A lot has been written about the Hero’s Journey. Even I have tossed in my two cents worth on the matter. It can be very, very handy for any writer to know the shape of the Hero’s Journey. But many writers have gotten stuck on a single model, Chris Vogler’s redaction of Joseph Campbell’s outline. I’m not saying that it is a bad model, for it isn’t. But the problem of being stuck on it is that the Vogler/Campbell outline is not the only one available.
It is entirely possible for a writer to be on fire for his story, and struggling to get his plot to “fit” the Hero’s Journey outline that he knows — only to dispair because his story doesn’t want to go that way. It’s possible for that frustratd writer to think that he is wrong about his story (even though he is still jazzed by it, in the back of his head). So he stops.
Now, it’s my feeling that no writer should give up on a story that excites him. It may be a mess, plot-wise, and need work. But no writer should feel she has to give up on something just because it doesn’t fit one outline. So, that’s why I felt it important in The Scribbler’s Guide to the Land of Myth to mention some of the principal variations of the Hero’s Journey that I have encountered over the years. The different outlines often have elements not included in the Vogler/Campbell model. But every writer should also remember that these things are not cut in stone: they are very flexible, and you can move things around a bit, to suit your own story. After all, you are the storyteller.
Getting comfortable with the Journey your Hero is on is only the first step, however. If you want to add depth to your story, and to help the other characters take on substance, you need to remember that the Hero is not the only character actually going on a “journey” in your story. The villain is pretty sure he’s the Hero of his own life. And your love interest or B Story sidekick is also making a journey. Do you know the shapes of their Journeys?
This brings us to another reason why there is an advantage in knowing multiple versions of the Hero’s Journey. Your three principal characters do not have to be traveling according to the same pattern. In fact, it can be very interesting if they are not. Nor does everyone’s Journey have to start at the same point. For instance, your villain’s journey may begin well before the point where you want to start the story. This could turn into what Blake Snyder called Act Zero material. The Journey for your B Story character may not be so complicated.
The mechanics of coordinating the different Journeys will reveal how well you understand your plot. A villain’s high point may be your Hero’s darkest moment, or it may just be one of the trials and tests the Hero meets. It’s your story. You decide. But at this point, index cards or a computer program that has a similar function, where you can shuffle and mix individual story beats can be a big help.
And there can be great satisfaction in looking at the meshed outline, where you can clearly see where each charcter is on his or her particular Journey. When you realize you know exactly what the villain wanted as his victory and what is a set-back for him; when you know just what the B Story character’s Journey is, at that point your story becomes more solid and deeper.
Everyone is on a Journey. Everyone has a goal. They may not all be met by the events in your story. But when you start constructing things this way, you will discover that it is very useful.