urgency is woven into the story. An epic tale to the grocery store for baby formula may still be fraught with danger, and the price of failure is a hungry child. Without urgency, tension, and risk, a Hero’s Journey will fall flat.

Be hard on your characters. Give them deep conflicts that truly test their nature, and their mental, physical, and spiritual selves. An easy journey isn’t a memorable one.

Have a balance of scenes that play on both positive and negative emotions and outcomes for the hero to create a compelling plot line that continues to engage your reader. A story that’s relentlessly positive doesn’t provide a pathway for the hero to transform. Likewise, a story that’s nothing but doom, strife, and turmoil, without a light at the end of the tunnel or an opportunity for growth, can make a story feel stagnant and unengaging.

Reward your characters and your reader. Personal transformation and the road to the authentic self may be grueling, but there’s peace or joy at the end of the tunnel. Even if your character doesn’t fully saved the world, they—and the reader—should be rewarded with catharsis, a new perspective, or personal insight at the end of the tale.

Hero’s Journey templates

Download these free templates to help you plan out your Hero’s Journey:

Download the Hero’s Journey template template (docx) Download the Hero’s Journey template template (pdf)

Prompts and practices to help you write your own Hero’s Journey

Use the downloadable template listed below for the following exercises:

Read a book or watch a movie that follows the Hero’s Journey. Use the template to fill in when each step occurs or is completed. Make note of themes and symbols, character arcs, the main plot, and the subplots that drive complexity in the story.

When writing, use a timer set to 2—5 minutes per section to facilitate bursts of creativity. Brainstorm ideas for cadence, plot, and characters within the story. The outline you create can always be modified, but the timer ensures you can get ideas on paper without a commitment; you’re simply jotting down ideas as quickly as you can.

Use the downloadable template above to generate outlines based on the following prompts.

A woman’s estranged mother has died. A friend of the mother arrives at the woman’s home to tell her that her mother has left all her belongings to her daughter, and hands her a letter. The letter details the mother’s life, and the daughter must visit certain places and people to find her mother’s house and all the belongings in it—learning more about her mother’s life, and herself, along the way.

The last tree on earth has fallen, and technology can no longer sustain human life on Earth. An engineer, having long ago received alien radio signals from a tower in their backyard, has dedicated their life to building a spaceship in their garage. The time has come to launch, and the engineer must select a group of allies to bring with them to the stars, on a search for a new life, a new home, and “the others” out there in the universe.

A detective is given a new case: to find a much-talked-about murderer. The twist is, the murderer has sent a letter to the detective agency, quietly outing a homicidal politician who is up for re-election and is a major financial contributor to the police. In the letter, the murderer states that if the politician doesn’t come clean about their crimes, the murderer will kill the politician on the night of the election. The detective must solve the case before the election, and come to terms with their own feelings of justice and morality.

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The hero's journey: a story structure as old as time, the hero's journey offers a powerful framework for creating quest-based stories emphasizing self-transformation..

Nicholas Cage as Benjamin Gates in Disney's National Treasure, next to a portrait of mythologist, Joseph Campbell.

Table of Contents

archetypal hero's journey

Holding out for a hero to take your story to the next level? 

The Hero’s Journey might be just what you’ve been looking for. Created by Joseph Campbell, this narrative framework packs mythic storytelling into a series of steps across three acts, each representing a crucial phase in a character's transformative journey.

Challenge . Growth . Triumph .

Whether you're penning a novel, screenplay, or video game, The Hero’s Journey is a tried-and-tested blueprint for crafting epic stories that transcend time and culture. Let’s explore the steps together and kickstart your next masterpiece.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a famous template for storytelling, mapping a hero's adventurous quest through trials and tribulations to ultimate transformation. 

archetypal hero's journey

What are the Origins of the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey was invented by Campbell in his seminal 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces , where he introduces the concept of the "monomyth."

A comparative mythologist by trade, Campbell studied myths from cultures around the world and identified a common pattern in their narratives. He proposed that all mythic narratives are variations of a single, universal story, structured around a hero's adventure, trials, and eventual triumph.

His work unveiled the archetypal hero’s path as a mirror to humanity’s commonly shared experiences and aspirations. It was subsequently named one of the All-Time 100 Nonfiction Books by TIME in 2011.

How are the Hero’s and Heroine’s Journeys Different? 

While both the Hero's and Heroine's Journeys share the theme of transformation, they diverge in their focus and execution.

The Hero’s Journey, as outlined by Campbell, emphasizes external challenges and a quest for physical or metaphorical treasures. In contrast, Murdock's Heroine’s Journey, explores internal landscapes, focusing on personal reconciliation, emotional growth, and the path to self-actualization.

In short, heroes seek to conquer the world, while heroines seek to transform their own lives; but…

Twelve Steps of the Hero’s Journey

So influential was Campbell’s monomyth theory that it's been used as the basis for some of the largest franchises of our generation: The Lord of the Rings , Harry Potter ...and George Lucas even cited it as a direct influence on Star Wars .

There are, in fact, several variations of the Hero's Journey, which we discuss further below. But for this breakdown, we'll use the twelve-step version outlined by Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer's Journey (seemingly now out of print, unfortunately).

archetypal hero's journey

You probably already know the above stories pretty well so we’ll unpack the twelve steps of the Hero's Journey using Ben Gates’ journey in National Treasure as a case study—because what is more heroic than saving the Declaration of Independence from a bunch of goons?

Ye be warned: Spoilers ahead!

Act One: Departure

Step 1. the ordinary world.

The journey begins with the status quo—business as usual. We meet the hero and are introduced to the Known World they live in. In other words, this is your exposition, the starting stuff that establishes the story to come.

archetypal hero's journey

National Treasure begins in media res (preceded only by a short prologue), where we are given key information that introduces us to Ben Gates' world, who he is (a historian from a notorious family), what he does (treasure hunts), and why he's doing it (restoring his family's name).

With the help of his main ally, Riley, and a crew of other treasure hunters backed by a wealthy patron, he finds an 18th-century American ship in the Canadian Arctic, the Charlotte . Here, they find a ship-shaped pipe that presents a new riddle and later doubles as a key—for now, it's just another clue in the search for the lost treasure of the Templars, one that leads them to the Declaration of Independence.

Step 2. The Call to Adventure

The inciting incident takes place and the hero is called to act upon it. While they're still firmly in the Known World, the story kicks off and leaves the hero feeling out of balance. In other words, they are placed at a crossroads.

Ian (the wealthy patron of the Charlotte operation) steals the pipe from Ben and Riley and leaves them stranded. This is a key moment: Ian becomes the villain, Ben has now sufficiently lost his funding for this expedition, and if he decides to pursue the chase, he'll be up against extreme odds.

Step 3. Refusal of the Call

The hero hesitates and instead refuses their call to action. Following the call would mean making a conscious decision to break away from the status quo. Ahead lies danger, risk, and the unknown; but here and now, the hero is still in the safety and comfort of what they know.

Ben debates continuing the hunt for the Templar treasure. Before taking any action, he decides to try and warn the authorities: the FBI, Homeland Security, and the staff of the National Archives, where the Declaration of Independence is housed and monitored. Nobody will listen to him, and his family's notoriety doesn't help matters.

Step 4. Meeting the Mentor

The protagonist receives knowledge or motivation from a powerful or influential figure. This is a tactical move on the hero's part—remember that it was only the previous step in which they debated whether or not to jump headfirst into the unknown. By Meeting the Mentor, they can gain new information or insight, and better equip themselves for the journey they might to embark on.

archetypal hero's journey

Abigail, an archivist at the National Archives, brushes Ben and Riley off as being crazy, but Ben uses the interaction to his advantage in other ways—to seek out information about how the Declaration of Independence is stored and cared for, as well as what (and more importantly, who) else he might be up against in his own attempt to steal it.

In a key scene, we see him contemplate the entire operation while standing over the glass-encased Declaration of Independence. Finally, he firmly decides to pursue the treasure and stop Ian, uttering the famous line, "I'm gonna steal the Declaration of Independence."

Act Two: Initiation

Step 5. crossing the threshold.

The hero leaves the Known World to face the Unknown World. They are fully committed to the journey, with no way to turn back now. There may be a confrontation of some sort, and the stakes will be raised.

archetypal hero's journey

Ben and Riley infiltrate the National Archives during a gala and successfully steal the Declaration of Independence. But wait—it's not so easy. While stealing the Declaration of Independence, Abigail suspects something is up and Ben faces off against Ian.

Then, when trying to escape the building, Ben exits through the gift shop, where an attendant spots the document peeking out of his jacket. He is forced to pay for it, feigning that it's a replica—and because he doesn't have enough cash, he has to use his credit card, so there goes keeping his identity anonymous.

The game is afoot.

Step 6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

The hero explores the Unknown World. Now that they have firmly crossed the threshold from the Known World, the hero will face new challenges and possibly meet new enemies. They'll have to call upon their allies, new and old, in order to keep moving forward.

Abigail reluctantly joins the team under the agreement that she'll help handle the Declaration of Independence, given her background in document archiving and restoration. Ben and co. seek the aid of Ben's father, Patrick Gates, whom Ben has a strained relationship with thanks to years of failed treasure hunting that has created a rift between grandfather, father, and son. Finally, they travel around Philadelphia deciphering clues while avoiding both Ian and the FBI.

Step 7. Approach the Innermost Cave

The hero nears the goal of their quest, the reason they crossed the threshold in the first place. Here, they could be making plans, having new revelations, or gaining new skills. To put it in other familiar terms, this step would mark the moment just before the story's climax.

Ben uncovers a pivotal clue—or rather, he finds an essential item—a pair of bifocals with interchangeable lenses made by Benjamin Franklin. It is revealed that by switching through the various lenses, different messages will be revealed on the back of the Declaration of Independence. He's forced to split from Abigail and Riley, but Ben has never been closer to the treasure.

Step 8. The Ordeal

The hero faces a dire situation that changes how they view the world. All threads of the story come together at this pinnacle, the central crisis from which the hero will emerge unscathed or otherwise. The stakes will be at their absolute highest here.

Vogler details that in this stage, the hero will experience a "death," though it need not be literal. In your story, this could signify the end of something and the beginning of another, which could itself be figurative or literal. For example, a certain relationship could come to an end, or it could mean someone "stuck in their ways" opens up to a new perspective.

In National Treasure , The FBI captures Ben and Ian makes off with the Declaration of Independence—all hope feels lost. To add to it, Ian reveals that he's kidnapped Ben's father and threatens to take further action if Ben doesn't help solve the final clues and lead Ian to the treasure.

Ben escapes the FBI with Ian's help, reunites with Abigail and Riley, and leads everyone to an underground structure built below Trinity Church in New York City. Here, they manage to split from Ian once more, sending him on a goose chase to Boston with a false clue, and proceed further into the underground structure.

Though they haven't found the treasure just yet, being this far into the hunt proves to Ben's father, Patrick, that it's real enough. The two men share an emotional moment that validates what their family has been trying to do for generations.

Step 9. Reward

This is it, the moment the hero has been waiting for. They've survived "death," weathered the crisis of The Ordeal, and earned the Reward for which they went on this journey.

archetypal hero's journey

Now, free of Ian's clutches and with some light clue-solving, Ben, Abigail, Riley, and Patrick keep progressing through the underground structure and eventually find the Templar's treasure—it's real and more massive than they could have imagined. Everyone revels in their discovery while simultaneously looking for a way back out.

Act Three: Return

Step 10. the road back.

It's time for the journey to head towards its conclusion. The hero begins their return to the Known World and may face unexpected challenges. Whatever happens, the "why" remains paramount here (i.e. why the hero ultimately chose to embark on their journey).

This step marks a final turning point where they'll have to take action or make a decision to keep moving forward and be "reborn" back into the Known World.

Act Three of National Treasure is admittedly quite short. After finding the treasure, Ben and co. emerge from underground to face the FBI once more. Not much of a road to travel back here so much as a tunnel to scale in a crypt.

Step 11. Resurrection

The hero faces their ultimate challenge and emerges victorious, but forever changed. This step often requires a sacrifice of some sort, and having stepped into the role of The Hero™, they must answer to this.

archetypal hero's journey

Ben is given an ultimatum— somebody has to go to jail (on account of the whole stealing-the-Declaration-of-Independence thing). But, Ben also found a treasure worth millions of dollars and that has great value to several nations around the world, so that counts for something.

Ultimately, Ben sells Ian out, makes a deal to exonerate his friends and family, and willingly hands the treasure over to the authorities. Remember: he wanted to find the treasure, but his "why" was to restore the Gates family name, so he won regardless.

Step 12. Return With the Elixir

Finally, the hero returns home as a new version of themself, the elixir is shared amongst the people, and the journey is completed full circle.

The elixir, like many other elements of the hero's journey, can be literal or figurative. It can be a tangible thing, such as an actual elixir meant for some specific purpose, or it could be represented by an abstract concept such as hope, wisdom, or love.

Vogler notes that if the Hero's Journey results in a tragedy, the elixir can instead have an effect external to the story—meaning that it could be something meant to affect the audience and/or increase their awareness of the world.

In the final scene of National Treasure , we see Ben and Abigail walking the grounds of a massive estate. Riley pulls up in a fancy sports car and comments on how they could have gotten more money. They all chat about attending a museum exhibit in Cairo (Egypt).

In one scene, we're given a lot of closure: Ben and co. received a hefty payout for finding the treasure, Ben and Abigail are a couple now, and the treasure was rightfully spread to those it benefitted most—in this case, countries who were able to reunite with significant pieces of their history. Everyone's happy, none of them went to jail despite the serious crimes committed, and they're all a whole lot wealthier. Oh, Hollywood.

Variations of the Hero's Journey

Plot structure is important, but you don't need to follow it exactly; and, in fact, your story probably won't. Your version of the Hero's Journey might require more or fewer steps, or you might simply go off the beaten path for a few steps—and that's okay!

archetypal hero's journey

What follows are three additional versions of the Hero's Journey, which you may be more familiar with than Vogler's version presented above.

Dan Harmon's Story Circle (or, The Eight-Step Hero's Journey)

Screenwriter Dan Harmon has riffed on the Hero's Journey by creating a more compact version, the Story Circle —and it works especially well for shorter-format stories such as television episodes, which happens to be what Harmon writes.

The Story Circle comprises eight simple steps with a heavy emphasis on the hero's character arc:

  • The hero is in a zone of comfort...
  • But they want something.
  • They enter an unfamiliar situation...
  • And adapt to it by facing trials.
  • They get what they want...
  • But they pay a heavy price for it.
  • They return to their familiar situation...
  • Having changed.

You may have noticed, but there is a sort of rhythm here. The eight steps work well in four pairs, simplifying the core of the Hero's Journey even further:

  • The hero is in a zone of comfort, but they want something.
  • They enter an unfamiliar situation and have to adapt via new trials.
  • They get what they want, but they pay a price for it.
  • They return to their zone of comfort, forever changed.

If you're writing shorter fiction, such as a short story or novella, definitely check out the Story Circle. It's the Hero's Journey minus all the extraneous bells & whistles.

Ten-Step Hero's Journey

The ten-step Hero's Journey is similar to the twelve-step version we presented above. It includes most of the same steps except for Refusal of the Call and Meeting the Mentor, arguing that these steps aren't as essential to include; and, it moves Crossing the Threshold to the end of Act One and Reward to the end of Act Two.

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies
  • Approach the Innermost Cave
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

We've previously written about the ten-step hero's journey in a series of essays separated by act: Act One (with a prologue), Act Two , and Act Three .

Twelve-Step Hero's Journey: Version Two

Again, the second version of the twelve-step hero's journey is very similar to the one above, save for a few changes, including in which story act certain steps appear.

This version skips The Ordinary World exposition and starts right at The Call to Adventure; then, the story ends with two new steps in place of Return With Elixir: The Return and The Freedom to Live.

  • The Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Test, Allies, Enemies
  • Approaching the Innermost Cave
  • The Resurrection
  • The Return*
  • The Freedom to Live*

In the final act of this version, there is more of a focus on an internal transformation for the hero. They experience a metamorphosis on their journey back to the Known World, return home changed, and go on to live a new life, uninhibited.

Seventeen-Step Hero's Journey

Finally, the granddaddy of heroic journeys: the seventeen-step Hero's Journey. This version includes a slew of extra steps your hero might face out in the expanse.

  • Refusal of the Call
  • Supernatural Aid (aka Meeting the Mentor)
  • Belly of the Whale*: This added stage marks the hero's immediate descent into danger once they've crossed the threshold.
  • Road of Trials (...with Allies, Tests, and Enemies)
  • Meeting with the Goddess/God*: In this stage, the hero meets with a new advisor or powerful figure, who equips them with the knowledge or insight needed to keep progressing forward.
  • Woman as Temptress (or simply, Temptation)*: Here, the hero is tempted, against their better judgment, to question themselves and their reason for being on the journey. They may feel insecure about something specific or have an exposed weakness that momentarily holds them back.
  • Atonement with the Father (or, Catharthis)*: The hero faces their Temptation and moves beyond it, shedding free from all that holds them back.
  • Apotheosis (aka The Ordeal)
  • The Ultimate Boon (aka the Reward)
  • Refusal of the Return*: The hero wonders if they even want to go back to their old life now that they've been forever changed.
  • The Magic Flight*: Having decided to return to the Known World, the hero needs to actually find a way back.
  • Rescue From Without*: Allies may come to the hero's rescue, helping them escape this bold, new world and return home.
  • Crossing of the Return Threshold (aka The Return)
  • Master of Two Worlds*: Very closely resembling The Resurrection stage in other variations, this stage signifies that the hero is quite literally a master of two worlds—The Known World and the Unknown World—having conquered each.
  • Freedom to Live

Again, we skip the Ordinary World opening here. Additionally, Acts Two and Three look pretty different from what we've seen so far, although, the bones of the Hero's Journey structure remain.

The Eight Hero’s Journey Archetypes

The Hero is, understandably, the cornerstone of the Hero’s Journey, but they’re just one of eight key archetypes that make up this narrative framework.

archetypal hero's journey

In The Writer's Journey , Vogler outlined seven of these archetypes, only excluding the Ally, which we've included below. Here’s a breakdown of all eight with examples: 

1. The Hero

As outlined, the Hero is the protagonist who embarks on a transformative quest or journey. The challenges they overcome represent universal human struggles and triumphs. 

Vogler assigned a "primary function" to each archetype—helpful for establishing their role in a story. The Hero's primary function is "to service and sacrifice."

Example: Neo from The Matrix , who evolves from a regular individual into the prophesied savior of humanity.

2. The Mentor

A wise guide offering knowledge, tools, and advice, Mentors help the Hero navigate the journey and discover their potential. Their primary function is "to guide."

Example: Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid imparts not only martial arts skills but invaluable life lessons to Daniel.

3. The Ally

Companions who support the Hero, Allies provide assistance, friendship, and moral support throughout the journey. They may also become a friends-to-lovers romantic partner. 

Not included in Vogler's list is the Ally, though we'd argue they are essential nonetheless. Let's say their primary function is "to aid and support."

Example: Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings , a loyal friend and steadfast supporter of Frodo.

4. The Herald

The Herald acts as a catalyst to initiate the Hero's Journey, often presenting a challenge or calling the hero to adventure. Their primary function is "to warn or challenge."

Example: Effie Trinket from The Hunger Games , whose selection at the Reaping sets Katniss’s journey into motion.

5. The Trickster

A character who brings humor and unpredictability, challenges conventions, and offers alternative perspectives or solutions. Their primary function is "to disrupt."

Example: Loki from Norse mythology exemplifies the trickster, with his cunning and chaotic influence.

6. The Shapeshifter

Ambiguous figures whose allegiance and intentions are uncertain. They may be a friend one moment and a foe the next. Their primary function is "to question and deceive."

Example: Catwoman from the Batman universe often blurs the line between ally and adversary, slinking between both roles with glee.

7. The Guardian

Protectors of important thresholds, Guardians challenge or test the Hero, serving as obstacles to overcome or lessons to be learned. Their primary function is "to test."

Example: The Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail literally bellows “None shall pass!”—a quintessential ( but not very effective ) Guardian.

8. The Shadow

Represents the Hero's inner conflict or an antagonist, often embodying the darker aspects of the hero or their opposition. Their primary function is "to destroy."

Example: Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender; initially an adversary, his journey parallels the Hero’s path of transformation.

While your story does not have to use all of the archetypes, they can help you develop your characters and visualize how they interact with one another—especially the Hero.

For example, take your hero and place them in the center of a blank worksheet, then write down your other major characters in a circle around them and determine who best fits into which archetype. Who challenges your hero? Who tricks them? Who guides them? And so on...

Stories that Use the Hero’s Journey

Not a fan of saving the Declaration of Independence? Check out these alternative examples of the Hero’s Journey to get inspired: 

  • Epic of Gilgamesh : An ancient Mesopotamian epic poem thought to be one of the earliest examples of the Hero’s Journey (and one of the oldest recorded stories).
  • The Lion King (1994): Simba's exile and return depict a tale of growth, responsibility, and reclaiming his rightful place as king.
  • The Alchemist by Paolo Coehlo: Santiago's quest for treasure transforms into a journey of self-discovery and personal enlightenment.
  • Coraline by Neil Gaiman: A young girl's adventure in a parallel world teaches her about courage, family, and appreciating her own reality.
  • Kung Fu Panda (2008): Po's transformation from a clumsy panda to a skilled warrior perfectly exemplifies the Hero's Journey. Skadoosh!

The Hero's Journey is so generalized that it's ubiquitous. You can plop the plot of just about any quest-style narrative into its framework and say that the story follows the Hero's Journey. Try it out for yourself as an exercise in getting familiar with the method.

Will the Hero's Journey Work For You?

As renowned as it is, the Hero's Journey works best for the kinds of tales that inspired it: mythic stories.

Writers of speculative fiction may gravitate towards this method over others, especially those writing epic fantasy and science fiction (big, bold fantasy quests and grand space operas come to mind).

The stories we tell today are vast and varied, and they stretch far beyond the dealings of deities, saving kingdoms, or acquiring some fabled "elixir." While that may have worked for Gilgamesh a few thousand years ago, it's not always representative of our lived experiences here and now.

If you decide to give the Hero's Journey a go, we encourage you to make it your own! The pieces of your plot don't have to neatly fit into the structure, but you can certainly make a strong start on mapping out your story.

Hero's Journey Campfire Template

The Timeline Module in Campfire offers a versatile canvas to plot out each basic component of your story while featuring nested "notebooks."

archetypal hero's journey

Simply double-click on each event card in your timeline to open up a canvas specific to that card. This allows you to look at your plot at the highest level, while also adding as much detail for each plot element as needed!

If you're just hearing about Campfire for the first time, it's free to sign up—forever! Let's plot the most epic of hero's journeys 👇

Lessons From the Hero’s Journey

The Hero's Journey offers a powerful framework for creating stories centered around growth, adventure, and transformation.

If you want to develop compelling characters, spin out engaging plots, and write books that express themes of valor and courage, consider The Hero’s Journey your blueprint. So stop holding out for a hero, and start writing!

Does your story mirror the Hero's Journey? Let us know in the comments below.

archetypal hero's journey

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Last updated on Aug 10, 2023

The Hero's Journey: 12 Steps to a Classic Story Structure

The Hero's Journey is a timeless story structure which follows a protagonist on an unforeseen quest, where they face challenges, gain insights, and return home transformed. From Theseus and the Minotaur to The Lion King , so many narratives follow this pattern that it’s become ingrained into our cultural DNA. 

In this post, we'll show you how to make this classic plot structure work for you — and if you’re pressed for time, download our cheat sheet below for everything you need to know.

FREE RESOURCE

FREE RESOURCE

Hero's Journey Template

Plot your character's journey with our step-by-step template.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero's Journey, also known as the monomyth, is a story structure where a hero goes on a quest or adventure to achieve a goal, and has to overcome obstacles and fears, before ultimately returning home transformed.

This narrative arc has been present in various forms across cultures for centuries, if not longer, but gained popularity through Joseph Campbell's mythology book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces . While Campbell identified 17 story beats in his monomyth definition, this post will concentrate on a 12-step framework popularized in 2007 by screenwriter Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey .

The 12 Steps of the Hero’s Journey

A circular illustration of the 12 steps of the hero's journey with an adventurous character in the center.

The Hero's Journey is a model for both plot points and character development : as the Hero traverses the world, they'll undergo inner and outer transformation at each stage of the journey. The 12 steps of the hero's journey are: 

  • The Ordinary World. We meet our hero.
  • Call to Adventure. Will they meet the challenge?
  • Refusal of the Call. They resist the adventure.
  • Meeting the Mentor. A teacher arrives.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. The hero leaves their comfort zone.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Making friends and facing roadblocks.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. Getting closer to our goal.
  • Ordeal. The hero’s biggest test yet!
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Light at the end of the tunnel
  • The Road Back. We aren’t safe yet.
  • Resurrection. The final hurdle is reached.
  • Return with the Elixir. The hero heads home, triumphant.

Believe it or not, this story structure also applies across mediums and genres (and also works when your protagonist is an anti-hero! ). Let's dive into it.

1. Ordinary World

In which we meet our Hero.

The journey has yet to start. Before our Hero discovers a strange new world, we must first understand the status quo: their ordinary, mundane reality.

It’s up to this opening leg to set the stage, introducing the Hero to readers. Importantly, it lets readers identify with the Hero as a “normal” person in a “normal” setting, before the journey begins.

2. Call to Adventure

In which an adventure starts.

The call to adventure is all about booting the Hero out of their comfort zone. In this stage, they are generally confronted with a problem or challenge they can't ignore. This catalyst can take many forms, as Campbell points out in Hero with a Thousand Faces . The Hero can, for instance:

  • Decide to go forth of their own volition;
  • Theseus upon arriving in Athens.
  • Be sent abroad by a benign or malignant agent;
  • Odysseus setting off on his ship in The Odyssey .
  • Stumble upon the adventure as a result of a mere blunder;
  • Dorothy when she’s swept up in a tornado in The Wizard of Oz .
  • Be casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man.
  • Elliot in E.T. upon discovering a lost alien in the tool shed.

The stakes of the adventure and the Hero's goals become clear. The only question: will he rise to the challenge?

Neo in the Matrix answering the phone

3. Refusal of the Call

In which the Hero digs in their feet.

Great, so the Hero’s received their summons. Now they’re all set to be whisked off to defeat evil, right?

Not so fast. The Hero might first refuse the call to action. It’s risky and there are perils — like spiders, trolls, or perhaps a creepy uncle waiting back at Pride Rock . It’s enough to give anyone pause.

In Star Wars , for instance, Luke Skywalker initially refuses to join Obi-Wan on his mission to rescue the princess. It’s only when he discovers that his aunt and uncle have been killed by stormtroopers that he changes his mind.

4. Meeting the Mentor

In which the Hero acquires a personal trainer.

The Hero's decided to go on the adventure — but they’re not ready to spread their wings yet. They're much too inexperienced at this point and we don't want them to do a fabulous belly-flop off the cliff.

Enter the mentor: someone who helps the Hero, so that they don't make a total fool of themselves (or get themselves killed). The mentor provides practical training, profound wisdom, a kick up the posterior, or something abstract like grit and self-confidence.

Harry holding the Marauder's Map with the twins

Wise old wizards seem to like being mentors. But mentors take many forms, from witches to hermits and suburban karate instructors. They might literally give weapons to prepare for the trials ahead, like Q in the James Bond series. Or perhaps the mentor is an object, such as a map. In all cases, they prepare the Hero for the next step.

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5. Crossing the First Threshold

In which the Hero enters the other world in earnest.

Now the Hero is ready — and committed — to the journey. This marks the end of the Departure stage and is when the adventure really kicks into the next gear. As Vogler writes: “This is the moment that the balloon goes up, the ship sails, the romance begins, the wagon gets rolling.”

From this point on, there’s no turning back.

Like our Hero, you should think of this stage as a checkpoint for your story. Pause and re-assess your bearings before you continue into unfamiliar territory. Have you:

  • Launched the central conflict? If not, here’s a post on types of conflict to help you out.
  • Established the theme of your book? If not, check out this post that’s all about creating theme and motifs .
  • Made headway into your character development? If not, this character profile template may be useful:

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6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

In which the Hero faces new challenges and gets a squad.

When we step into the Special World, we notice a definite shift. The Hero might be discombobulated by this unfamiliar reality and its new rules. This is generally one of the longest stages in the story , as our protagonist gets to grips with this new world.

This makes a prime hunting ground for the series of tests to pass! Luckily, there are many ways for the Hero to get into trouble:

  • In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle , Spencer, Bethany, “Fridge,” and Martha get off to a bad start when they bump into a herd of bloodthirsty hippos.
  • In his first few months at Hogwarts, Harry Potter manages to fight a troll, almost fall from a broomstick and die, and get horribly lost in the Forbidden Forest.
  • Marlin and Dory encounter three “reformed” sharks, get shocked by jellyfish, and are swallowed by a blue whale en route to finding Nemo.

The shark scares Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo

This stage often expands the cast of characters. Once the protagonist is in the Special World, he will meet allies and enemies — or foes that turn out to be friends and vice versa. He will learn a new set of rules from them. Saloons and seedy bars are popular places for these transactions, as Vogler points out (so long as the Hero survives them).

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

In which the Hero gets closer to his goal.

This isn’t a physical cave. Instead, the “inmost cave” refers to the most dangerous spot in the other realm — whether that’s the villain’s chambers, the lair of the fearsome dragon, or the Death Star. Almost always, it is where the ultimate goal of the quest is located.

Note that the protagonist hasn’t entered the Inmost Cave just yet. This stage is all about the approach to it. It covers all the prep work that's needed in order to defeat the villain.

In which the Hero faces his biggest test of all thus far.

Of all the tests the Hero has faced, none have made them hit rock bottom — until now. Vogler describes this phase as a “black moment.” Campbell refers to it as the “belly of the whale.” Both indicate some grim news for the Hero.

The protagonist must now confront their greatest fear. If they survive it, they will emerge transformed. This is a critical moment in the story, as Vogler explains that it will “inform every decision that the Hero makes from this point forward.”

The Ordeal is sometimes not the climax of the story. There’s more to come. But you can think of it as the main event of the second act — the one in which the Hero actually earns the title of “Hero.”

9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)

In which the Hero sees light at the end of the tunnel.

Our Hero’s been through a lot. However, the fruits of their labor are now at hand — if they can just reach out and grab them! The “reward” is the object or knowledge the Hero has fought throughout the entire journey to hold.

Once the protagonist has it in their possession, it generally has greater ramifications for the story. Vogler offers a few examples of it in action:

  • Luke rescues Princess Leia and captures the plans of the Death Star — keys to defeating Darth Vader.
  • Dorothy escapes from the Wicked Witch’s castle with the broomstick and the ruby slippers — keys to getting back home.

Luke Sjywalker saves Princess Leila

10. The Road Back

In which the light at the end of the tunnel might be a little further than the Hero thought.

The story's not over just yet, as this phase marks the beginning of Act Three. Now that he's seized the reward, the Hero tries to return to the Ordinary World, but more dangers (inconveniently) arise on the road back from the Inmost Cave.

More precisely, the Hero must deal with the consequences and aftermath of the previous act: the dragon, enraged by the Hero who’s just stolen a treasure from under his nose, starts the hunt. Or perhaps the opposing army gathers to pursue the Hero across a crowded battlefield. All further obstacles for the Hero, who must face them down before they can return home.

11. Resurrection

In which the last test is met.

Here is the true climax of the story. Everything that happened prior to this stage culminates in a crowning test for the Hero, as the Dark Side gets one last chance to triumph over the Hero.

Vogler refers to this as a “final exam” for the Hero — they must be “tested once more to see if they have really learned the lessons of the Ordeal.” It’s in this Final Battle that the protagonist goes through one more “resurrection.” As a result, this is where you’ll get most of your miraculous near-death escapes, à la James Bond's dashing deliverances. If the Hero survives, they can start looking forward to a sweet ending.

12. Return with the Elixir

In which our Hero has a triumphant homecoming.

Finally, the Hero gets to return home. However, they go back a different person than when they started out: they’ve grown and matured as a result of the journey they’ve taken.

But we’ve got to see them bring home the bacon, right? That’s why the protagonist must return with the “Elixir,” or the prize won during the journey, whether that’s an object or knowledge and insight gained.

Of course, it’s possible for a story to end on an Elixir-less note — but then the Hero would be doomed to repeat the entire adventure.

Examples of The Hero’s Journey in Action

To better understand this story template beyond the typical sword-and-sorcery genre, let's analyze three examples, from both screenplay and literature, and examine how they implement each of the twelve steps. 

The 1976 film Rocky is acclaimed as one of the most iconic sports films because of Stallone’s performance and the heroic journey his character embarks on.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky

  • Ordinary World. Rocky Balboa is a mediocre boxer and loan collector — just doing his best to live day-to-day in a poor part of Philadelphia.
  • Call to Adventure. Heavyweight champ Apollo Creed decides to make a big fight interesting by giving a no-name loser a chance to challenge him. That loser: Rocky Balboa.
  • Refusal of the Call. Rocky says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” given that he has no trainer and is incredibly out of shape.
  • Meeting the Mentor. In steps former boxer Mickey “Mighty Mick” Goldmill, who sees potential in Rocky and starts training him physically and mentally for the fight.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. Rocky crosses the threshold of no return when he accepts the fight on live TV, and 一 in parallel 一 when he crosses the threshold into his love interest Adrian’s house and asks her out on a date.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Rocky continues to try and win Adrian over and maintains a dubious friendship with her brother, Paulie, who provides him with raw meat to train with.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. The Inmost Cave in Rocky is Rocky’s own mind. He fears that he’ll never amount to anything — something that he reveals when he butts heads with his trainer, Mickey, in his apartment.
  • Ordeal. The start of the training montage marks the beginning of Rocky’s Ordeal. He pushes through it until he glimpses hope ahead while running up the museum steps.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Rocky's reward is the restoration of his self-belief, as he recognizes he can try to “go the distance” with Apollo Creed and prove he's more than "just another bum from the neighborhood."
  • The Road Back. On New Year's Day, the fight takes place. Rocky capitalizes on Creed's overconfidence to start strong, yet Apollo makes a comeback, resulting in a balanced match.
  • Resurrection. The fight inflicts multiple injuries and pushes both men to the brink of exhaustion, with Rocky being knocked down numerous times. But he consistently rises to his feet, enduring through 15 grueling rounds.
  • Return with the Elixir. Rocky loses the fight — but it doesn’t matter. He’s won back his confidence and he’s got Adrian, who tells him that she loves him.

Moving outside of the ring, let’s see how this story structure holds on a completely different planet and with a character in complete isolation. 

The Martian 

In Andy Weir’s self-published bestseller (better known for its big screen adaptation) we follow astronaut Mark Watney as he endures the challenges of surviving on Mars and working out a way to get back home.

Matt Demon walking

  • The Ordinary World. Botanist Mark and other astronauts are on a mission on Mars to study the planet and gather samples. They live harmoniously in a structure known as "the Hab.”
  • Call to Adventure. The mission is scrapped due to a violent dust storm. As they rush to launch, Mark is flung out of sight and the team believes him to be dead. He is, however, very much alive — stranded on Mars with no way of communicating with anyone back home.
  • Refusal of the Call. With limited supplies and grim odds of survival, Mark concludes that he will likely perish on the desolate planet.
  • Meeting the Mentor. Thanks to his resourcefulness and scientific knowledge he starts to figure out how to survive until the next Mars mission arrives.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. Mark crosses the mental threshold of even trying to survive 一 he successfully creates a greenhouse to cultivate a potato crop, creating a food supply that will last long enough.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Loneliness and other difficulties test his spirit, pushing him to establish contact with Earth and the people at NASA, who devise a plan to help.  
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. Mark faces starvation once again after an explosion destroys his potato crop.
  • Ordeal. A NASA rocket destined to deliver supplies to Mark disintegrates after liftoff and all hope seems lost.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Mark’s efforts to survive are rewarded with a new possibility to leave the planet. His team 一 now aware that he’s alive 一 defies orders from NASA and heads back to Mars to rescue their comrade.
  • The Road Back. Executing the new plan is immensely difficult 一 Mark has to travel far to locate the spaceship for his escape, and almost dies along the way.
  • Resurrection. Mark is unable to get close enough to his teammates' ship but finds a way to propel himself in empty space towards them, and gets aboard safely.
  • Return with the Elixir. Now a survival instructor for aspiring astronauts, Mark teaches students that space is indifferent and that survival hinges on solving one problem after another, as well as the importance of other people’s help.

Coming back to Earth, let’s now examine a heroine’s journey through the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail and her… humanity. 

The memoir Wild narrates the three-month-long hiking adventure of Cheryl Strayed across the Pacific coast, as she grapples with her turbulent past and rediscovers her inner strength.

Reese Witherspoon hiking the PCT

  • The Ordinary World. Cheryl shares her strong bond with her mother who was her strength during a tough childhood with an abusive father.
  • Call to Adventure. As her mother succumbs to lung cancer, Cheryl faces the heart-wrenching reality to confront life's challenges on her own.
  • Refusal of the Call. Cheryl spirals down into a destructive path of substance abuse and infidelity, which leads to hit rock bottom with a divorce and unwanted pregnancy. 
  • Meeting the Mentor. Her best friend Lisa supports her during her darkest time. One day she notices the Pacific Trail guidebook, which gives her hope to find her way back to her inner strength.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. She quits her job, sells her belongings, and visits her mother’s grave before traveling to Mojave, where the trek begins.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Cheryl is tested by her heavy bag, blisters, rattlesnakes, and exhaustion, but many strangers help her along the trail with a warm meal or hiking tips. 
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. As Cheryl goes through particularly tough and snowy parts of the trail her emotional baggage starts to catch up with her.  
  • Ordeal. She inadvertently drops one of her shoes off a cliff, and the incident unearths the helplessness she's been evading since her mother's passing.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Cheryl soldiers on, trekking an impressive 50 miles in duct-taped sandals before finally securing a new pair of shoes. This small victory amplifies her self-confidence.
  • The Road Back. On the last stretch, she battles thirst, sketchy hunters, and a storm, but more importantly, she revisits her most poignant and painful memories.
  • Resurrection. Cheryl forgives herself for damaging her marriage and her sense of worth, owning up to her mistakes. A pivotal moment happens at Crater Lake, where she lets go of her frustration at her mother for passing away.
  • Return with the Elixir. Cheryl reaches the Bridge of the Gods and completes the trail. She has found her inner strength and determination for life's next steps.

There are countless other stories that could align with this template, but it's not always the perfect fit. So, let's look into when authors should consider it or not.

When should writers use The Hero’s Journey?

3jQDdq8HREc Video Thumb

The Hero’s Journey is just one way to outline a novel and dissect a plot. For more longstanding theories on the topic, you can go this way to read about the ever-popular Three-Act Structure or here to discover Dan Harmon's Story Circle and three more prevalent structures .

So when is it best to use the Hero’s Journey? There are a couple of circumstances which might make this a good choice.

When you need more specific story guidance than simple structures can offer

Simply put, the Hero’s Journey structure is far more detailed and closely defined than other story structure theories. If you want a fairly specific framework for your work than a thee-act structure, the Hero’s Journey can be a great place to start.

Of course, rules are made to be broken . There’s plenty of room to play within the confines of the Hero’s Journey, despite it appearing fairly prescriptive at first glance. Do you want to experiment with an abbreviated “Resurrection” stage, as J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Are you more interested in exploring the journey of an anti-hero? It’s all possible.

Once you understand the basics of this universal story structure, you can use and bend it in ways that disrupt reader expectations.

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When your focus is on a single protagonist

No matter how sprawling or epic the world you’re writing is, if your story is, at its core, focused on a single character’s journey, then this is a good story structure for you. It’s kind of in the name! If you’re dealing with an entire ensemble, the Hero’s Journey may not give you the scope to explore all of your characters’ plots and subplot — a broader three-act structure may give you more freedom to weave a greater number story threads. ​​

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Whether you're a reader or writer, we hope our guide has helped you understand this universal story arc. Want to know more about story structure? We explain 6 more in our guide — read on!

6 responses

PJ Reece says:

25/07/2018 – 19:41

Nice vid, good intro to story structure. Typically, though, the 'hero's journey' misses the all-important point of the Act II crisis. There, where the hero faces his/her/its existential crisis, they must DIE. The old character is largely destroyed -- which is the absolute pre-condition to 'waking up' to what must be done. It's not more clever thinking; it's not thinking at all. Its SEEING. So many writing texts miss this point. It's tantamount to a religions experience, and nobody grows up without it. STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR examines this dramatic necessity.

↪️ C.T. Cheek replied:

13/11/2019 – 21:01

Okay, but wouldn't the Act II crisis find itself in the Ordeal? The Hero is tested and arguably looses his/her/its past-self for the new one. Typically, the Hero is not fully "reborn" until the Resurrection, in which they defeat the hypothetical dragon and overcome the conflict of the story. It's kind of this process of rebirth beginning in the earlier sections of the Hero's Journey and ending in the Resurrection and affirmed in the Return with the Elixir.

Lexi Mize says:

25/07/2018 – 22:33

Great article. Odd how one can take nearly every story and somewhat plug it into such a pattern.

Bailey Koch says:

11/06/2019 – 02:16

This was totally lit fam!!!!

↪️ Bailey Koch replied:

11/09/2019 – 03:46

where is my dad?

Frank says:

12/04/2020 – 12:40

Great article, thanks! :) But Vogler didn't expand Campbell's theory. Campbell had seventeen stages, not twelve.

Comments are currently closed.

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

Dan Schriever

Dan Schriever

The Hero's Journey cover

How many times have you heard this story? A protagonist is suddenly whisked away from their ordinary life and embarks on a grand adventure. Along the way they make new friends, confront perils, and face tests of character. In the end, evil is defeated, and the hero returns home a changed person.

That’s the Hero’s Journey in a nutshell. It probably sounds very familiar—and rightly so: the Hero’s Journey aspires to be the universal story, or monomyth, a narrative pattern deeply ingrained in literature and culture. Whether in books, movies, television, or folklore, chances are you’ve encountered many examples of the Hero’s Journey in the wild.

In this post, we’ll walk through the elements of the Hero’s Journey step by step. We’ll also study an archetypal example from the movie The Matrix (1999). Once you have mastered the beats of this narrative template, you’ll be ready to put your very own spin on it.

Sound good? Then let’s cross the threshold and let the journey begin.

What Is the Hero’s Journey?

The 12 stages of the hero’s journey, writing your own 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.

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

Joseph Campbell , a scholar of literature, popularized the monomyth in his influential work The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949). Looking for common patterns in mythological narratives, Campbell described a character arc with 17 total stages, overlaid on a more traditional three-act structure. Not all need be present in every myth or in the same order.

The three stages, or acts, of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey are as follows:

1. Departure. The hero leaves the ordinary world behind.

2. Initiation. The hero ventures into the unknown ("the Special World") and overcomes various obstacles and challenges.

3. Return. The hero returns in triumph to the familiar world.

Hollywood has embraced Campbell’s structure, most famously in George Lucas’s Star Wars movies. There are countless examples in books, music, and video games, from fantasy epics and Disney films to sports movies.

In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (1992), screenwriter Christopher Vogler adapted Campbell’s three phases into the "12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey." This is the version we’ll analyze in the next section.

The three stages of Campbell's 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.

Still, it’s helpful to master the rules before deciding when and how to break them. The 12 steps of the Hero's Journey are as follows :

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call of Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword)
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with the Elixir

Let’s take a look at each stage in more detail. To show you how the Hero’s Journey works in practice, we’ll also consider an example from the movie The Matrix (1999). After all, what blog has not been improved by a little Keanu Reeves?

The Matrix

#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.

It’s important to lay the groundwork in this opening stage, before the journey begins. It lets readers identify with the hero as just a regular person, “normal” like the rest of us. Yes, there may be a big problem somewhere out there, but the hero at this stage has very limited awareness of it.

The Ordinary World in The Matrix :

We are introduced to Thomas A. Anderson, aka Neo, programmer by day, hacker by night. While Neo runs a side operation selling illicit software, Thomas Anderson lives the most mundane life imaginable: he works at his cubicle, pays his taxes, and helps the landlady carry out her garbage.

#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.

While readers may already understand the stakes, the hero is realizing them for the first time. They must make a choice: will they shrink from the call, or rise to the challenge?

The Call to Adventure in The Matrix :

A mysterious message arrives in Neo’s computer, warning him that things are not as they seem. He is urged to “follow the white rabbit.” At a nightclub, he meets Trinity, who tells him to seek Morpheus.

#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.

A little reluctance here is understandable. If you were asked to trade the comforts of home for a life-and-death journey fraught with peril, wouldn’t you give pause?

Refusal of the Call in The Matrix :

Agents arrive at Neo’s office to arrest him. Morpheus urges Neo to escape by climbing out a skyscraper window. “I can’t do this… This is crazy!” Neo protests as he backs off the ledge.

The Hero's Journey in _The Matrix_

#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.

After all, the hero is very inexperienced at this point. They’re going to need help to avoid disaster or, worse, death. The mentor’s role is to overcome the hero’s reluctance and prepare them for what lies ahead.

Meeting the Mentor in The Matrix :

Neo meets with Morpheus, who reveals a terrifying truth: that the ordinary world as we know it is a computer simulation designed to enslave humanity to machines.

#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.

This may seem inevitable, but for the hero it represents an important choice. Once the threshold is crossed, there’s no going back. Bilbo Baggins put it nicely: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Crossing the First Threshold in The Matrix :

Neo is offered a stark choice: take the blue pill and return to his ordinary life none the wiser, or take the red pill and “see how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Neo takes the red pill and is extracted from the Matrix, entering the real world .

#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?

Broadly speaking, this is a time of experimentation and growth. It is also one of the longest stages of the journey, as the hero learns the lay of the land and defines their relationship to other characters.

Wondering how to create captivating characters? Read our guide , which explains how to shape characters that readers will love—or hate.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies in The Matrix :

Neo is introduced to the vagabond crew of the Nebuchadnezzar . Morpheus informs Neo that he is The One , a savior destined to liberate humanity. He learns jiu jitsu and other useful skills.

#7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

Man entering a cave

Time to get a little metaphorical. The inmost cave isn’t a physical cave, but rather a place of great danger—indeed, the most dangerous place in the special world . It could be a villain’s lair, an impending battle, or even a mental barrier. No spelunking required.

Broadly speaking, the approach is marked by a setback in the quest. It becomes a lesson in persistence, where the hero must reckon with failure, change their mindset, or try new ideas.

Note that the hero hasn’t entered the cave just yet. This stage is about the approach itself, which the hero must navigate to get closer to their ultimate goal. The stakes are rising, and failure is no longer an option.

Approach to the Inmost Cave in The Matrix :

Neo pays a visit to The Oracle. She challenges Neo to “know thyself”—does he believe, deep down, that he is The One ? Or does he fear that he is “just another guy”? She warns him that the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

#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.

This is a pivotal moment in the story, the main event of the second act. It is time for the hero to come face to face with their greatest fear. It will take all their skills to survive this life-or-death crisis. Should they succeed, they will emerge from the ordeal transformed.

Keep in mind: the story isn’t over yet! Rather, the ordeal is the moment when the protagonist overcomes their weaknesses and truly steps into the title of hero .

The Ordeal in The Matrix :

When Cipher betrays the crew to the agents, Morpheus sacrifices himself to protect Neo. In turn, Neo makes his own choice: to risk his life in a daring rescue attempt.

#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.

From this moment on, the hero is a changed person. They are now equipped for the final conflict, even if they don’t fully realize it yet.

Reward (Seizing the Sword) in The Matrix :

Neo’s reward is helpfully narrated by Morpheus during the rescue effort: “He is beginning to believe.” Neo has gained confidence that he can fight the machines, and he won’t back down from his destiny.

A man holding a sword

#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.

In this stage, the hero reckons with the consequences of act two. The ordeal was a success, but things have changed now. Perhaps the dragon, robbed of his treasure, sets off for revenge. Perhaps there are more enemies to fight. Whatever the obstacle, the hero must face them before their journey is complete.

The Road Back in The Matrix :

The rescue of Morpheus has enraged Agent Smith, who intercepts Neo before he can return to the Nebuchadnezzar . The two foes battle in a subway station, where Neo’s skills are pushed to their limit.

#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.

Vogler calls the resurrection stage the hero’s “final exam.” They must draw on everything they have learned and prove again that they have really internalized the lessons of the ordeal . Near-death escapes are not uncommon here, or even literal deaths and resurrections.

Resurrection in The Matrix :

Despite fighting valiantly, Neo is defeated by Agent Smith and killed. But with Trinity’s help, he is resurrected, activating his full powers as The One . Isn’t it wonderful how literal The Matrix can be?

#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.

Return with the Elixir in The Matrix :

Neo has defeated the agents and embraced his destiny. He returns to the simulated world of the Matrix, this time armed with god-like powers and a resolve to open humanity’s eyes to the truth.

The Hero's Journey Worksheet

If you’re writing your own adventure, you may be wondering: should I follow the Hero’s Journey structure?

The good news is, it’s totally up to you. Joseph Campbell conceived of the monomyth as a way to understand universal story structure, but there are many ways to outline a novel. Feel free to play around within its confines, adapt it across different media, and disrupt reader expectations. It’s like Morpheus says: “Some of these rules can be bent. Others can be broken.”

Think of the Hero’s Journey as a tool. If you’re not sure where your story should go next, it can help to refer back to the basics. From there, you’re free to choose your own adventure.

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

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The hero’s journey archetype: a call to adventure.

  • February 26, 2020
  • TEDxMileHigh Admin
  • Art & Design

Think of the last movie you watched. Think of everything that happens in this film. Think about the characters, plot, conflict, and ending. Now think of a different movie or even a book. Think about the same elements. Do you notice a trend? Yes, all stories are different and have different characters and outcomes, but have you noticed how most characters in a story follow a similar path?  This path— this overlaying arc— is called the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell first introduced this term in 1949, but the hero’s journey archetype has a longstanding place in storytelling.

Essentially, every character, whether in a book or a film, follows the same path and encounters three fundamental experiences along the way— separation, initiation, and return.

This is the beginning of our Hero’s Journey series where we will explore the archetype and how it shows up in our everyday lives. 

As we lead up to TEDxMileHigh’s Summer 2020 event, Journey , discover that this journey is more relatable than you think—and that you may be the hero or heroine of your own journey.

The Hero’s Journey Archetype

So what exactly are we talking about here? We are diving into and dissecting the most basic form of storytelling, the arc that can be laid over any plotline and match it exactly, more or less.  We’re talking about how Harry Potter receives his Hogwarts letter and goes on this massive quest to ultimately defeat Lord Voldemort and save the wizarding world. Marlin travels the entire Pacific Ocean, meets Dori and some sharks along the way, and finds Nemo. Luke Skywalker trains with Master Yoda, discovers who his father is, and blows up the Death Star. 

The Hero's Journey Archetype Cycle: TEDxMileHigh

All of these stories, every story, follow this hero’s journey archetype. It is the ultimate narrative archetype. And, you can break them all down into three basic points.

Whether they ask for it or not, something happens to the protagonist, or hero, that separates them from their ‘normal’ mundane world. This event, also termed the “call to adventure,” is the start of their journey, and it can manifest in different ways. 

In the hero’s journey, drawn out by Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces , there are several sub-points that occur along the hero’s journey that accompany the three main encounters. In the separation stage, the hero receives some kind of aid to push them to the threshold of their adventure. This aid can be the discovery of supernatural powers or the hero’s realization that they are not totally who they think they are.

For example, Harry Potter’s call to adventure came bursting through the door on his 13th birthday in the form of Rubeus Hagrid and his acceptance letter from Hogwarts. Harry discovers and fully embraces his wizarding powers and thus is pushed to the threshold of the next part of his hero’s journey: the initiation.

This stage of the hero’s journey archetype takes up the bulk of the journey. Throughout this stage, the hero meets several sub-points along the way including the introduction of a helper, a mentor, and the trials and temptations that eventually lead to a major conflict. 

A classic example of this stage is Dorothy’s yellow-brick road journey to find the Wizard of Oz. Glenda, her mentor that she meets when she first lands in Oz, provides Dorothy with an answer to her problem (i.e., getting back home to Kansas) and aids her along the way. She meets helpers like the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Lion. On her journey, Dorothy also runs into conflict with the Wicked Witch of the West. 

A few flying monkeys and a conveniently placed water bucket later, Dorothy resolves, or melts, her conflict and is set to embark on the final part of her journey: the return.

This is the end of the hero’s journey. *Spoiler alert* Lord Voldemort dies, the Death Star blows up, and Dorothy makes it back to her family in Kansas. However, this resolution goes deeper than just a happy homecoming. In this stage, the hero returns but has changed. They have learned valuable information about themselves and the world around them. 

In some cases, the hero’s journey is not complete unless this knowledge is shared. For example, Luke Skywalker defeats the Dark Side but is also left with the responsibility to continue to teach and share the ways of the Jedi. Dorothy’s lesson is more personal. She learns that there is adventure out there over the rainbow, but she shouldn’t take her current life or family for granted.

The Hero’s Versus the Heroine’s Journey

The hero’s journey archetype is similar across seemingly every example. However, how does the journey differ for a female character?

Author Maureen Murdock has examined and written about a key difference in her work The Heroine’s Journey: A Woman’s Quest for Wholeness . In her response to Campbell’s initial publication of the hero’s journey, Murdock outlined the separate experience the contemporary women embark on in their own heroine’s journey.  

The three points along the journey are still the same. However, each stage consists of a deeper level of overcoming the expectations assumed by society. Essentially the journey “ involves the healing of the wounding of the feminine that exists deep within her and the culture,” says Murdock.

Returning to our Wizard of Oz example, Dorothy embarks on the quintessential heroine’s journey. During the separation stage, she has to overcome the expectations that the rest of her life will be spent on her family’s farm. Society’s expectations are that she will continue to support her uncles and follow in her aunt’s footsteps.  When she finally receives the adventure she is longing for, Dorothy has to overcome the notion that she can’t complete this journey on her own. She meets helpers along the way, but rather than depending on them, they depend on her to help, thus reversing society’s view of women . 

Upon her return, Dorothy learns that her life can be different and that she does not need to depend on her uncles. She can live her own life and have her own adventure all while still appreciating her family.

Are You a Hero or Heroine?

So, maybe you’ve read through these stages and are thinking ‘ That’s great! Why should I care? ’ Or maybe you’ve heard of the hero’s journey archetype before or you’ve at least noticed the trend in your favorites books or movies, but you don’t really see why it’s important. 

The hero’s journey is important because it’s personal.

We are all the heroes of our own lives. That is, we are the protagonist in our own story— we are the main character. We are all on our own hero’s journey. Fictional characters are based on human experiences, and this time, that experience is ours. It’s our lives.

We are all in different stages of this journey but are on it, or will be on it soon. It’s important to understand where you are in your life in order to see where you are going.  Maybe you’re in the midst of massive conflict and it seems endless and impossible. The hero’s journey tells us that this stage of your life is temporary and the next stage will be one of learning and resolution. 

Maybe you’re hearing that call to adventure or an opportunity has presented itself and you’re unsure of what to do. The hero’s journey tells you to take that leap. Cross that threshold and discover your path, but be prepared for some conflict along the way. 

The hero’s journey is important because it is a map, a cheat sheet, to life. Whether you wield a lightsaber or not, we are all on this same journey. And knowing where you are will give you a glimpse into where you are headed. 

The hero’s journey is relatable and personal. We all find ourselves on some part of the path eventually. But what happens when you deviate from that path? Where are you on your path and who are the important characters in your journey? Stay tuned. We will explore the details of the hero’s journey archetype and discover just how relatable it is.

TEDxMileHigh is gearing up for its next event: Journey . This summer, we will explore the individual journeys that form societies, advance technologies, and inspire movements. If this article sparked your interest, and if you’re looking to dive deeper into your own personal life journey, join us on June 27th.

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STAGES AND ARCHETYPES OF THE HERO’S JOURNEY

Introducing the monomyth.

The Hero’s Journey is a fundamental paradigm of human experience that is frequently the basis for written stories, drama, and film. It was initially described by mythologist Joseph Campbell, who relied in part on the insights of psychologist Carl Jung. The stages and archetypes of the Journey have been developed and applied to film by Christopher Vogler. The writings of these men demonstrate that the Journey is helpful in understanding both fiction and reality.

What follows may be modified and used as a handout or serve as the basis for direct instruction. It is designed to be used with TWM’s Lesson plans on the Hero’s Journey which are listed in the English Language Arts Subject Index .

Most films recommended by TWM for the study of the Journey are not action/adventure movies. This will allow teachers to demonstrate that this structure can be found in any important quest and in all types of stories.

The Hero’s Journey in Life and Art

The human condition requires purposeful effort for any achievement and often for survival. Myths and stories in all cultures contain tales of successful quests through which great achievements have been made. Some are efforts to save an individual or a group; others are missions to protect or transform a community; many are stories of personal growth and development. The protagonists of these successful quests are often called heroes and the tale of their efforts has come to be known as “the Hero’s Journey.” Mythologist Joseph Campbell, who pioneered the study of the Hero’s Journey, referred to it as “the Monomyth” because it appears in all cultures and is basic to what it means to be human.

The origins of the Hero’s Journey/Monomyth are in the earliest beginnings of the human race. Undoubtedly, tales of struggle and triumph were heard around campfires of tribes long forgotten. When starvation had stalked the community, there would be a celebration when hunters returned from the first successful effort after many failures. The hunters would have told the story of the difficulties they had overcome and their eventual triumph. When tribes had been locked in mortal combat and the resolution had been in doubt, the victors would have delighted in recalling the tale of the battle and how they had vanquished the enemy. Those best at telling stories, people who had a way with words or music, would be asked to repeat the tale, again and again, praising those who had saved the community.

When people started to put stories into writing, the first epic poem was The Odyssey, which describes the Hero’s Journey of Odysseus on his quest to return home from the Trojan War. Since that time, stories of the Monomyth have appeared in countless variations, not only in epic poems, but also in novels, comic books, and plays. Movie plots frequently employ versions of the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell describes the mythical quest in its simplest form:

A hero ventures forth from the world of the common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

In life and in fiction, certain stages can be identified in most Hero’s Journeys. These include a starting place, an ordinary world that is somehow deficient or inadequate; a call to action; first steps on the journey; meeting with a mentor; the crisis, a reward, and a return with the result or a prize that corrects the deficiency or inadequacy that launched the quest. Each journey has its unique aspects and not all stories of the Monomyth contain all of the stages of the classic Hero’s Journey. In many situations, some of the stages are combined or occur simultaneously. The order of the steps usually follow in a certain sequence, but not always. Different scholars have described the stages in slightly different ways, but in countless myths and stories, the outline of the Hero’s Journey can be clearly seen.

In addition, stories that manifest the Monomyth contain certain types of characters whose functions relate to the hero’s progress on the Journey. These include not only the hero and the mentor, but also the threshold guardian, the shadow, the trickster, and the shapeshifter. In similar fashion to the stages of the Journey, not all of these characters appear in every Hero’s Journey and in some Journeys functions of different character types are combined in one individual. Because these character types have a structural relationship to the Hero’s Journey and they are parts of the human experience that appear in generation after generation and in story after story, they are called the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey.

The Monomyth can appear in many different types of stories. Adventure tales describe the experiences of heroes as they overcome villains who threaten certain individuals or endanger an entire community. In a romance, one of the characters, or the couple acting together, are on a quest to requite their love and live happily ever after. Sports stories involve the effort of one team or one contestant to triumph over all the others. In tales of personal transformation and growth, people examine their own lives, muster the courage to change, and accept the challenges presented on the path to fulfillment. Each of these types of stories often employ the stages of the Hero’s Journey.

One reason that the Monomyth has endured is that it matches the way in which many events actually occur: it illustrates how human beings on an important quest interact with their environment and with other people. Each person will at certain times in life perform different versions of the Hero’s Journey or they will see others do it. Some people will go on a quest to make a difference in society; most people will, at times, serve as the hero for a quest that is important to their family, their school, a friend, or themselves. One example of the Hero’s Journey, which has been undertaken by millions of people will be explored in detail in detail in this essay. It is the journey of an alcoholic or a drug addict who decides to take control of life and stop using drugs.

Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Set out below is a description of the stages of the Hero’s Journey developed for screenwriters by Hollywood story consultant Christopher Vogler in his book, The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition. Vogler’s work is based on the stages of the Monomyth developed by Joseph Campbell.

Note that: Vogler’s formulation of the Hero’s Journey is not the classic mythical journey in which there is repeated divine intervention and a meeting with the goddess. Vogler’s version is updated for modern sensibilities and reflects the contemporary view of life. It has been adopted by TWM because it has direct relevance to the stories told in film and, quite often, to quests undertaken by people living in modern times. Note also that while Vogler’s work has been in movie-making, the insights in his book apply to any work of fiction.

The stages of the Hero’s Journey can be separated into three sections. The first consists of the expository phase of the story. The second unfolds the complications and the crisis which describe the Hero’s struggle and provide the action in the story. The third section concludes the journey with resolution and denouement.

SECTION ONE — Introduction to Setting, Characters, and Conflict

1. The Ordinary World: This is the setting with which the protagonist is familiar, the life experienced before the quest. There will probably be many loved ones and the comfort of familiarity in the Ordinary World. However, in some way it is unstable or dissatisfying for the protagonist of the mission described in the story; either the Ordinary World has changed or the hero-to-be comes to feel the need for change due to some internal conflict or realization. In some tales that express the Monomyth, the Ordinary World has been destroyed or made uninhabitable by an outside force and the protagonist has no choice but to start on the journey to find a new life. In other stories, the Ordinary World still exists and often exerts a strong influence pulling the protagonist back from the challenges of the quest. In the classic Hero’s Journey, a victorious hero returns to the Ordinary World bringing back objects: the hunter brings food and the victor brings the spoils of war. In other Journeys there is no return to the Ordinary World and the successful hero lives in a new world that is better than the old. This also occurs in quests of personal growth in which a character seeks to resolve contradictions in his or her personality or overcome an emotional challenge, such as grief from the loss of a loved one.

The journey of an alcoholic/addict from addiction to sobriety is an example of a Hero’s Journey. Like all examples of the Monomyth, in life or in fiction, it has its unique aspects. For example, the journey of the recovering alcoholic/addict continues through the life of the individual and has no final conclusion. This contrasts sharply with most Hero’s Journeys, such as those of a hunt to bring food back to the starving clan or the tale of an athlete who wins a medal at the Olympics. However, most stages of the Monomyth are clearly evident in an alcoholic/addict’s road to recovery.

The Ordinary World of alcoholics and drug users are the days, months and years before they decide to quit. For an alcoholic/addict the ordinary world is one in which the drug controls most actions. It is a time of lying, cheating and stealing to support the habit. It is a time in which the alcoholic/addict manipulates loved ones to support the habit or avoid the consequences of an intoxicated life. It is a time of failing to meet responsibilities and in a fundamental way, it is a time of being isolated and alone. For many heroes the comfort and familiarity of the Ordinary World calls to them during their journey, and that is certainly true for alcoholics/addicts. Many recovering alcoholics and drug abusers never lose the urge for their intoxicant of choice.

2. The Call to Adventure: The call to adventure can take many forms, but it always pulls the protagonist away from the Ordinary World into a new situation. The Call to Adventure may be something that the hero-to-be voluntarily accepts or it may be an event which compels the journey, leaving the protagonist no choice but to embark on the journey.

For many heroes there is one call to adventure that sets them on the Journey. For alcoholics/addicts, there are usually many calls to change their lifestyle. For those who become the heroes of their own journey to sobriety, there is a Call to Adventure that finally sends them on their journey. Recovering alcoholics/addicts call this “hitting bottom.” That’s the time when the alcoholic/addict realizes that to continue drink alcohol or use drugs is intolerable. Some come to understand that they will actually die unless they stop. Some, who drive drunk, realize that they will probably kill someone else as well. For others, it’s the knowledge that continuing as an alcoholic/addict will destroy their relationship with their children or other people whom they love.

3. Refusing the Call: At one point (or on many occasions) the potential hero feels the pull of the familiar comforts of the Ordinary World and resists going on the adventure. After all, every quest carries with it the risk of failure and some Journeys are downright dangerous.

There are many alcoholics/addicts who relapse and after hitting bottom, start to use alcohol or drugs again. This is the equivalent of Refusing the Call to the adventure of their personal Hero’s Journey to sobriety. Some of them can rebound from this set back and continue on with their quest; others are lost.

4. Meeting with the Mentor: A Mentor is a guide or a teacher who will help the hero-to-be gather the courage, find the right path, or pass the tests required for successful completion of their mission. The meeting with the Mentor can come at any point in the Hero’s Journey.

Mentorship is so important for recovering alcoholics/addicts that everyone who enrolls in Alcoholics Anonymous is assigned a sponsor, a person to whom they can go for support and who will answer questions about the process of recovery. The same is true in many treatment programs for alcohol or drug addiction. The sponsor is the mentor for the recovering alcoholic/addict. Of course, alcoholics/addicts can also find people outside of AA or their treatment program to serve as mentors.

5. Crossing the First Threshold: This is the point at which there is no turning back without an admission that the protagonist is not to be a hero. Crossing the first threshold can be a voluntary, considered action or it can be an external event which launches the protagonist on the quest.

For most alcoholic/addicts, Crossing the First Threshold is entering treatment or attending the first AA meeting and committing themselves to join the program. For the very few people who can rid themselves of addiction without AA or a treatment program, Crossing the First Threshold is the first time they put down a drink or a syringe, the first time they reject a line of cocaine, with a personal commitment to stop using drugs and reform their life. However, alcoholics/addicts can always start their quest again, and in this way, the turning back is not a permanent admission that they will not be a hero. In this way, the journey of an alcoholic/addict to sobriety differs from the classic Hero’s Journey.

SECTION TWO — Action, Climax, Triumph

6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: In most important quests there will be obstacles to overcome and challenges to meet; on most, there will be allies to assist the protagonist toward the goal. There may also be enemies seeking to obstruct the way. Enemies may also be aspects of nature or a part of the protagonist’s psyche. In both film and literature, these elements of the Journey provide the action, provoke interest, and serve as complications on the path to the goal.

Many alcoholic/addicts never lose the desire for intoxication; every day they must resist the urge to relapse. In AA there is a saying that recovery occurs one day at a time; every day is a test for the heroes of their own journeys to sobriety. There are also special challenges, as when, at a party, someone mistakenly hands a drink with alcohol to the person in recovery. Another test may occur during a time of emotional distress when the desire to escape and numb reality becomes especially strong. There are allies on the road of recovery, such as family and friends who provide support as well as other members of AA. There are also enemies, such as friends who still drink or use drugs and who want to include the recovering alcoholic/addict in their intoxicated experiences.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: This is the turning point, the moment in which the protagonist seems to realize completely what must be done and to accept all accompanied risks including the possibility of failure. In some stories, failure means death. The Approach to the Inmost Cave is an essential element in most stories describing a quest. It reveals the fact that the hero-to-be is operating with full awareness of the consequences of failure.

There comes a time when the alcoholic/addict is well launched on sobriety and realizes the extent to which their life has changed and will change forever. This occurs when people in recovery fully accept that they will never again enjoy the intoxication of the drug, something that is desperately desired and physically craved. It comes when they understand that all aspects of the intoxicated life are being left behind. But there are also the benefits of recovery which beckon and the alcoholic/addict must choose. In recovery from alcoholism/addiction, this stage may come after the Ordeal, while in most Hero’s Journeys in which there is a specific challenge that has to be overcome, this stage comes just before the Ordeal. “Hitting bottom” could also be seen as the Approach to the Inmost cave, but this occurs early in the process and is more like the Call to Action.

8. Ordeal: The climax, or the peak experience in the adventure, appears in virtually all stories. The hero-to-be faces the moment of truth: will he or she prevail in the struggle with the enemy?

For a person entering recovery from alcoholism/addiction, the most intense times often occur early on, when the body’s physical desire for the drug is the most intense. However, given the nature of recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction, the moment of truth can be said to reoccur occasionally throughout the life of an alcoholic/addict, or even every day. As they say, for many alcoholic/addicts it’s one day at a time.

9. Reward: The payoff for the protagonist’s struggle may be as simple as survival or it may involve fantastic riches or symbolic prizes that make the experience worthwhile. The Reward may be personal growth, self-knowledge, or the reconciliation of conflicting parts of the personality.

The payoff for a recovering alcoholic/addict is a life without addiction and all that this means for a better quality existence. For many, it means avoiding death, because the alcoholism/drug addiction would have killed them. Many alcoholics stopped maturing emotionally on the day they started to drink, usually as a teenager. When they had a problem in life, instead of dealing with it and learning what was necessary for growth and development, they just took several drinks or a hit from the drug. Many alcoholics/addicts report that when they went into recovery, they were back at the age when they began their intoxicated lifestyle. Recovery allows them to experience growth to maturity, with all of its challenges and rewards.

SECTION THREE — Resolution and Denouement

10. The Road Back: Returning to the ordinary world can be a difficult journey in itself and may offer additional risks for the adventuring protagonist, who is still not yet a hero. Some will be able to negotiate the Road Back and some will not: the hunter bringing the kill back to the village may be set upon by a pack of wolves who steal the hard won prey. For those protagonists who do not successfully pass this stage, the quest ends in failure; they never become heroes.

The road back for a recovering alcoholic/addict can be seen as the rest of their life. In the alternative, it can be said that this stage is absent in this version of the Hero’s Journey.

11. Resurrection: At this point, the protagonist, now a Hero, becomes transformed by the experience of the quest into a new, or at least a better, person.

An alcoholic/addict committed to recovery is a transformed person.

12. Return with the Elixir: In stories in which the Ordinary World still exists, upon re-entering that world, the Hero shares with those who stayed behind the prize won on the adventure. The Elixir shared can be abstract, such as love, or it can be concrete, such as something the group needs in order to survive or prosper. When the Ordinary World no longer exists or the Hero cannot, for some reason, return to the Ordinary World, the Hero will share the Elixir with those who accompanied him or her on the quest or those who inhabit the new world in which the victorious Hero will live. In journeys of personal growth and development, the Elixir is the new realization that the Hero has about life or about the self. The last two or three stages are often combined, especially in journeys of personal growth and development.

The Elixir for the recovering alcoholic/addict is the understanding that a sober life is better than an intoxicated life.

Archetypes in Life and Art

Certain character types and their structural relationships with others in family and community are parts of the human experience that repeat again and again. The functions of the father, the mother, the child, the hero, the mentor, and the trickster are found in most cultures and are timeless. People can take on different roles multiple times during their lives and they will change roles depending upon the situations in which they find themselves. For example, a person may be on a quest in one aspect of life and therefore take on the function of the hero, while at another time or in a different set of circumstances, the same person may function as a mentor for someone else’s quest. People can take on different roles in different situations and at different times. People are children in relation to their parents and later they are parents to their own children. As parents age, they become more child-like and their children take on the role of parent. People can take on more than one function at the same time. For example, every parent takes on different aspects of the mother (nurturing) and of the father (stern and judging); that is, aspects of both the mother and the father usually exist in varying degrees in any parent; and the relative strength of the different roles changes over time and as the situation changes.

Character types which have persisted over centuries and across cultures are called archetypes. The concept of archetypes is derived from the work of Swiss psychologist Carl Jung who theorized that people are born with a psychic inheritance, a collective unconscious, which affects all of human experience. Jung believed that this knowledge lies in our unconscious mind and can only be accessed indirectly through dreams, myths, forms of religious belief, and the arts, such as written fiction, movies, visual arts, music, and dance. It may be the Jung was correct or it may be that people learn about archetypes as children because there are certain basic ways in which human beings relate to each other in societies, in families, and in personal relationships. Whatever the source of the knowledge, the concept of archetype helps to organize and clarify human experience. As such, archetypes are an important part of understanding life and telling a story, whether in written form or presented on stage or screen.

Another way to look at archetypes is that they embody energies in the psyche that seek to fulfill a function in life and in story. Thus, one character can provide the energy to nurture, another the impetus to quest, a third the desire to the mentor, while a fourth provides the force of a leader, etc. The mother archetype nurtures, the father archetype judges, and the mentor archetype gives sage advice, etc. A person functions as a hero when engaging in purposeful effort, for example, putting a man on the moon or a journey of personal growth. The effort could be as simple as going on a trip and as mundane as learning to fit in when starting at a new school or asking a girl to go out on a date.

Every school contains character types that have existed for as long as we have had schools and which can be considered archetypes. The bully, the sports jock, the nerd, the class clown, and the teacher’s pet are examples. Centuries ago, the bully pattern of personality would have been evident in the powerful hunter or warrior who used his strength to dominate and hurt others. The characteristics of a bully contrast with those of a true leader, another archetype, who uses intelligence, knowledge, or the power of personality to take care of his people. And although math or science as fields of study are rather new in the long history of mankind, certainly there were members of ancient societies who involved themselves with numbers and were devoted to the accuracy of exchange, the measurement of distances, and even the passage of time. There have always been court jesters and comedians, and, of course, an individual favored by a person with power. Each of these functional types have recognizable expressions in school society.

While each archetype has its own constellation of attributes which most people recognize, everyone who functions as an archetypal character, in life and in story, will also have unique characteristics depending upon their culture, their own personality, and the situation. Dorothy Gale of The Wizard of Oz is a true heroine who defeats formidable adversaries on her journey. However, Dorothy, as required of a female by her culture, her time and her story, is always kind and considerate. While she kills the wicked witches of the East and the West as thoroughly as any action/adventure hero vanquishes a villain, Dorothy always kills by accident and without an intent to harm.

Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, refers to archetypes as elementary ideas and asserts that anthropologists and archeologists can account for the differences in the archetypes in mythologies across the globe as responses to environmental factors. In stories, the use of archetypes builds an empathic reaction as each reader or viewer sees many familiar aspects of characters who take on the archetypal roles. There is universal appeal when protagonists, antagonists, and ancillary characters exhibit aspects of various archetypes.

Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey – Characters of the Monomyth

There are certain archetypes which are often associated with the Hero’s Journey; their functions relate to the conduct of a quest. The following description of the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey are brief summaries derived from Christopher Vogler’s book. Mr. Vogler based his analysis on the ideas of psychologist Carl Jung and mythologist Joseph Campbell. Note that these summaries are an attempt to briefly describe complex personality patterns; they are necessarily incomplete.

1. The Hero is the person who embarks on the quest seeking to correct an imbalance in community, family, or psyche. For journeys of internal growth or reformation, the hero searches for the true self in its wholeness. The Hero can be willing or unwilling and can be acting on a matter which concerns society as a whole, relates to a specific group of people, or is personal to the Hero. The Hero can act alone or as the leader of a group.

2. A Mentor is an important individual, who transmits encouragement, understanding and wisdom to the Hero. The Mentor can simply give helpful advice or the mentor may also intervene and help the Hero surmount the challenges of the particular quest.

3. Threshold Guardians are characters who serve to challenge or obstruct the Hero’s progress from one stage of the Journey to another. They stand at the gateways to new experiences; their role is to keep the unworthy from continuing on the Journey. The Hero must prove his or her worthiness in some way, often by defeating and killing the Threshold Guardian or by passing some test.

4. A Herald issues challenges and announces the coming of significant change. The Herald is the voice demanding change and providing motivation for the protagonist to get on with the journey.

5. Shapeshifters , as seen from the Hero’s point of view, appear to change their form. The change may be in appearance, in mood, or in function with respect to the quest. For example, the Hero may have a romantic interest in a person who is fickle or two-faced. That person is a Shapeshifter.

6. The Shadow is a character who reflects or represents the dark, unexpressed, or rejected aspects of something, often a part of the Hero’s personality. A shadow character has the function of presenting the allure of qualities that a person must renounce and root out in order to successfully complete the quest.

7. The Trickster who sometimes supplies comic relief in a story, is nonetheless important as a catalyst for change and can sometimes be a Hero in his or her own right. Tricksters are also often Shapeshifters.

Some Other Important Literary Archetypes

Some of the archetypes identified by Carl Jung that are frequently found in the literature are summarized below.

1. The Father: Jung saw the authority figure as a powerful, serious-minded father, stern and judging. Usually, a character manifesting this archetype is male, but not always.

2. The mother: The individual who represents nurturing and caregiving is the Mother archetype. Often a character manifesting this archetype is female, but not always. Mentors often nurture and they are often male.

3. The Child: This archetype represents the innocence and potential for growth of children, who, with their honesty, pure-mindedness, and drive for growth and development offer salvation to errant adults. The Child Savior is a subset of this archetype. See TWM’s The Child Savior: An Example of a Literary Archetype.

4. The Maiden: Like the child, the maiden represents innocence and pure intention but has the added element of female sexual possibility and transition to another female archetype such as the Mother.

These archetypes may be found in many stories, including stories of the quest. They differ from the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey only because their function does not necessarily assist in reaching the resolution of a story of purposeful effort.

The Hero’s Journey/Monomyth is basic to the human experience. Jung, Campbell, and Vogler have shown that the stages of the Hero’s Journey correspond to what actually occurs in life. They have demonstrated that archetypes, assembled and reassembled in life and in stories, remain faithful to truths about human existence throughout time. The Hero’s Journey analysis assists in discovering the elemental messages of myth, drama, literature, and film. The Journey assists in understanding inner meaning and clarifying theme. In life, knowledge of the stages and archetypes of the successful quest will help people organize and understand their own experience.

Bibliography

  • The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, 3rd Edition, by Christopher Vogler;
  • The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers;
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell; The quotation beginning “The hero ventures forth . . . ” is from page 23;
  • The Archetypes and The Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung Vol.9 Part 1).

This article was written by Mary RedClay and James Frieden for TeachWithMovies.org.

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My philosophy, monday, september 14, 2020, 8 archetypes of the hero's journey.

archetypal hero's journey

Today we are covering the eight character archetypes of The Hero's Journey .

Archetypes are recurring patterns and figures in storytelling (well, to put in simplified terms). Often a story won't feel "complete" without the proper archetypes .

But keep in mind that archetypes don't have to manifest exactly like this in your manuscript--it's not necessarily a character-for-character thing. In fact, these work more as functions , especially today. You can mix and match and combine them in your cast of characters. Or sometimes the functions may be like masks that different characters wear at different times.

archetypal hero's journey

Threshold Guardian

archetypal hero's journey

Shapeshifter

archetypal hero's journey

Remember, often today we don't use characters that fit archetypes exactly , but rather these are different character functions to bring into the story. Feel free to mix them up or bring something new to your character. 

Why does this matter? Well, there is a reason these figures appear and reappear throughout human history. They represent different parts of the human experience : encouragement to do right, feelings of doubt, resistance, motivation, imbalance, repressed or unrealized desires. . . . 

Including the different parts, makes a story feel more complete or whole, because it mimics life .

To learn more about this or other archetypes, check out and compare The Hero's Journey's list to Dramatica's list . 

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The Hero’s Journey: 12 Steps That Make Up the Universal Structure of Great Stories

by David Safford | 0 comments

At some in your writer's life, you've probably come across the term Hero's Journey. Maybe you've even studied this guide for storytelling and applied it to your own books—and yet, something about your own application felt off. You wanted to learn more, but didn't know where to start.

Maybe you needed a resource that would simplify the hero's journey steps and all the other major details instead of complicate them.

The Hero's Journey: The Ultimate Guide to the Universal Structure of Great Stories

The Hero's Journey is as old as humanity itself. And through history, this single story form has emerged over and over again. People from all cultures have seemed to favor its structure, and its familiar types of characters (archetypal hero, anyone?), symbols, relationships, and steps.

If you want to build or strengthen your writing career and win a following of many happy readers, you want this particular tool in your writer's toolbox.

Let's dive in.

Need help applying The Hero's Journey to your story outline and manuscript? Download this free Hero's Journey worksheet now!

Why I Love the Hero's Journey (And You Will, Too)

Like many, I grew up loving Star Wars. I especially loved the music and bought the soundtracks at some point in middle school. When my parents weren't home and I had the house all to myself, I'd slip one of the CDs into my stereo, crank the volume up, and blast the London Symphony Orchestra. I even pretended I was conducting the violins and timpani myself.

I know it's nerdy to admit. But we love what we love, and I love the music of great movies.

In a way, the Hero's Journey is like a soundtrack. It follows familiar beats and obeys age-old principles of human emotion. We can't necessarily explain why a piece of music is so beautiful, but we can explain what it does and simply acknowledge that most people like it.

As I've come to understand Joseph Campbell's groundbreaking monomyth theory, commonly known as the Hero's Journey, I've fallen deeper and deeper in love with it.

But it's important to make sure you know what it is, and what it isn't.

The Hero's Journey isn't a formula to simply follow, plugging in hackneyed characters into cliched situations.

It's not “selling out” and giving up your artistic integrity

The Hero's Journey is a set of steps, scenes, character types, symbols, and themes that tend to recur in stories regardless of culture or time period. Within these archetypes are nearly infinite variations and unique perspectives that are impacted by culture and period, reflecting wonderful traits of the authors and audiences.

Also, the Hero's Journey is a process that your reader expects your story to follow, whether they know it or not. This archetype is hard-wired into our D.N.A. Let's look at how to use it to make your own stories stronger.

How to Use This Hero's Journey Post

In the beginning, there were stories. These stories were told by mothers, soldiers, and performers. They were inscribed on the walls of caves, into tablets of stone, and on the first sheets of papyrus.

This is how the Hero's Journey was born.

In this post, I'll walk you through the Hero's Journey twelve steps, and teach you how to apply them into your story. I'll also share additional resources to teach you some other Hero's Journey essentials, like character archetypes, symbols, and themes. By the end of this post, you'll be able to easily apply the Hero's Journey to your story with confidence.

And don't skip out on the practice exercise at the end of the post! This will help you start to carve out the Hero's Journey for your story with a practical fifteen minute exercise—the best way to really retain how the Hero's Journey works is to apply it.

Table of Contents: The Hero's Journey Guide

What is the Hero's Journey?

Why the Hero's Journey will make you a better writer

The Twelve-Step Hero's Journey Structure

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • The Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Trials, Allies, and Enemies
  • The Approach
  • The Road Back
  • The Resurrection
  • Return With the Elixir

5 Essential Hero's Journey Scenes

A Guide to Structuring Your Hero's Journey

Bonus! Additional Hero's Journey Resources

  • 5 Character Archetypes
  • 5 Hero's Journey Symbols
  • 5 Hero's Journey Themes

What Is the Hero's Journey?

The Hero's Journey is the timeless combination of characters, events, symbols, and relationships frequently structured as a sequence of twelve steps. It is a storytelling structure that anyone can study and utilize to tell a story that readers will love.

First identified and defined by Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey was theorizied in The Hero With a Thousand Faces . Today, it has been researched and taught by great minds, some including Carl Jung and Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers ).

This research has given us lengthy and helpful lists of archetypes , or story elements that tend to recur in stories from any culture at any time.

And while some archetypes are unique to a genre, they are still consistent within those genres. For example, a horror story from Japan will still contain many of the same archetypes as a horror story from Ireland. There will certainly be notable differences in how these archetypes are depicted, but the tropes will still appear.

That's the power of the Hero's Journey. It is the skeleton key of storytelling that you can use to unlock the solution to almost any writing problem you are confronted with.

Why the Monomyth Will Make You a Better Writer

The Hero's Journey is the single most powerful tool at your disposal as a writer.

But it isn't a “rule,” so to speak. It's also not a to-do list.

If anything, the Hero's Journey is diagnostic, not prescriptive. In other words, it describes a story that works, but doesn't necessarily tell you what to do.

But the reason you should use the Hero's Journey isn't because it's a great trick or tool. You should use the Hero's Journey because it is based on thousands of years of human storytelling.

It provides a way to connect with readers from all different walks of life.

This is why stories about fantastical creatures from imaginary worlds can forge deep emotional connections with audiences. Hollywood knows this, and its best studios take advantage. As an example, The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien, contains mythical creatures like elves and hobbits. Yet it is Frodo's heroic journey of sacrifice and courage that draws us to him like a magnet.

Learn how to easily apply the Hero's Journey 12 Steps to your books in this post. Tweet this

David Safford

You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.

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archetypal hero's journey

The Hero’s Journey: Archetypes in Storytelling

by The Enlightenment Journey ·

The Hero's Journey: Archetypes in Storytelling

A Quick Overview: The Hero’s Journey Explained

The Hero’s Journey is a narrative structure that has been prevalent in storytelling across cultures and time periods. It follows a hero as they embark on an adventure, face challenges , and ultimately undergo personal growth and transformation. This journey often involves archetypal characters that play specific roles in the hero’s quest. These archetypes serve as universal symbols that resonate with audiences and add depth to the story. Each archetype represents different facets of the human experience, allowing for a rich and engaging narrative.

Origin of Archetypes in Storytelling

Archetypes have been a fundamental part of storytelling since ancient times. The concept of archetypes was first introduced by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed that these universal symbols were ingrained in the collective unconscious of humanity. Archetypes serve as a way to tap into universal themes and emotions that resonate with audiences on a subconscious level. They provide a framework for understanding human behavior and motivations, making them a powerful tool for storytellers to create compelling narratives.

Understanding the Hero Archetype

The Hero archetype is perhaps the most well-known and recognizable of all archetypes in storytelling. The Hero is the central figure in the story, embarking on a journey that will test their courage, strength, and resilience. The Hero often undergoes a transformation throughout the story, growing from a mere mortal into a legendary figure. This archetype embodies qualities such as bravery, selflessness, and a sense of duty, making them a relatable and inspiring figure for audiences.

The Mentor Archetype in Storytelling

The Mentor archetype is a crucial character in the Hero’s Journey, guiding and advising the Hero on their quest. Mentors are wise, experienced figures who provide the hero with valuable knowledge, skills, and moral support. They often serve as a source of wisdom and encouragement, helping the hero navigate the challenges they face. The Mentor archetype can take many forms, from a wise old wizard to a loyal friend, but their role remains consistent in providing guidance and assistance to the hero.

The Threshold Guardian Archetype

The Threshold Guardian archetype is a character that the hero must overcome before crossing into the unknown world of adventure. These guardians serve as gatekeepers, testing the hero’s resolve and determination before allowing them to proceed on their journey. Threshold Guardians can take many forms, from fierce monsters to stern gatekeepers, but their purpose is always to challenge the hero and push them to prove their worthiness. Overcoming the Threshold Guardian is a crucial step in the hero’s journey, signaling their readiness to face the trials ahead.

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The shadow archetype: the villain.

The Shadow archetype represents the darker aspects of the human psyche and is often embodied in the form of the villain. Villains are the antagonists of the story, working against the hero and posing significant obstacles in their path. The Shadow archetype serves as a foil to the hero, highlighting their virtues and strengths through contrast. Villains can be complex characters with their motivations and backstory, adding depth and intrigue to the story. The ultimate showdown between the hero and the villain is a pivotal moment in the hero’s journey, symbolizing the internal battle between light and darkness.

The Shapeshifter Archetype

The Shapeshifter archetype is a character that embodies ambiguity and change, often blurring the line between ally and enemy. Shapeshifters are unpredictable and enigmatic figures, keeping the hero on their toes and challenging their perceptions. These characters can switch allegiances, motivations, and appearances, adding an element of mystery and intrigue to the story. The Shapeshifter archetype tests the hero’s judgment and intuition , forcing them to navigate a complex web of alliances and betrayals.

The Trickster Archetype in Stories

The Trickster archetype is a mischievous and cunning character that disrupts the status quo and challenges societal norms. Tricksters are often unpredictable and unconventional figures, using their wit and cleverness to outsmart others. These characters bring chaos and humor to the story, shaking up the hero’s journey and forcing them to think outside the box. While Tricksters can be disruptive and challenging, they also serve as catalysts for change and growth, pushing the hero to adapt and evolve.

The Herald Archetype Revealed

The Herald archetype is a character that announces the call to adventure, setting the hero on their journey. Heralds can take many forms, from a messenger bearing news to a sudden revelation that changes the course of the hero’s life. These characters serve as catalysts for change, propelling the hero out of their ordinary world and into the unknown. The Herald archetype often brings a sense of urgency and destiny to the story, pushing the hero to confront their fears and embrace their destiny.

The Ally Archetype in Storytelling

The Ally archetype is a supportive and loyal companion to the hero, providing aid and companionship on their journey. Allies are steadfast friends who stand by the hero through thick and thin, offering strength and support when needed. These characters often serve as foils to the hero, highlighting different aspects of their personality and providing valuable skills and resources. The Ally archetype adds depth and richness to the hero’s journey, creating a sense of camaraderie and friendship that enhances the storytelling experience.

The Heroine’s Journey: Female Archetypes

In addition to the traditional Hero’s Journey, there is also the Heroine’s Journey, which explores female archetypes and themes. Female archetypes such as the Mother, the Lover, and the Wise Woman play vital roles in storytelling, providing diverse representations of femininity and strength. The Heroine’s Journey often focuses on themes of nurturing, compassion, and empowerment, offering a unique perspective on the hero’s quest. These female archetypes add depth and complexity to the storytelling landscape, showcasing the diversity of human experiences and emotions.

Conclusion: The Power of Archetypes in Storytelling

Archetypes are powerful tools that underpin storytelling, adding depth, meaning, and resonance to narratives. By tapping into universal symbols and themes, storytellers can create compelling stories that resonate with audiences on a subconscious level. Archetypes provide a framework for understanding human behavior and motivations, allowing for rich and engaging narratives that explore the complexities of the human experience. Whether it’s the Hero, the Mentor, the Villain, or the Trickster, each archetype brings something unique to the story, enriching the hero’s journey and creating a memorable and impactful narrative. By harnessing the power of archetypes, storytellers can unlock the secrets of great storytelling and create stories that endure the test of time.

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The Hero's Journey: Archetypes in Storytelling

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Archetypal characters in the hero’s journey.

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As I mentioned yesterday, the Hero’s Journey started with Joseph Campbell looking at heroes across mythology. He found that not only do heroes have a lot in common, but so do other roles in their stories. Again, Christopher Vogler adapted this for writers in The Writer’s Journey , so we’ll be using his terminology.

The first archetypal character he usually meets is the Herald , the character who issues the call to adventure. His challenge announces a coming change, that all is not well in the Ordinary World. He also gives the Hero motivation to go on the adventure.

The Herald doesn’t have to actually be a person—in Lord of the Rings, it’s the ring; in Harry Potter, it’s the letters; in Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s Luke’s aunt & uncle dying. (You could try to argue it’s meeting R2-D2, but remember that R2 bore a message for someone else ).

He usually has a Mentor who teaches him. Often, the Mentor gives him a useful gift as well as motivates the hero into accepting the call. (Technically, the mentor doesn’t have to be a person either—and I don’t just mean disembodied voices and Force ghosts, either. It can be anything that teaches the Hero and prepares him for the coming tests.)

The Trickster is often a sidekick. He often balances the drama with comic relief and brings things into perspective.

The Shape-Shifter can be his or her own character—or it can be combined with another character type. As the name states, he’s not what he appears to be. Revealing his “real” self can create big change in the story—but they may or may not be evil. They may switch sides, but they may become good. In fact, in a romance, the romantic leads are often Shape-Shifters because they must change to enter into a relationship. (Heck, even the Hero might be a Shape-Shifter, since he has to learn and grow throughout the course of the story.)

The Hero may encounter a rival—someone who’s competing for an intermediary goal, or the girl, etc. But it’s the Shadow that is the true villain. He tests the Hero’s true abilities and worthiness, and forces the Hero to rise to the challenge. He’s often a shape-shifter, appearing beautiful, elegant or good.

Added by Iapetus999 (Andrew) in the comments: The Ally (AKA the Sidekick, the Best Friend, the Brother-in-Arms, the Faithful Companion, the Loyal Troops, the Partner in Crime (or do-gooding), the Guardian Angel, the Band of Brothers, the Knight in Shining Armor, the Merry Men, the Faithful Steed…) The Ally is a person the Hero trusts. He’s someone the Hero can turn to when the chips are down, to provide him with wisdom, to provide him with humor or a shoulder to lean on, to lend him an ear, to prepare him for battle, to do all the little and big things a Hero can’t do for himself. He may be too tired from the fight, too engaged with the enemy, or just on a pig-headed mission, so the Ally needs to watch his back. We can’t all be Heroes, but we can all be Allies.

And nothing is complete without a few examples, right?

What do you think? How do you see these archetypal characters, either in others’ works or your own?

Image credits: superhero— Stefanie L. ; shadow— Michal Zacharzewski

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6 thoughts on “archetypal characters in the hero’s journey”.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around these. I understand Hero, Mentor, Shadow, and Threshold Guardians, but the others are a bit harder. BTW I think you’re missing Ally 😉 Also note that these are the Mythological Top Eight…but there are actually hundreds of archetypes. The Mother. The Father. The Child. The Devil. Santa Claus. The Gambler. The Stud. The Whore. All of these archetypes are common in fiction. I think the points he’s trying to make is that these are the most generic archetypes, but I sort of get lost when I think of all the different kinds of characters that are out there. The other thing to note is that there’s not a one-to-one assignment of archetype to character. It’s a matter of degree. One single character can be a Hero and a Mentor. A Shadow can be a Threshold Guardian, and then turn into an Ally at some point (which would make him a Shape Shifter). This is why I get a little lost with Archetypes. 🙂

Yes, there are hundreds of archetypes, and as you mention, they’re as broad as “mother, father, child,” as you mention. But I did say these were the archetypes in the Hero’s Journey. 😉

Oh, yeah, you can definitely combine the archetypes in characters (note how much overlap there is in the Star Wars list). Shape-Shifters are especially slippery that way. (Really, to call Shape-Shifters an archetypal character of their own is a cop out. Most characters change in some way in the course of a story.)

I don’t have any notes on the Ally. I mean, it seems fairly straightforward, but would you like to expound upon that role?

Jordon asked me to add Ally to the list:

The Ally – AKA the Sidekick, the Best Friend, the Brother-in-Arms, the Faithful Companion, the Loyal Troops, the Partner in Crime (or do-gooding), the Guardian Angel, the Band of Brothers, the Knight in Shining Armor, the Merry Men, the Faithful Steed… The Ally is a person the Hero trusts. He’s someone the Hero can turn to when the chips are down, to provide him with wisdom, to provide him with humor or a shoulder to lean on, to lend him an ear, to prepare him for battle, to do all the little and big things a Hero can’t do for himself. He may be too tired from the fight, too engaged with the enemy, or just on a pig-headed mission, so the Ally needs to watch his back. We can’t all be Heroes, but we can all be Allies.

Allies: Harry Potter: Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley Star Wars: Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the Droids (well, R2D2. C3PO is clearly a trickster.)

Thanks, Andrew! But I’d bet you can definitely be both a Trickster and an Ally. Sidekick and comic relief. Quel awesome. (For some reason, Dirk Pitt’s Al DiGiordano come springing to my brain in that list.)

I would have thought that Darth Vadar was a rival and the dark side of ‘the force’ was the shadow.

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The central figure in the Star Wars saga, Luke Skywalker, is a quintessential archetypal hero for audiences to look up to. Rian Johnson’s deconstruction of the Star Wars myth in The Last Jedi was wildly controversial when it first hit theaters, but the director recently told Empire magazine that he’s “even more proud” of The Last Jedi ’s polarizing plot turns after half a decade.

While the sequel trilogy reversed Luke’s “hero’s journey” and turned him into a bitter hermit who renounced the fight against the dark side, his arc in the original trilogy still holds up as the ultimate story of good triumphing over evil.

When He Joined Ben Kenobi

As defined by Joseph Campbell’s work in comparative mythology, the hero’s journey begins with a “call to adventure.” Luke’s call to adventure was the message that Leia left on R2-D2’s memory drive for Ben Kenobi. True to the monomyth, Luke initially refused the call so he could return home to his aunt and uncle.

When he found that they’d been murdered by the Empire, he had no reason to stay on Tatooine and joined Kenobi for the adventure after all. The wise old Jedi told his new apprentice, “You’ve taken your first step into a larger world.”

When He Began His Jedi Training On The Millennium Falcon

After recruiting Han Solo and Chewbacca to help them liberate Princess Leia from the Empire’s custody, Luke and Obi-Wan had some downtime on the Millennium Falcon’s journey to the Death Star . Obi-Wan took this opportunity to teach Luke the basics of Force sensitivity.

There wasn’t enough time to train Luke to become a full-blown Jedi just yet, but Obi-Wan did teach Luke to harness his Force powers, which ultimately came in handy in the final battle.

When He Saved Princess Leia

A significant step in the hero’s journey sees the hero going into “the belly of the whale.” In the original Star Wars movie, that whale is the Death Star and its belly is the detention level. Luke disguised himself as a Stormtrooper to free Princess Leia from her prison cell, then Leia had to promptly save him because he didn’t come up with an exit strategy.

Before escaping from the whale in the Falcon, the heroes had to go deeper into its belly, jumping down the garbage chute into the monster-infested sludge of the trash compactor.

When He Used The Force To Destroy The Death Star

Luke didn’t just escape from the belly of the whale; he came back in a starfighter and blew up the whale with a couple of proton torpedoes. When the first few Rebel fighter pilots failed to land a hit, the disembodied ghost of Luke’s mentor Ben Kenobi advised him to “use the Force.”

Drawing on his training from earlier in the movie, Luke used the Force to send two of his proton torpedoes down the Death Star’s thermal exhaust port to blast the station to smithereens.

When He Went To Dagobah To Train With Yoda

While he was stranded in the snowy Hoth wilderness at the beginning of The Empire Strikes Back , Luke was approached by the Force ghost of Ben Kenobi. Kenobi told Luke to travel to Dagobah to complete his Jedi training under the tutelage of Yoda.

Luke then spent the second act of the film in the swamps of Dagobah with Yoda on his back, passing on valuable lessons in his ear. Learning to control his abilities with more precision turned Luke into a more skillful Jedi.

When He Faced His Fears In A Shadowy Cave

The archetypal hero’s journey includes an “approach to the innermost cave” that breaks up the action and gives the hero a chance to reflect. The middle act of The Empire Strikes Back realizes this stage of Luke’s journey literally.

During his training on Dagobah, Luke went into a spooky cave and had a creepy Force vision that foreshadowed the iconic “I am your father” twist. He saw the visage of Darth Vader, briefly fought him, and then saw his own face under the mask.

When He Confronted Darth Vader In Cloud City

When he sensed that his friends were in danger, Luke jumped in his X-wing and flew to Cloud City to help them. Yoda advised him against going to Bespin, because he wasn’t ready to face Vader, but Luke had already made up his mind and couldn’t be deterred.

Luke put up as much of a fight as he could when he finally confronted Vader , but Yoda turned out to be right. Luke was hopelessly defeated by the evil Sith overlord who then revealed that he was his biological father.

When He Refused To Join His Father

When Vader had Luke backed out onto a ledge following their brutal lightsaber duel on Bespin, Vader told his estranged son, “Join me, and together, we can rule the galaxy.” Luke was faced with a crucial choice between joining Vader on the dark side and jumping down a seemingly bottomless pit to certain doom.

Despite the slim likelihood of surviving the fall, Luke didn’t hesitate to choose the latter because he couldn’t stand to turn to the dark side.

When He Saved His Friends Aboard Jabba’s Barge

After his devastating defeat at the end of The Empire Strikes Back , Luke emerged as a fully fledged Jedi Knight in the opening set-piece of Return of the Jedi . Jabba the Hutt took Luke and his friends hostage and flew them out to the Sarlacc Pit to walk the plank.

At the last second, Luke gave Jabba the chance to surrender before revealing his true plan of action. R2-D2 passed him his lightsaber and he singlehandedly took down Jabba’s criminal enterprise.

When He Brought His Father Back To The Light Side

As with any hero, Luke completed his hero’s journey when he defeated the villain. But in the climactic showdown of Return of the Jedi , Luke didn’t defeat Vader using brute force; he used the power of love and compassion to bring his father back to the light side.

From the moment he was summoned to the Emperor’s throne room, Luke refused to give up his belief that there was still good in his father. Eventually, this belief inspired Anakin to renounce the dark side and make the ultimate sacrifice to kill the Emperor.

NEXT: 8 Characters From The Star Wars Original Trilogy Who Are More Important Than Luke

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Archetypes and the Hero's Journey

A better method for appreciating character relationships exists.

By far, the most useless aspect of the Hero's Journey mono-myth lies with the concept of the character archetype. The Shapeshifter, the Trickster, the Threshold Guardian...while romantically named, prove ultimately worthless to the working writer.

On the other hand, Archetypal Characters as defined by the Dramatica theory of story prove extremely beneficial. Here, characters are seen as functions, completely devoid of their relationship to the "hero" of a story. Protagonists pursue goals and Antagonists prevent them. Guardians help while Contagonists get in the way.

The Hero is nowhere to be found.

While there are some similarities between the two ways of looking at story, the mono-myth approach falls well short of defining all the archetypes present in a complete story. The following is a comparison of the two paradigms and the relative usefulness of each. It assumes you have a working knowledge of the Dramatica Archetypes .

First, let's start with the Campbell archetypes that are actually helpful:

Campbell: The Hero's function is to serve and sacrifice.

Dramatica equivalent: Protagonist - the Protagonist's function is to pursue the goal of the story. There are no moral implications associated with this function; the goal could be noble, it could be despicable. All that matters is that this character is the one pushing the effort towards the goal. "Restore order" could be interpreted as solving the story's problem, but again "order" implies some sort of assumed preference to things being orderly (sometimes chaos is the thing that can solve a story's problem). The concept of Hero is identified as the character who is both Protagonist and Main Character. The two are not automatically the same.

Campbell: The Mentor's function is to guide.

Dramatica equivalent: Guardian - the Guardian's function is to teach or help, and represents conscience. This one is pretty similar, although it's important to point out that the Campbell version assumes the Mentor is guiding the Hero of the story. The Guardian could be helping or teaching anyone . All that matters is that they objectively represent that function.

Campbell: The Shadow's function is to destroy.

Dramatica equivalent: Antagonist - the Antagonist's function is to prevent the goal of the story from being met. This too is pretty similar, but the idea that they have to "destroy" can be limiting to some writers.

Campbell: The Ally's function is to assist.

Dramatica equivalent: Sidekick - the Sidekick's function is to show faithful support. Again, the same.

Shapeshifter

Campbell: The Shapeshifter's function is to question and deceive.

Dramatica equivalent: While the deceiving part sounds closer to Contagonist, the idea that this character is supposed to supply "doubt" in a story implies that this character is the Skeptic - the Skeptic's function is to be the disbeliever - the cynical one who opposes efforts towards the goal.

Campbell: The Trickster's function is to disrupt.

Dramatica equivalent: The closest thing would be the Contagonist - the Contagonist's function is to deflect or hinder the efforts towards the goal. In addition and in opposition to the Guardian's function, the Contagonist represents temptation.

But this is where the similarities cease and Campbell's archetypes begin to break down in terms of their objective usefulness.

Threshold Guardian and Herald

Campbell: The Threshold Guardian's function is to test. The Herald's function is to warn and challenge.

Dramatica equivalent: There is no equivalent. Campbell sees both the Threshold Guardian and the Herald as characters responsible for driving the story forward. In the case of the TG, the hero must meet and overcome him in order to commit himself to his quest. In other words he turns Act 1 to Act 2. That's a lot of responsibility for one character. It's also extremely limiting creatively.

The concept of the Herald is even more egregious. This poor character has the major responsibility of issuing the "challenge" to the Main Character to embark on the journey in the first place. Proponents of Campbell's theory are quick to point out that this character can be a newspaper or a storm, but you really shouldn't have to bend a theory in order to make it work.

Act turns should not be tied to any one character. Not only is it limiting in terms of a writer's creativity, it doesn't even make sense. The development of a story's problem progresses along the competing throughlines (the main plot, the Main Character's throughline, etc.) based on the kind of drivers established at the beginning of a story's problems.

Logic and Emotion

The most interesting aspect of this whole study is the fact that Campbell is leaving out two very important archetypes - the Reason archetype and the Emotion archetype. Interestingly enough, most stories that follow the monomyth paradigm find a way to blend the elements of Reason and Emotion into the Hero or any one of the Allies attached to him or her.

The Usefulness of Any Archetype

Regardless of which paradigm is followed, stories that use Archetypal Characters often fall flat in the character department. Star Wars and Contact are not textbook examples of masterful character development. What you see is what you get. But what they can do is give an author a starting point or shorthand to get them rolling towards whatever it was that excited them about writing in the first place. I suspect George Lucas was more interested in battling light swords than he was the subtle intricacies of character motivation.

Clearly though, one approach is superior and far more succinct in its examination of what constitutes a complete story. Archetypal Characters, as defined by Dramatica, are seen as a collection of complimentary elements that work in tandem to provide an example of one way of solving the story's central problem. They are defined not by their relation to the Hero, but by their function within the story and thus, are not confined by one narrow view of what stands for a great story.

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Introduction, body paragraph 1: the call to adventure, body paragraph 2: crossing the threshold and trials, body paragraph 3: the transformation and atonement.

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archetypal hero's journey

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Pre-order and receive consumable in-game item sets. Utilize them on the epic adventure you're about to embark on. 1. Archetype EXP Chest Set ・10x Hero's Incenses (Increases Archetype Experiences by 100) ・5x Hero's Fruits (Increases Archetype Experiences by 500) 2. Adventurer’s Journey Pack ・30,000 Reeve (In-game currency) ・5x Expensive Medicines (Restores 200 HP to one ally) ・5x Revival Medicines (Revives an ally) ・3x Magical Breads (Gradually recover MP while in dungeon) ・2x Stale Blackbreads (Deals 300 Almighty damage to one enemy) *Available as the story progresses. *Available for purchase through October 10, 2024 at 23:59 Local From the creative minds behind Persona 3, 4, and 5 comes Metaphor: ReFantazio, a unique fantasy world, where your protagonist will journey alongside his fairy companion, Gallica, to lift the curse from the kingdom’s lost prince. Control your destiny, face your fears and awaken magical Archetype powers that lie dormant in your heart. By awakening to an Archetype, you will unlock the power to channel and combine the abilities of unique job classes. Strengthen your bonds and build your party to take down powerful foes and discover the kingdom’s true nature. Key Features: -Go on quests, dungeon dive, & hunt for treasures by day. Strengthen relationships, build bonds, & increase virtues by night. Choose your actions wisely, time management is key to achieving your goal. -Ride your gauntlet runner to faraway dungeons & towns across an expansive world. Discover beautiful landscapes  accompanied by captivating music, immersive UI, & anime cutscenes. -An exhilarating turn-based combat system with a blend of real-time action. Party customization through "Archetype" powers provides the freedom to personalize your adventure. -A mysterious & exciting story unfolds in a world where people must fight their own anxiety. Join the high-stakes Royal Tournament that promises hours of captivating exploration and discovery. From the creative minds behind Persona 3, 4, and 5 comes Metaphor: ReFantazio, a unique fantasy world, where your protagonist will journey alongside his fairy companion, Gallica, to lift the curse from the kingdom’s lost prince. Control your destiny, face your fears and awaken magical Archetype powers that lie dormant in your heart. By awakening to an Archetype, you will unlock the power to channel and combine the abilities of unique job classes. Strengthen your bonds and build your party to take down powerful foes and discover the kingdom’s true nature.

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More From Forbes

Taking off the cape: financial advisory journey from novice to hero to guide.

The opportunities for financial advisor education have improved so dramatically in the past 25 years. When I graduated from college with a generic business and finance degree, only a couple of mainstream colleges were known for doing anything with financial planning and virtually no degree programs were available. Now, more than 200 degree programs are available at the bachelor’s, master’s, and even doctoral levels.

The CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ designation was a thing back then, but today, there are many more (and better) paths to satisfy the education requirement, and the number of CFP® practitioners has almost tripled. While the vast majority of my training to be a financial advisor came on the job and through self-study, today the opportunities for building that base level of education in the practice are plentiful.

Yes, times have changed, but one thing remains the same: Many, if not most, of us financial advisors follow a similar arc in our careers that has far less to do with education and far more to do with disposition—from humble novice to knowledge-wielding superhero to wiser guide. By taking a quick glance, clients can identify where their advisor sits on this unfortunate bell curve, while advisors earlier in the arc can hopefully avoid the bubble in the middle.

A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing

As brand-new advisors, humility comes easier, partly because the gaps in knowledge are so glaring. This is because financial planning isn’t a single subject you can study, but a multi-disciplinary practice that is simultaneously deep and wide.

It’s wide because it at least spans from investment to insurance to retirement to tax to estate planning, subjects that, while inextricably intertwined, are distinct enough that they require a great deal of individual dedication. And it’s deep not only because each educational pillar is complicated, but because the true subject—humankind—is complex.

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The steep learning curve in financial planning creates a certain slingshot effect for many of us. In the early years, we wanted so badly to be seen as knowledgeable and trustworthy, but we have to warehouse this desire until we a) actually know stuff and b) get a chance to show it. The intersection of those two points leads to the most challenging place in an advisor’s career—the Hero phase.

Once an advisor gets some knowledge and is released into the wild of prospect and client-facing interaction, the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy of the advisor title often proves too enticing a temptation not to “spill all our candy in the lobby.” I remember thinking that my job was to answer all the unasked questions in the room and thinking the success of a meeting was gauged by how much information was transacted. Unfortunately, this made the meeting more about me, my firm, and our processes and procedures—and less about the client. It was all about our features instead of the client’s benefits.

This syndrome isn’t just about vanity, though. At its best, ours is a helping profession, and many of us early in our careers just want to help, unknowledgeable of the fact that it is not knowledge but understanding that is the goal of client interaction. Indeed, however well-intentioned, if we, as advisors, are consuming most of the space in the room, we’re missing out on an opportunity to position the client as they—you—should be, at the center of the discussion and discernment process.

Sadly, some advisors never grow out of this phase, only growing hardened in what almost becomes a gamification of client interaction—seeking to arrive ever quicker at a revelatory recommendation, often prematurely, a demonstration less of wisdom than pride.

And have no doubt: Wisdom is the ultimate goal. In any pursuit, we move from raw knowledge to understanding through practice, and then, hopefully, to wisdom. True wisdom is quieter, modest, patient, reflective, empathetic, curious, flexible, practical, and yes, exceedingly, if not increasingly, rare.

In this age when the knowledge at our disposal is reaching hyperbolic proportions, the challenge is so much less about knowing what to do and even how to do it, but better understanding why. The goal isn’t just wealth accumulation and distribution, but wealth with purpose .

Donald Miller highlighted for us in his book, Building A Storybrand , the arc of nearly every story, from the best commercials to movies and books, and the inherent imperative for us, as advisors, is to be reminded (daily, if need be) where we—and our clients—are positioned on this arc:

There are similar themes in every story

True wisdom knows who the hero of every advisor-client relationship really is—the client. It is the client’s motivation, insight, and self-knowledge that the guide hopes to reveal and the client’s successful outcome that is to be pursued.

The great news is that when we realize this as advisors, we are free to be even more effective in our less visible role. We are free to take off the hero cape and step into the vital role of guide in the client’s story.

Tim Maurer

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archetypal hero's journey

One of the most exciting things about our society openly embracing conversations around mental health is witnessing the innovation of our care models for those who seek and deserve it. While I’m a big believer in talk therapy, I don’t believe talk therapy should be the only treatment modality we champion for support. 

Throughout my career, I’ve had the joy and privilege of facilitating wellness circles for adolescents of color. I love working with groups because it allows those in attendance to realize they’re not alone in their journey and struggles, provides peer affirmation in their experiences, and allows them to learn from one another. 

When I came across Hero Journey Club , a service that provides emotional support while letting people play their favorite games during their conversations, I couldn’t wait to learn more! 

Below, meet Brian Chhor, CEO and Co-Founder, and Derrick Hull, Chief Clinical Officer. I had the opportunity to chat with them both and learn more about the why and how of Hero Journey Club. Check out below!

What is Hero Journey Club?

Brian : Hero Journey Club provides mental health support groups inside games like Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Roblox, Stardew Valley, and a broad range of games. The whole premise is that we take therapy out of the clinic and into spaces where people spend time. Our sessions are facilitated by Journey Guides. Our Journey Guides are, Masters or Doctorate level clinicians in social work, marriage & family therapy, counseling, clinical psychology, etc., who deliver subclinical support. They do not treat or diagnose, and Hero Journey Club is not a replacement for therapy. If therapy is like Kinesiology or physical therapy, think of Hero Journey Club like SoulCycle, Peloton, or CrossFit, where you go to work on yourself and get better. It's anchored on the group itself, not on a treatment path. 

While our Journey Guides are not treating or diagnosing, everything we do is anchored in evidence-based practices. Individuals are matched into groups based on how they respond to certain questions within the application. Once placed, groups meet at the same time and day once a week for 80 minutes with the same group of people over Discord audio. Group members are encouraged to take ownership of their journey and to discontinue sessions once they feel ready.

Our mission is to make it possible for people to get the care they need, in the places that feel most comfortable to them, where support is less clinical and less pathologizing. They’re just humans working on their own journey.

How do you go about matching people? 

Brian : There's something about finding ways to connect people around the things they care about that matters a lot; a lot of nuance goes into it. Someone can be placed in a group because they indicated that they like one specific anime, but they don't like another particular kind of anime. Within our Discord, we’ve set up different guilds, or servers. We first match people to a guild and then from the guild, they’ll be matched with their group. We have a wide range of guilds that span across ages and games. Some guilds are more cozy core, others play a wide range of games. Some guilds are middle-aged women; others skew younger. It’s all based on the information included in their application. 

How is Discord used? 

Brian : Outside of hosting the sessions, we have moderation, crisis management, and other pipelines set up to allow our moderation team to go in and quickly see what’s happening across the board. We have crisis de-escalation and routing; we have isolation if folks are in immediate crisis where we can quarantine them and get them the support they need. Everything in our back-end is HIPPA compliant and secured because we built the system ourselves. We’re very proud that people tell us that we are the kindest place on the internet they’ve come across.

How are sessions run? 

Brian : Journey Guides will do a quick check-in at the top of the session; in the very beginning, there are intros but once the group is established, there’s a check-in on how the week’s been going for our group members. That helps our Journey Guides contextualize the support in whatever is happening in real life. From there, the group will pick a theme they want to work on. The Journey Guide may share some resources such as a tool, video, or worksheet centered around the theme. If the group is really familiar with one another, they might go around sharing their stories and members will jump in to validate or share their own. As this is happening, they're in a game doing other stuff as well. At the end of the 80 minutes, they wrap up with intention. 

How does gaming come in? 

Brian : It varies. In the beginning, we didn't do a ton of gaming because we found that people actually wanted to do their own thing. They’d play Apex or Elder Ring or Stardew Valley while in session and that was fine for them. 

In the last year or so, we’ve had new groups where we’re shifting more towards built-in activities within games. So in Minecraft, we've built gigantic worlds that may represent grief and anxiety and other simulations that support stress management and we can talk about why someone raised their voice when they got stressed in the game, and how else does that show up. We also have people in our community who are neurodivergent who created a Dungeon and Dragons game to talk about their feelings and emotions using principles from internal family systems to navigate that as someone who is autistic. 

In games like Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley that are more mellow, there are activities that we’ve built that are more generalized. It might look like let’s create a hut that represents your inner child, or, instead of tracking your emotions in a journal, let’s track your emotions in a plot of land with flowers. You can look at your flower garden and say the blue flowers represent when I was feeling down, the red ones when I was excited and you can quickly see what you were feeling in the last month or so. 

Derrick : One of the things we measure when individuals sign up is problematic gaming, which is playing games to the point where it may negatively impact daily responsibilities such as relationships, work, and one’s health. We measure this to ensure engagement in our groups remains at a healthy level. There are two things we’ve found that are important and interesting: One is the rates of problem gaming are very low - less than 2% of individuals who’ve signed up for the program. Secondly, and in support of the hypothesis that problematic gaming is an effect and not a cause of mental health challenges, is that as individuals improve in terms of their symptoms and how well they are functioning we also see their reports of problematic gaming going down as well. There’s nice evidence that these two things swing together. 

How do you all define and consider safety? 

Through Journey Guides

Derrick : We ensure whatever techniques our Journey Guides are using are grounded in the evidence. We want clinicians there so that they can hold the space for group members. Having clinical training and clinical supervision, as our Journey Guides have, allows them the ability to not mix too much of their personal stuff into what's being shared with them. A big piece of building trust is that the folks who show up to the sessions know that there's someone in the room who can hold what they share, make sure it stays healing. We also have a lot of other safeguards in place, several enabled by bots, others based on protocols we’ve devised, to catch moments of crisis quickly and refer them to agencies and resources that help them get the support they deserve.

Brian : Ifyou game long enough, someone will say something they’ll brush off as a small comment. This is a space where you can take that small comment and actually dive into it. There's a vicarious healing that's possible by hearing other people navigate things you’ve also navigated in the past, that you might’ve not had the words for, and it's very cathartic. There's a sense of safety in knowing that you can bring whatever you need to and it'll be adequately handled by a Journey Guide.

Through Online Sessions

Derrick : We run our groups online which gives a little bit of extra buffer. I'd say we have probably seven to eight times the number of trans individuals on our platform that you see than in other treatment settings and that’s because it's hard enough to go in and present yourself to a group or a therapist. Imagine if you're still trying to figure out “How am I going to present? ” Being online gives a big buffer for that. Discord is also pseudonymous, so session members are more anonymous than they would be in person and I think that builds a bit of safety as well. 

Brian : There's safety in the intentionality of joining Hero Journey Club. You’re here because you want to heal. You’re not going to pay $30 thirty dollars a week just to troll people. There's something about knowing that these people are on the same track as you.

Through Video Games

Derrick : If you've ever gone to activities or rallies or service projects with other individuals you realize there's something about having a shared mission or doing a shared activity that builds intangible bonds. That’s what I think video games have brought to Hero Journey Club. We don't have to sit in a room and stare at each other, pulling teeth to get the group going. Instead, and right now, we're going to do something together. We're coordinating our activities and working towards a shared goal in a virtual environment. That works as a kind of lubricant for building trust and connection. Then, when it does come time to talk vulnerably and get to the difficult stuff, folks already have this sense that “I'm in a group with people who have my interest in mind and who want to work towards a common goal.”  

Brian : In the game world, you can show up as whoever you want to be, there's a freedom you get. We’ve even started piloting some sessions in  Dungeons and Dragons where we ask folks to step into a role as a character they normally wouldn’t. What are the ways you want to manifest? What are the qualities that are most important to you? 

What does representation look like within Hero Journey Club? 

Derrick : We’re seeing a wide range of communities in Hero Journey Club that you typically don’t see in other services, at least not to this degree. While men are not a marginalized group, in treatment settings you’ll see about 12-15% and we have about 30% men in our sessions. About 34% of our users are people of color, 32% from the LGBTQ+ community, and 50% are neurodivergent. Now, these numbers are not typically well reported in other treatment settings. So it's hard to know exactly how it looks but in my experience, I've seen numbers rarely above 5% to 10% or so.

I think it’s amazing and I think it has to do with a mixture of how Discord connects people and how video games move across communal boundaries, something we all have in common. 

Why set your services up on Discord?

Brian : We started on Discord versus building our own tool because our whole premise is taking therapy out of the clinic and into the spaces where people spend time. We continually push that idea and ask ourselves: where do we go to them? How do we take this to them? Through Discord.

Derrick : We’re trying to create a space where people can bring their honest experience as opposed to passively consuming feeds. In a setting like Hero Journey Club, it’s the first time we hear from others that their lives aren't perfect. We have this vision in our heads that everybody's life must be perfect but mine; everybody’s got it figured out but me. I hope that the kinds of groups we run are places where people can shed these false ideas and just talk about what life is actually like.

archetypal hero's journey

‍ Brian Chhor has spent the last 12 years working in digital health. He has spent most of his career thinking about ways to make care more humanizing for people going through tough moments. Brian’s career includes working in Alzheimer’s & dementia prevention, kidney care, electronic medical records, and cancer. Newer to behavioral health care, Brian began work to create a more accessible model of mental health care stemming from his upbringing and after a personal experience in which his cousin was unable to receive proper mental health care during the pandemic. Utilizing a community model, Brian’s brother set up a Discord server that allowed the family to check and provide a listening ear when their cousin needed it. 

The model originally started as a men’s group that turned into a friend salon. Thinking about the ways in which games showed up in his childhood and conversations held with barbershops in Harlem, church groups, and yoga studios, Brian realized that it’s community that helps build a sense of resiliency and connection. 

Derrick Hull, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and has been in the digital mental health space for 16 years in clinical leadership roles at companies like Talkspace and Noom. At Hero Journey Club, Derrick is responsible for ensuring the highest quality of mental health support and leads the care team. His research and experience have focused on clinically validating new modalities of care, with an emphasis on engaging underserved populations and building tools that address provider shortfall and access barriers.

His work has been published in Nature, the National Academy of Sciences, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Oxford University Press, and featured by Forbes.com, APA Monitor, Huffington Post, LA Times, Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, TIME, and TEDx. His research is supported by R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health.

To learn more about Hero Journey Club, visit herojourney.club .  

archetypal hero's journey

COMMENTS

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    While most of these ideas originated with Joseph Campbell's Monomyth and the Hero's Journey, these eight universal archetypes are actually based on Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey. This book is beyond excellent, and breaks down the ideas of Campbell into a more usable storytelling guide—versus the highly academic The Hero ...

  2. Breaking Down the Character Archetypes of the Hero's Journey

    Many archetypes in the hero's journey—the threshold guardian, the herald, the shapeshifter, the trickster, the ally, and the tempter/temptress—are more defined in later interpretations and expansions of Campbell's work. People like Vogler applied his theories to modern storytelling so writers, readers, and audiences could more easily ...

  3. The Eight Character Archetypes of the Hero's Journey

    8. Shadow. Shadows are villains in the story. They exist to create threat and conflict, and to give the hero something to struggle against. Like many of the other archetypes, shadows do not have to be characters specifically - the dark side of the force is just as much a shadow for Luke as Darth Vader is.

  4. The Hero's Journey and Archetypes in Literature

    Updated on July 03, 2019. Carl Jung called archetypes the ancient patterns of personality that are the shared heritage of the human race. Archetypes are amazingly constant throughout all times and cultures in the collective unconscious, and you'll find them in all of the most satisfying literature. An understanding of these forces is one of the ...

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    The Hero's Journey has a long history of conversation around the form and its uses, with notable contributors including Joseph Campbell and the screenwriter Christopher Vogler, who later revised the steps of the Hero's Journey. Joseph Campbell's "monomyth" framework is the traditional story structure of the Hero's Journey archetype.

  6. 8 Hero's Journey Archetypes Universally Used for a Protagonist

    The key to nailing the hero is three-fold. You need to give them the following: A physical goal (external want) A nonphysical need (internal need) Relateable character traits that gain the reader's empathy. For your heroic story to work, there must cause conflict between what the hero wants and what they actually need.

  7. The Hero's Journey: A Plot Structure Inspired by Mythology

    The Hero's Journey was invented by Campbell in his seminal 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, where he introduces the concept of the "monomyth." A comparative mythologist by trade, Campbell studied myths from cultures around the world and identified a common pattern in their narratives.

  8. Hero's Journey: Get a Strong Story Structure in 12 Steps

    9. Reward (Seizing the Sword) In which the Hero sees light at the end of the tunnel. Our Hero's been through a lot. However, the fruits of their labor are now at hand — if they can just reach out and grab them! The "reward" is the object or knowledge the Hero has fought throughout the entire journey to hold.

  9. Joseph Campbell and the Hero's Journey

    One of Joseph Campbell's most well-known ideas is the hero's journey. Discover the origins of this powerful motif and how it still applies today. ... In this study of the myth of the archetypal hero, Campbell posits the existence of a "monomyth" (a word he borrows from James Joyce), a universal pattern that is the essence of, and common ...

  10. The Hero's Journey: Step-By-Step Guide with Examples

    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. Joseph Campbell, a scholar of literature, popularized the monomyth in his influential work The Hero ...

  11. The Hero's Journey Archetype: A Call to Adventure

    This stage of the hero's journey archetype takes up the bulk of the journey. Throughout this stage, the hero meets several sub-points along the way including the introduction of a helper, a mentor, and the trials and temptations that eventually lead to a major conflict. A classic example of this stage is Dorothy's yellow-brick road journey ...

  12. Stages and Archetypes of The Hero'S Journey

    The Hero's Journey is a fundamental paradigm of human experience that is frequently the basis for written stories, drama, and film. It was initially described by mythologist Joseph Campbell, who relied in part on the insights of psychologist Carl Jung. The stages and archetypes of the Journey have been developed and applied to film by ...

  13. 8 Archetypes of The Hero's Journey

    Traditionally, the Mentor is a positive figure who trains the Hero. Both Dramatica and The Hero's Journey touch on the idea that this archetype is similar to God or the conscience or a higher self, in the sense that it encourages the Hero to do what is right. This figure often functions like a parent. In addition to teaching, the Mentor often ...

  14. Hero's journey

    Illustration of the hero's journey. In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero's journey, also known as the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.. Earlier figures had proposed similar concepts, including psychoanalyst Otto Rank and amateur anthropologist Lord ...

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    The Hero archetype is perhaps the most well-known and recognizable of all archetypes in storytelling. The Hero is the central figure in the story, embarking on a journey that will test their courage, strength, and resilience. The Hero often undergoes a transformation throughout the story, growing from a mere mortal into a legendary figure.

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    The Heroine/Hero is the archetype who sets out on an adventurous journey, in pursuit of her or his call for transformation. Rebillot based on Campbell's (1949) mythological work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces created an experiential approach in the form of a one-week workshop, which utilizes methods from theatre and Gestalt therapy.

  19. Archetypal characters in the Hero's Journey

    But I did say these were the archetypes in the Hero's Journey. 😉 . Oh, yeah, you can definitely combine the archetypes in characters (note how much overlap there is in the Star Wars list). Shape-Shifters are especially slippery that way. (Really, to call Shape-Shifters an archetypal character of their own is a cop out.

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  24. The Hero with a Thousand Faces

    The Hero with a Thousand Faces (first published in 1949) is a work of comparative mythology by Joseph Campbell, in which the author discusses his theory of the mythological structure of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world myths.. Since the publication of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell's theory has been consciously applied by a wide variety of modern writers and artists.

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    The Hero's Journey Page 2 of 3. Arts-humanities document from Abbey Park High School, 3 pages, ENG 3U Archetypes The Hero's Journey The hero's journey is a theory that can be discussed in relation to many books and movies throughout high school courses. Joseph Campbell gives the most widely used and most accessible outline of the hero's journey.

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    This was the old culture, in which boys and girls took turns acting out the archetypal roles in the hero's journey, a timeless theme found in countless cultures that Joseph Campbell describes as, "the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be ...

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  30. How Hero Journey Club Uses Games for Mental Health Care and ...

    Brian: Hero Journey Club provides mental health support groups inside games like Animal Crossing, Minecraft, Roblox, Stardew Valley, and a broad range of games. The whole premise is that we take therapy out of the clinic and into spaces where people spend time. Our sessions are facilitated by Journey Guides.