Introduction: What is the Hero’s Journey?
The hero’s journey is a recurring narrative story pattern present in stories of many genres. In those types of stories, and most particularly the heroic epic, the hero embarks on a journey that ultimately “resolves an inner conflict”, often encountered at some significant point during the story. This inner struggle has been called the hero’s “inciting incident”.The journey is often one of self-discovery, which often leads to self-improvement where the hero discovers their significance through an “epiphany” (such as Neo having a revelation that he can become more than human in The Matrix), or in some cases, realizing that they have been “right all along” (as in the case of Ashitaka becoming a god in Princess Mononoke).
The hero’s journey is a narrative pattern identified by the American mythologist, Joseph Campbell, that appears in the mythologies, religious stories and spiritual autobiographies of various cultures across time. In Campbell’s view, this journey is an essential element of the “hero’s quest”—the search for a means to be in and to live with one’s world. Campbell borrowed the concept of the monomyth from James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a novel that Campbell claimed to have read completely intently and many times over.
The Life of a Writer as a Hero
The journey can be one of self-discovery, and one of the most important writers in the world spend a good deal of self-discovery as they write. The writer in question is me, and I’m saying that because I know it’s true. I have no shame or reluctance to admit this fact as my ego does not need to be fed with encouragement for my self-worth. Writing is all about finding your voice and developing yourself as a writer; but writing entails many other things too. It’s about self-discovery in the grandest sense. There’s no denying that someone like Gabriel Garcia Marquez who has lived a life of privilege and fame was able to do it with relative ease, but for all of us the journey is long and hard! There is a lot of work to be done and the work must be dirty and uncomfortable for it to prove worthwhile. There is no question that all successful writers know this, but how many succeed?
The Shape of a Novel and How This Should Guide Your Storytelling
I’m sure you’ve heard me say this before: A novel should be a balanced shape. I won’t go into the details of this because I have already discussed this in other articles as well as my workbook (click here to access it), but for the sake of illustrating my point and for those who are not aware yet, I’ll take a look at one of the best books out there. I’m referring to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, which was written as a balanced book with two main stories (a personal journey and a magical journey) and two secondary stories (an academic journey and an adventure). This is how yours should be, whether you are writing in fiction or non-fiction, but the key is the story I mentioned earlier: the balance.
I am going to borrow a piece of an article I wrote some time back:
The Importance of Character Development in Your Fiction
A common complaint is that one of the things that most add to a book is a lack of character development. The thing that I’ve noticed first hand as a reader is that it’s not just your characters who benefit from good character development, but you yourself as well. When a character can grow, you can grow. It’s an integral part of the plotline that I’ve learned to recognize since I first considered writing my book. You learn to see things differently. Your expectations change, your life changes, but most importantly your attitude towards yourself changes!
You might be able to write a book with interesting characters and an intriguing plotline, but it’ll still be bland if the characters themselves don’t reflect what you, the writer, have learned about yourself. It’s about the heart of your story. When I wrote my book I inserted myself into the protagonist’s mind and had her sit down for an interview where she revealed to me some things about herself that do actually exist inside of me. How did I do this?
Character Development 101:
1. Know your character.
The Strength and Weaknesses of Characters We Love & Hate
I’ve written this a lot before, but it’s important: Your main characters need to be well rounded, realistic human beings so that you can tell the story authentically. In other words, they should not be cardboard cutouts. You’ll find yourself reading at times and feel “this is just stupid”, “how did this character ever get this far?” or “this is the weak link in the entire structure. I hate him. He’s ruined everything!” and so on. All of us have done this, but it’s a sign that there’s something in your main character that is wrong. You need to figure out what that is, and fix it.
In the end, your protagonist needs to be likeable (I’ve already written on this in my “Hero” post), but he also needs to be truly exciting to read about (and hopefully watch). Where do you get this kind of character? By taking a look at real people. I’m not talking about the characters from books or T.V. that you love or hate, but real people in your life who are interesting and complex. We all have them.
Try to find some that you can relate to, and try to figure out a bit about how they tick. Why do you like them? Why do you think other people like them? How do they make decisions? What drives them? What are their weaknesses and strengths? These are the things that will go into your main character as well in order to make him human, believable, realistic and exciting.