The Hero´s Journey – an universal story structure

The Hero´s Journey is an ancient storytelling structure that can be found all over the world. Mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered the Hero´s Journey and Christopher Vogler adopted it for Hollywood. But why should the majority of all our stories fit into one universal story template? Isn´t that terribly boring and stereotyped?

Once an author dives into storytelling structure, it won´t take long until he runs into these kinds of reproaches. But there is a very good reason why I don´t consider the Hero´s Journey a banality. In fact I truly believe that every ambitious author should at least understand its dynamic.

An universal experience pattern

At all time people have told stories. We learn from stories. Their heroes are our role models. Stories allow us to go through vicarious experiences that we would normally not encounter in our lives.

I still recall quite vividly the moment when the penny dropped. I had been studying the Hero´s Journey for a while already when I attended this seminar on “crisis intervention”.

The group leaders explained to us that people – just like they mourn in phases – go through clearly defined phases when they experience a crisis. Suddenly I held my breath. What they said sounded strikingly familiar to me!

I started to compare – and was speechless. The phases of a crisis and the steps of the Hero´s Journey have different labels, but in their essence they are the same.

Crisis Hero´s Journey (Vogler)
1. Phase: Presentiment, shock, confrontation Known World, Call to Adventure
2. Phase: Denial, Repression, Failure, Grief Refusal of the Call
3. Phase: Effort, Mobilisation of all powers, Processing Help of a Mentor
4. Phase: Reorientation, Worry, Self doubt Crossing the Threshold (Point of No Return)
5. Phase: Anger First Tests, Allies and Enemies
6. Phase: Depression, Hopelessness Inmost cave (Most Dangerous Place)
7. Phase: Hope Ordeal (Confrontation + Overcoming of the Enemy)
8. Phase: Enthusiasm Reward (Seizing the sword/elixir)
9. Phase: Overcoming, End of Crisis Death moment, Resurrection, Way Back Home
10. Phase: New Beginning Return and Reward/Recognition

The Hero´s Journey – story of a crisis

The Hero´s Journey is nothing more than a crisis description wrapped up into old-fashioned language and imagery! Not for nothing authors are told again and again: stories arise from conflicts. And conflicts interest, or we should rather say enthrall readers.

To be more precise: How the Hero solves and overcomes the conflicts is what intrigues the reader. He can learn through the Hero´s experience. That is the true reason why we never get enough of great stories.

If that is not a reason for an author to consider and learn the Hero´s Journey! Personally, I love the Hero´s Journey. It is the link between universal knowledge, growth and our neverending hunger for the new. The Hero´s Journey is psychology at its best.

Just as much I love people. And their stories. No wonder that the Hero´s Journey is a common instrument in personality development. Even the advertising industry knows how to use it. Today they don´t sell products to us any more. No, they sell stories. And they know why.

The Hero´s Journey is everywhere. It doesn´t happen to us once in a lifetime, but again and again and again. It happens to you, to me, to everyone of us. And no sooner have we happily returned home than the next adventures awaits us at the very next corner.