Meet the Monomyth

Strap on your seatbelts and hold on tight, because I am about to take you through the plot of every story ever told.

It is all laid out in The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell. Published in 1949, this book dives into the pattern that all stories follow in some way. I was first introduced to the Hero’s Journey (or the monomyth, depending on who you ask) in the lead up to my first ever NaNoWriMo. The Hero’s Journey is broken into 12 main stages set in the Ordinary (1-2, 10-12) and the Special World (3-9). Picture it like a clock.

Once you know this basic structure, you will never be able to unsee it. You are welcome.

1: The Ordinary World

This is where you introduce the main character and begin setting up the main conflict. The hero wakes up, eats breakfast, and goes about their day to day life. This is where you get to meet the hero’s friends and family and see what their ‘normal’ is. You watch them go through the motions of a regular day while longing for something more, something better (because rarely is a hero 100% happy with where they are in the beginning). There might be some hints of the coming conflict, but nothing that really catches the hero’s attention.

Everything is perfectly normal. Everyone is happy. Everything is about to change.

2: The Call to Adventure

A mysterious messenger arrives to inform the hero that, for one reason or another, they are needed to save the world. It doesn’t matter how familiar they are with the conflict or what their opinion is on the subject. All that matters is that they have been chosen. It is time for them to rise to the task of saving the world.

3: The Refusal of the Call

By the time it hits 2, the hero has point blank refused the call. Whether they are unqualified or just uninterested, they have absolutely no intention of answering the call to adventure. They are perfectly happy in their ordinary world, thank you very much (even though they were just complaining about how much they wanted something more not even five minutes ago).

4: The Meeting with the Mentor

The mentor arrives at 3 to tell the hero that they need to talk. Somehow they heard about the call that the hero refused. They have known the hero for some time or have been in the hero’s shoes at some point. They are more familiar with the conflict than the hero does and often have a greater understanding of the role the hero will play in the coming battles. They are the one who talks the hero into accepting the challenge.

5: Crossing the First Threshold

4 o’clock rolls around and the hero is finally ready to cross the first threshold. Reluctant or not, they have accepted the challenge and are answering the call to adventure. This can be a really challenging time for the hero. They are leaving behind everything they know and love. Sometimes they leave because the conflict has already destroyed the one thing they were staying for, other times it is because their home is threatened. Either way, they have accepted the call and there is no going back. Once they reach the point where they cannot return, they have crossed the threshold. The adventure is on and there is no going back.

6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

The 5 o’clock hour is divided into three things. First off, the tests. How well does the hero know the world they live in? Do they have the skills they need to survive? Are they worthy of being called a ‘hero’? Some of these tests are given by enemies who seek to impede the hero. Others are given by potential allies who are trying to decide if the hero is worth following/aiding.

7: Approach to the Innermost Cave

The approach to the innermost cave begins around 6. This is when things are starting to get dark. The hero must be prepared to face the great unknown that they have been fighting against the whole time. Think of this as the dark night of the soul. They have never faced a challenge like this before and they are going to have to use everything they have learned so far to survive this.

8: The Ordeal

The real ordeal starts at 7. This is the final test where everything is on the line. Everything they have learned over the course of the journey will be tested. This is where everything changes, including the hero. Some part of them will break. Something is going to die, whether it be a hope, a dream, or a person. It may even be the hero.

Let’s just say it isn’t called the ‘ordeal’ for nothing.

9: Seizing the Sword

At 8, the transformation begins. They have survived incredible odds and have come out even stronger (mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually). They also obtained some sort of prize. The prize is the thing that the hero has been searching for this whole time, whether they realize it or not. It might be an object, it might be a secret. It might be knowledge or insight into a problem. It could even be a reconnection with a loved one. Either way, there is no time to celebrate. The clock marches onward and it is time to return home.

10: The Road Back

The clock strikes 9 and it is time to return home. This is a reversal of the call to action and crossing the first threshold, a final push back to the Ordinary World. They may revisit some of the same places (which is a great way to showcase just how much the world and the hero have changed since the ordeal). Ultimately, the hero will have to choose between their own personal objectives and a higher cause. Not an easy decision for anyone.

11: Resurrection

From 10-11 the hero has one final, incredibly dangerous encounter with death. The implications of this fight stretch far beyond the hero’s existence. The outcome of this battle determines the future of the Ordinary World. All of their knowledge and all of their experiences come to fruition in this final fight. This is a chance for the hero to prove that they have truly changed.

12: Return with the Elixir

Things have finally come full circle as the hero returns home to the Ordinary World. The conflict is gone, the threat has been vanquished, and there is finally some sort of peace in the world. Yet everything is not as it once was. The hero has changed.  They have grown. They have brought what they learned on their journey home with them to help make their world a better place.

 

If you pay attention you can see this pattern unfold in all of the stories that have ever been told. We have this natural inclination to telling stories like this and I find it fascinating. I could go on about the psychology behind it all as well as all of the different variations of this journey, the different character types, motivations, etc for hours.  And I probably will at some point.

For now, I have a strong desire to watch Star Wars.

Until next time!

My Battle with Writer’s Block

I have competed in NaNoWriMo every year but one since 2011, to varying degrees of success. And by varying degrees of success I mean I have never won but I did finish some of the stories. This past year, though, I had an interesting experience.

Plotting started a few months before November. I had already been chewing on the idea for a while and it was finally the way I liked it. I developed the characters, laid out how I wanted things to unfold. I was ready to go.

64 pages and 23 days in I finally gave up. There were maybe 12 pages that I was okay with. Everything else I hated. I tried at least six different ways but could not for the life of me get it started. I liked the world, I liked the characters, but everything else I couldn’t stand.

So I shelved the story and tried to move on with my life. This is one of the worst cases of writer’s block I have ever had. Not counting the time I finished a story and then could not look at it again for a year.

I could not for the life of me figure out what the problem was.

I continued playing around with the idea every so often for the next few months, hoping I would find some way to make the story come to life.

That is when it happened. Two side characters who had been creeping along the edge of the narrative stepped forward, bringing with them the few pages of another unfinished story. One of them had existed since the beginning and the other showed up in one of the attempted introductions. Both were important to the story, though I could never quite figure out their motivations.

I was a little confused when they came up to me. We all sat down with a cup of tea and they told me the whole story. Their story. Piece by piece things started clicking together. It took some time and a two hour Skype call with a friend to iron out some of the details, but the story was finally ready to be told.

The main cause of writer’s block is because the story is not ready to be told. Either it needs more work or you personally are not ready to write it yet. Anxiety and insecurity can play a big part in this. I will dive further into this topic at a later date.

The good news is, there are ways to cope with writer’s block. Take a break. Try it from a different angle. Talk it through with another writer or storyteller or creative person. Drop your characters down a hole and see how they get out of it. Take them to the circus.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on writing. Just because you are stuck, just because it doesn’t look like things are working out the way you want them to, doesn’t mean it’s the end. Writing is hard. It is also very subjective. Keep an open mind and don’t lose hope.

You can do this.