Tips for the Author: The Art of Storytelling Using The Hero’s Journey
What do you have in common with Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Peter Parker, Hercules and Lilo?
You’re all heroes, and this is the story of your journey and how you as an author could make it a lot more compelling.
First, a little information on what the hero’s journey is all about. Developed and popularized by Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey or Monomyth is a universal pattern followed by the main protagonists of books. What unites all stories of the world despite colossal differences in genre and plot is the fact that their protagonists will follow a fairly straightforward path. It’s a path that has been taken by everyone from the great Odysseus to Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games in the course of their character arc.
As an author, you must accept the truth that a weak protagonist could take your whole story down. Similarly, if your hero is a well developed and rounded character while sticking to the tried and tested ‘overcoming and winning against all odds’ formula – your foundation is set.
So what are these stages of adventure, and more importantly – how can they be bettered? Using Simba from the Disney Classic ‘The Lion King’ alongside your own life as case studies, let us embark on an adventure of our own.
1) Ordinary World
The first step of any story is to establish your character in the real world. His traits, surroundings, etc. is introduced at this stage. The hero is usually in a comfortable place, before he is wrenched out of it.
In The Lion King, Simba is a carefree little cub in line to inherit Pride Rock from his father, the king Mufasa.
In your life, you’re an aspiring author mulling over ideas and the best way in which to express them.
2) Call to Adventure
This is the stage where the problem is introduced in the story. The hero could either be seeking something out for benefit or faces a challenge that forces him to leave his comfort zone.
Simba’s call to adventure in The Lion King is probably the most heart breaking, for it is when Scar kills Mufasa and banishes Simba from The Pride Lands that our little hero faces his challenge.
As for you, your editor’s call to get writing or simply your own conscience needling you to write is that call to adventure.
3) Refusal of the Call
In most cases, the hero is apprehensive about the adventure, as is natural. Nobody likes being forced into doing anything, let alone doing something dangerous or unpleasant. The hero refuses to take up the challenge because he is afraid.
Distraught after his father’s death, a lonely little Simba veers off alone into the desert and collapses.
You find yourself unable to come up with novel ideas to pen down, or just prefer the warmth of your blanket with some chips and Netflix.
4) Meeting with the Mentor
It’s at this point that someone swoops in to save your sagging spirits. In most cases, it’s an older, wiser person (think Dumbledore) although that isn’t necessary. Your mentor will help you overcome your fears and guide you through your journey.
For Simba, his mentors come in the form of Timon and Pumbaa, who introduce him to the jungle life and make him feel welcome.
Your mentor could be anyone from a professor, to a family member or once again – your trusty editor. All you needed was that little nudge (off your bed!).
5) Crossing the First Threshold
This leads our hero to leave familiar surroundings and step into an extraordinary world of adventure for the first time! It’s exciting, it’s scary, and of course, it’s awesome.
Simba accepts and adapts to the Hakuna Matata way of ‘No Worries’ alongside his mentors Timon and Pumba.
You make yourself a nice, steaming mug of coffee and sit in front of your laptop. It’s a good start.
6) Tests, Allies, Enemies
Like every good story, yours too must have its fair share of troubles. Your hero is now out there, ready to take on everything that comes his way – but he can’t win too easily. This is your hero’s chance to prove his worth, and with the help of his allies, overcome all obstacles and continue onward.
For Simba, this happens in the form of Nala’s appearance. She reminds him of his past as the fall in love.
As an author, while coffee and music might be your allies – beware of all things social media. Seriously, your phone buzzing beside you isn’t going to help.
So what will your hero do now? He must prepare himself and get ready for whatever is coming his way next.
Nala asks Simba to come back to Pride Rock and rightfully reclaim his throne from Scar. Your editor asks for the first rough draft of your manuscript to be submitted tomorrow.
In a crisis situation where one doesn’t know what to do, what will your hero do? Again, reinforce the problems here, have his allies give him opinions. But your hero must take this decision and overcome these problems all by himself.
In The Lion King, Simba must decide whether he wishes to continue his carefree yet safe and happy life in the jungle with Timon and Pumba or go face Scar.
You, on the other hand, need to choose between a possible fight with your editor tomorrow or staying up all night busting your brain.
A reward doesn’t necessarily have to mean the end of a battle or a victory. It can also signify the relief provided to the hero to aid him as he nears the end of his quest. This part of storytelling differs vastly from book to book and may even be omitted.
For example, Simba’s ‘reward’ comes in the form of Mufasa appearing to him by the lake and telling him to go back home.
You probably receive a much needed blessing in the form of an extension courtesy your exasperated editor.
10) The Road Back
With the mentor by his side, and armed with the experiences and rewards of all his trials till this point, the hero makes his way back to his original point. At this point, the story could either focus on his personal emotions or lead up to a final battle still waiting.
Simba journeys back to the Pride Rock to face Scar. The story captures his determination and watches as he fights off all the hyenas up until he sees Scar.
You began writing, and you keep writing, and you don’t stop writing. You’re going to go down in history as the writer who ploughed through that fateful night.
11) Resurrection Hero
At long last, it’s time to face the final monster. It could be a challenge, a moral dilemma, a monster or anything you want it to be. The focus on this part of the story is largely on how the hero deals with this last battle using everything he’s got.
In The Lion King, Simba faces his uncle Scar, and learns the truth of his father’s death. Enraged, he throws Scar off Pride Rock, thereby killing him.
As an author, you know that writing the document is merely half the battle won. You now hand it in for editing, and your editor struggles with you to fix and perfect your document.
Transformed from the adventure, the hero finally returns to his ordinary world and implements everything he’s learned on the way.
Therefore, The Lion King ends with Simba ascending the throne and restoring peace to all of Pride Land.
Similarly, you are now the proud author of a perfect book, with an absolutely fantastic hero. And you’re every bit the hero he/she is.
Now that you have a holistic hero who has survived against all odds, you can spice up the rest of your book accordingly. Remember, this isn’t a line of thinking to swear by, and you can always have your hero veer off this traditional path.
Don’t forget to get your book professionally edited and proofread, and PaperTrue’s editors have always got your back. Our editors are always available to provide you with content level feedback and would love to hear your story!
No matter where your hero takes you, may the odds be ever in your favour.
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