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Ten Easy Steps to Strengthen Your Story Using Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”

May 16, 2011

Articles, Arts & Literature

by R. A. Evans

I was a sophomore in college when I first discovered Joseph Campbell’s non-fiction classic THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. Campbell was an expert in mythology and used his extensive knowledge of the subject to create the definitive story-map. He’s traced this model of story creation back thousands of years and across nearly every culture.

George Lucas credits the works of Joseph Campbell for helping him develop the Star Wars saga and the mesmerizing journey of young Luke Skywalker. Needless to say, my copy of THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES has dog-eared pages and plenty of handwritten notes scribbled on nearly every page. It’s my go-to reference guide when I get lost inside my own head.

Here is my own Cliff-Notes version of the ten steps to THE HERO’S JOURNEY. See how they stack up against your own story outline.

1. Reveal The Ordinary World of Your Character. Introduce your main character, the hero of your novel, and show us what his life is like at the beginning of your story.

2. Your Character Faces a Challenge. Something happens that forces the hero to make a decision that will change his life.

3. Your Character Initially Refuses. Your main character will initially resist this change and the difficulties it will entail and wants things to stay the same.

4. Your Character Decides To Change. Often triggered by an outside event, he makes a commitment to changing his life.

5. Your Character Gains Mentors and Allies. As your story progresses, your character meets people along the way who offer help and support.

6. Your Character Learns What He Needs To Succeed. He takes action toward achieving his goals and acquiring the skills he will need along the way. The stakes get higher as he proceeds.

7. Your Character First Confronts His Deepest Fear and Fails. He faces his greatest challenge but has not yet acquired the inner strength that is needed to succeed at his goal.

8. The Dark Night of the Soul. Your character experiences self-doubt and fears that he will never succeed. He is on the verge of giving up.

9. The Leap of Faith. Your character experiences a renewed inner commitment to his goal based on an inner faith that he can be, do, or have whatever he really wants.

10. Final Climactic Confrontation and Ultimate Success. Your character faces his biggest challenge and puts everything into achieving what he wants. With this final powerful effort, he finally succeeds and gets what he has wanted for so long.

So now you know the secret used my countless storytellers through the ages. It brings new meaning to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s classic take on the subject “Life is a journey – not a destination.” I wish you luck on your writing journey.

Purchase a copy of my thriller ASYLUM LAKE to see how I put these ten easy steps to use.

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