Although most plots have the same basic structure, there are some archetypes that are time-tested and true. Over the next few months, I’ll explore the following story archetypes: The Hero’s Journey, Overcoming the Monster, The Quest, Rags to Riches, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy, and Rebirth. Today, we’ll start with the Hero’s Journey.
For me, the most memorable example of the Hero’s Journey is Star Wars, and perhaps that’s why it’s such a great movie. This type of plot archetype, or as it is sometimes called, monomyth, I believe, is wildly successful at eliciting emotion in the reader. From the drama of the battle to that feel good high when our hero wins out over evil and completes their journey, it’s a great ride.
So, let’s take a look at the basic structure and how Star Wars fits into it.
The Ordinary World
When we first encounter our hero, he is living life as it is. In Star Wars, we see Luke bored and wanting to do something other than working the farm with his aunt and uncle.
The Call to Adventure
Something happens that calls our hero to adventure. This is the inciting incident. Luke sees the message from Princess Leia on the droid R2D2. He feels compelled to help the beautiful young woman.
Refusal of the Call
At first, our hero does not want to accept the call. Although Luke is intrigued by the message from the princess, when he talks with Obi Wan and learns what actually helping her will entail (joining the resistance), he does not want to go. However, when he returns home to see that his house has been destroyed and his aunt and uncle are dead, he has no choice. This is a point of no return.
Meeting with the Mentor
Our hero connects with someone wise, someone who knows about the conflict brewing. He’ll need help if he is to complete the goal, the call to adventure. Luke finds out Obi Wan is a Jedi master, and he begins teaching Luke.
Crossing the Threshold
Our hero now enters a new and unfamiliar world. Luke and Obi Wan travel to another planet to look for a pilot that can take them to save the princess who is being held prisoner on the Death Star.
Test, Allies, and Enemies
What would a journey be without a test? In the new world, our hero is tested and must decide on their allegiances. First, Luke argues with Han Solo and Chewbacca, whom he and Obi Wan hired to help them get to the Death Star. Luke is then tested when he gets stuck in the Death Star’s garbage compactor trying to rescue the princess.
The hero and their allies prepare for a battle. Luke and his new allies, Han and Chewie, devise a plan to get Princess Leia and themselves free.
The hero is confronted with his own mortality. Luke sees Obi Wan die fighting Vader. Luke then begins to fight the evil ruler, loses his hand, and almost dies as he falls/jumps from the bridge.
The hero leaves with the reward of the last battle. Luke rescues the princess and begins the journey to take her to the rebels.
The Road Back
Return to the ordinary world. Luke returns to the ordinary world, although it is not his original home since his planet has been destroyed. He prepares for the final battle, the rebels fight against the Death Star.
The final battle where our hero confronts death. Luke fights along with the rebels against the Empire.
Return with the Elixir:
Our hero returns with success (not an actual elixir but a metaphoric one). Luke comes back successful, having destroyed the Death Star, and is awarded a medal by Princess Leia.
So that’s a simple version of the Hero’s Journey. What do you think? Would you use this archetype? Or have you already used it?