If you’ve spent any time in the literary world, you’ve probably heard of a structure called the Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey, aka the Monomyth, is a classic story structure that’s inspired countless tales of adventure since the beginning of time. However, it wasn’t called the Hero’s Journey until 1949.
That’s when Joseph Campbell, a noted professor of literature, theorized that all myths shared the same basic structure- hence, the name Monomyth.
Since then, the Hero’s Journey has played a crucial role in shaping the stories we enjoy. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with it than you think!
But how do you write it?
This guide will lay out the Hero’s Journey, along with some examples from one of my favorite science fiction novels: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read it!
The Three Stages of the Hero’s Journey
Campbell breaks the Hero’s Journey into three stages:
In the Departure stage, the hero leaves his home and goes on a quest.
Arthur Dent is whisked away from Earth (his home) by his friend in order to avoid planetary destruction.
In the Initiation stage, the hero learns how to adapt to an unknown world.
Dent must learn to survive in space, among aliens, and aboard the most powerful ship in the galaxy.
In the Return stage, the hero returns to his home with a reward.
Dent returns to Earth with his reward (the resurrection of the planet, his girlfriend, and knowledge of the universe).
The Seventeen Steps of the Hero’s Journey
Now that you have a basic outline, it’s time to fill in the details. Along with the three stages, Campbell also gives us seventeen steps that make the Hero’s Journey successful.
- Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- Crossing the Threshold
- Belly of the Whale
- The Road of Trials
- The Meeting of the Goddess
- Woman as Temptress
- Atonement with the Father
- The Ultimate Boon
- Refusal of the Return
- The Magic Flight
- Rescue from Without
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold
- Master of the Two Worlds
- Freedom to Live
Let’s take a closer look at each step.
A Call to Adventure is when something (or someone) presents an opportunity, problem, or threat and interrupts the hero’s otherwise ordinary life.
Arthur Dent’s friend, Ford, reveals that he’s not from Earth. Also, the Earth is about to be destroyed.
Refusal of the Call is when the hero doesn’t want to get involved with the journey.
Arthur doesn’t believe Ford and tries to ignore his ever-increasing warnings.
Supernatural Aid is when a mentor figure gives the hero enough courage/tools/knowledge to accept the call.
The Vogons arrive and start the demolition process, which “inspires” Arthur to Accept Ford’s offer. Ford then helps Arthur hitchhike from Earth, giving him the tools he needs (the Hitchhiker’s Guide, a towel, and a babel fish) to survive.
Crossing the Threshold is when the hero is no longer in their comfort zone and has officially embarked on the journey.
Arthur realizes that the Earth is gone, stranding him on an alien ship in the middle of the universe.
Belly of the Whale is when the hero encounters their first real obstacle.
Vogons tie Arthur and Ford up and read them poetry before ejecting them from the airlock.
The Road of Trials is the many obstacles, tests, and changes the hero must go through. They should fail some of them in order to grow.
Arthur’s road of trials includes getting jettisoned from a Vogon ship, getting picked up by the Heart of Gold, traveling to different planets and facing deadly enemies, winning the heart of his love, and realizing that he’s a small piece of a much larger universe.
The Meeting with the Goddess is when the hero finds allys who support and help them on the journey.
Ford and Arthur are picked up by the Heart of Gold and meet Zaphod Beeblebrox (the Galactic President), Tricia “Trillian” McMillan (the only other human survivor from Earth), and Marvin, the Paranoid Android.
Woman as Temptress is when something (often the promise of love) tempts the hero to abandon the journey.
Trillian doesn’t know that Earth was destroyed and tries to convince Arthur to travel the galaxy with her. They’re heading to Magrathea, a legendary factory that designed planets for the elite, and Arthur reluctantly agrees.
Atonement with the Father is when the hero realizes why they’re on this journey and resumes it with a heightened sense of purpose and power.
When they reach Magrathea, Arthur learns that Earth was a supercomputer built by mice. Now, they’re working on Earth mark 2 to finish the program. As the last original human, Arthur tries to help the mice find the question they seek- one with the answer of “42.”
Apotheosis is when the hero uses their newfound skills and knowledge to face the hardest part of the adventure.
As one of the last original humans, the mice need Arthur’s brain to finish the program. In order to save his life (and the lives of his friends), Arthur tries to help the mice find the question they seek- one with the answer of “42.”
The Ultimate Boon is when the hero completes the journey and receives a reward.
Arthur defeats the mice, freeing his friends (and humanity) from their control.
Refusal of Return is when the hero, in their newfound power, refuses to return to ordinary life.
Instead of staying on Earth 2, Arthur states that the planet would be better off without him and plans to leave with Ford and the others.
The Magic Flight is when one last obstacle arrives, forcing the hero to flee their current location- often prompting them to return home.
Vogons descend on Earth 2 to capture Zaphod for stealing the Heart of Gold, forcing Arthur and the others into a battle.
Rescue from Without is when the hero gains help from an ally or outside force in order to make it home.
Marvin, the depressed robot, convinces the Vogon life support system to shut down, causing them to lose the fight and retreat.
Crossing the Return Threshold is when the hero sees their home for the first time since their journey.
After the Vogons leave, Arthur examines his perfectly-replicated house.
Master of Two Worlds is when the hero decides how to balance who they were with who they’ve become.
Arthur decides that he doesn’t want to return to his ordinary life and opts to travel on the Heart of Gold instead.
Freedom to Live is when the hero settles into the life they’ve always wanted.
Arthur and Trillian fall in love, and the five travelers leave Earth 2 behind in search of new adventures- but not until they’ve eaten lunch at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
These seventeen steps are essential to the success of the Hero’s Journey, and while you can modify them to suit your needs, the base structure should remain intact.
The Hero’s Journey is one of the most beloved and recognized structures in storytelling, and it’s often represented as a circle because the hero’s journey never really ends- which is why we have sequels!
It seems like a lot of information to remember, but the Hero’s Journey is a classic structure for a reason. Use it to give your hero a purpose, drive the plot, add tension, introduce characters, and add substance to your stories. You’ll be amazed at how much difference a little structure can make!
What’s your favorite example of the Hero’s Journey? Tell us in the comments!