First of all, let me clarify that this does not apply to all stories, but sometimes can be vaguely existent in a story. This chapter will also include spoilers on Looking for Lily (one of my stories, completed novella) and Divergent, by Veronica Roth.
I learned this when I was writing Looking For Lily, and found it very interesting, so I thought I should write a chapter about it.
Does your main character become a hero by the end of your story? If so, this will help you a lot. Found in many of the most successful hero stories is the Hero’s journey archetype, which contains all of the key components to writing a killer hero story.
So without further ado, I bring you a hero’s journey!
The archetype contains three parts, which somewhat resemble a beginning, middle and end. Since it is a very popular book, I will use Divergent as my example through the chapter, as well as Looking For Lily.
Stage One: Departure
The departure stage has three sections: call to adventure, refusal of call, and beginning of adventure. These all take place before the rising actions of a story, and as the exposition (setting and characters) are being set up.
Call to adventure is pretty simple. In this section, your character is somehow asked to be pulled into the main events of the story, the adventure. This part of the story is necessary for the adventure to begin, because everything has to start somewhere. This is where everything for you character knows is threatening to change.
This is like when spiderman becomes spiderman because he got bitten by a radioactive spider. In Looking For Lily, the call to adventure is when Rick Owens gets a new case.
In Divergent, Tris is called to adventure when the choosing ceremony approaches, telling the audience that this is where her life could change forever, if she chooses for it to.
The refusal of the call is an optional section of the departure. It’s kind of self explanatory, really, but it is basically when your hero refuses the adventure. In Looking For Lily, which I wrote purposefully to include all ten sections, Rick refuses the case on account of having a family at home and not wanting to put himself in danger because of them.
As I said before, this step is optional, or it can even be very vague. In Divergent, the refusal of the call is very vague. After her aptitude test, she doubts her decision to transfer to Dauntless. Even just that hard decision counts as her refusal. Arguably, the refusal could also be when she finds out about her divergence and decides to do nothing about it.
The beginning of adventure is when the character is finally pulled into the story whether they like or or not. This is when everything starts to change and can leave you wondering what happens next.
In Looking For Lily, Rick is pulled into the story because he finds out his daughter is missing and that the kidnappers probably took her.
In Divergent, the adventure begins when Tris lets her blood fall on the coals, finalizing her decision to leave her family and transfer to the Dauntless, it leaving the reader wondering what happens next.
Stage Two: Initiation
The initiation also contains three sections: the road of trials, experience of unconditional love, and ultimate boon.
The Road of trials is the series of challenges that your hero is going to have to face on the beginning of his or her journey. Since the magic language arts number is three, there are usually three tasks, and your character usually fails at one of them, or has something prevent them from accomplishing the task in the way they thought they would.
In Looking for Lily, Rick had to get in the house, find the kids, and alert the police, but strayed from the plan later, putting himself in danger. He also didn’t accomplish the first task as he thought he would. Instead of getting in on the kidnapping job, he was kidnapped himself.
In Divergent, which I feel this is kind of ironic. The Dauntless initiation comes in three sections, and Tris doesn’t fail at any which one, but does face some difficulties that make up for that. The reason this is ironic, if you haven’t noticed already, is because this stage of the Hero’s journey archetype is called initiation too.
These challenges of course aren’t always going to be so clearly stated. Sometimes there may not be three trials, and sometimes there might be, but one is an internal challenge rather than a physical one. Just an example.
You may also find that a lot of books follow the archetype, but aren’t written about a hero as the main character.
Twilight, for example, was primarily a love story, but there were the three main steps in the relationship (the attack in Port Angelous, the day they were supposed to go to Seattle, and the baseball game/vampire family bonding thing). Edward, of course, was a hero in the end, but the main story was of them meeting and all that squashy romantic stuff.
The experience of Unconditional love is optional, and doesn’t always have to be a romantic love, but maybe love for a family member, or a country (maybe the character is fighting in a war or something. I don’t know. But that would be a good hero story…). Really, thought, this step is where the hero takes a chance, or makes the hard decision, or acts because of their love.
In Looking For Lily, and sorry I’m being vague here so the story won’t be spoiled for people who haven’t read it, Rick refuses to pull the trigger out of the love he has for his daughter.
This step could also take place from another character like where Tris’ mom dies for her towards the climax of the book.
And finally, my favorite, the ultimate boon. This is the climax of the story, where all of the other sections to the initiation stage were the rising actions up to this point.
This is the part where the action comes in, where the big realization is made, where everything begins to come together, and everything clicks.
This is, in Divergent, the big battle between the Dauntless and the Erudite against the Abnegation. This includes her mother’s sacrifice, seeing her family again, almost drowning, and Tobias, Four, being taken away. This is the most exciting thing that has happened throughout the book, getting blood to pump and your mind to race.
In Looking For Lily, the ultimate boon would be getting the kids out and staying behind, Rick putting Briggs in charge amidst the danger.
One thing I forgot to mention is that sometimes these steps come out of order like how to act of unconditional love and ultimate boon in Looking For Lily are kind of blended together.
Stage three: Return
This stage is what happens, immediately following the climax. It includes the last four steps: refusal to return, magic flight, help from without, and the crossing. These are weird names, I know, but I think they are easier to remember than if they were named after something boring. At least they sound pretty awesome.
The refusal to return is pretty simple, and isn’t actually required or anything. I, of course, had to add it to Looking For Lily, just because that is me. This step is when the character refuses to return to life as it was before, usually because they have something left unresolved, or don’t want to leave the adventure after so long.
In Looking For Lily, this actually takes place in the untimate boon, when Rick refuses to escape because he couldn’t just let the killers back out into the world, but had to stop them.
This can be physically spoken or acted, of course, or could be an internal conflict they have with themselves.
The magic flight is what I like to call a second climax. It’s pretty much the aftermath of everything that’s going on, includes the action, and ultimately whether or not your character will succeed or fail. This is where they’ve made a decision on and have stuck to it, or just have determined to succeed.
In Looking For Lily, Rick’s magic flight is the tense scene where he doesn’t know which gun is loaded, and is confronting the killers.
The magic flight in Divergent is when Tris goes back to the Dauntless compound to get Four and to stop the Erudite from keeping the Dauntless under mind control.
The help from without is optional, but sometimes appears very subtle , and you can miss it if you don’t look for it. This step is when your hero has help in succeeding in the magic flight/ultimate boon, or could be saved from their failure and sometimes have a blurred line between them.
In Divergent, help from without is both of her parents’ sacrifices, and the help of her brother and Tobias. In Looking For Lily, it is the FBI.
The Crossing is just the resolution to the story, or what really hooks the reader for the next book. In Looking For Lily, Rick has dinner with his family, bringing everything to a close. In Divergent, Tris and the others head to Amity, leading to the second book.
So, to summarize, here is everything I explained in this chapter in one place:
Hero’s journey archetype
- Road of trials
- experience of unconditional love
- ultimate boon
- refusal to return
- magic flight
- help from without
- the crossing
So, that’s the hero’s journey archetype for ya. I hope this helped your story, and this is the basic version. There are technically more steps, if you want to get specific, but this is what I use and what I was taught in class.