Hero on a Journey of Discovery

A student recently asked me how she could bolster the credibility of the actions of her hero in a story she’d written. 

Joseph Campbell’s book goes to great depths in exploring the hero and his journey
Joseph Campbell’s book goes to great depths in exploring the hero and his journey

Was there a guideline, other than instinct and experience, she could glean from a structured approach to storytelling?

The answer, of course, is yes. 

Assuming the decisions and actions of your hero respect his background and character traits, you should ensure they reflect his current emotional, moral, and spiritual status too.

Let’s look at the pivotal action which occurs at the first turning point. This is the moment, we are reminded, when the hero decides to accept a challenge, choose a goal, and embark on a course of action that sets into motion a series of cascading events. It is the true start of the story.

Let’s also remind ourselves that a hero typically has the most to learn at the start of the tale. We refer to this as his developmental arc. 

Perhaps he is morally naive and misguided, or emotionally immature and spiritually bankrupt, and tends to confuse his want with his need.

It stands to reason, then, that his initial plan for pursuing the goal is flawed. It allows his nemesis to stay a step ahead, handing him a series of defeats. 

It is only towards the end of the story when the hero has reached the zenith of his moral, spiritual, and emotional development that he is able to choose the right plan and find the strength and self-belief to defeat his nemesis. 

In The Matrix, Neo is unable to beat agent Smith in hand-to-hand combat before he discovers who he truly is. Were he to achieve victory before this moment, he would not only throw the pacing off, but his actions would appear inauthentic.

So, when are your hero’s actions credible? When his outer experience tracks his growing maturity.

Summary

Tie the actions of your hero to his developmental arc to ensure his inner and outer journeys stay in sync.

1 thought on “Hero on a Journey of Discovery

  1. Gerhard Pistorius

    Sounds like the structure you are referring to is the monomyth. A theory by Joseph Campbell that suggest that all stories and plots includes all the same characters. I will leave the explanation of the term to the reader of this comment to google on there phones. It’s is the understanding of this structure that separates the good stories from the bad. What is helpful about this structure it includes multiple character prototypes that each play a different role. Let’s say your story is a Spanish soup. Not all your characters can be romantically involved with each other – You need a villain who wants to sabotage the relationship , a trickster to provide comedy relief and a shape shiftier who has a new motive every episode.

    Long story short : The role of the monomyth structure is to make sure that the level of any given emotion is not always at fever pitch. If you are writing a action movie you can’t have a hundred pages of non stop action.

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