Episode 176: How You Know You’re Writing a Hero’s Journey (and what to do about it)

On February 26, 2022, Kasie and Rex revived the Hero’s Journey topic from the depths of the Write On SC vault. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Hero’s Journey Review 


  • We’re back! Live again after 2 weeks not
  • The Hero’s Journey basic elements
  • Should you write a Hero’s Journey?
Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Link to the podcast

Segment 1

After two weeks of pre-recorded shows – how awesome was that Carolyn Hartley interview? – we’re back live in the studio today to talk about the Hero’s Journey. You’ll remember we did this as a full series back in 2019 (remember that? Before pandemic and every other shit thing?). We started with Derek Berry’s contextualization of The Hero’s Journey in Literature (episode 38), followed it up with three weeks in a row of The Mentor and the Goddess (episode 39), The Companions (episode 40), and The Call (episode 41). We had another guest, Uchechi Kalu, to talk about The Hero’s Journey in Non-Western Literature (episode 41), and finally finished up with The Anti-Hero (episode 42) in mid-May 2019. 

It was like we were on a hero’s journey of our own.

So this week we’re going to talk the Hero’s Journey because next week, and for the entire month of March, we’re going to focus on the feminine version – the Heroine’s Journey. Yes, it’s different.

But first, some housekeeping. The South Carolina Writers Association continues to be the best way to build your writing career in the state. With dozens of chapters organizes regionally – Chapin/Irmo, Columbia I, II, and II all here in the area – and virtual chapters aligned by genre – short fiction, poetry, and romance among them – you’re sure to find a supportive group to share your work and get help on revision.

Critique groups are essential for growing as a writer and the SCWA is a supportive, encouraging environment. Visit myscwa.org to learn more. 

But, wait! There’s more! SCWA is also hard at work organizing live in-person and virtual events for your education and networking enjoyment. The next live event is Shared Writing Time, a midday Zoom sesh where writers gather to respond to prompts and share space and purpose. It’s been hosted by our Columbia II chapter and the Aiken chapter as well. May 17 – St Patty’s Day! – is the next session for this and it’s limited to members-only, so become a member of SCWA today.

Shortly thereafter, on March 24th, SCWA is proud to present Angela Belcher Epps speaking in the Become an Author series on the topic of Get Into Your Writing Space. Are you a new writer without a routine? A journeyman writer in a rut? Angela has the answer for keeping you inspired and determined. This is an evening zoom event and free for members but $20 for non-members.

Segment 2

So let’s start with the basic outline of the Hero’s Journey and then we’ll do some examples and pick apart our favorite parts:

  • The Call — being chosen to undertake the journey
  • The Companions — who will accompany the hero?
  • The journey itself — distance, obstacles, treachery
    • Monsters
    • Temptations
    • Deadly opposites or opposing dangers — think colliding armies
    • The underworld — death itself or a glimpse of the other side in the form of visions and insights gleaned by ghosts and spirits
    • The helpers — maintain posts along the path and assist the hero and companions in some way
  • Arrival and frustration — within sight of the goal but a new and terrible series of obstacles presents
  • The final ordeal — the last test of the hero’s personal transformation
  • Achievement of the goal — life affirming, it was all worth it finale of the story.

Segment 3

Some examples of hero journey stories (this link has a few but it’s a Book Designer blog and two of the three are movies. I mean, come.on.)(also called the monomyth at this link):

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • The Hobbit
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • The Hunger Games
  • Dune
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • A Wrinkle in Time
  • Ready Player One
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 

From films:

  • Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope
  • Lion King
  • Black Panther
  • The Matrix
  • O Brother, Where Art Thou
  • Labrynth
  • Stand By Me

Some of these follow the 7 Basic Plots “Journey and Return” narrative – The Hunger Games, The Lion King; others follow the 7 Basic Plots “Quest” narrative – The Hobbit, Ready Player One

Why is the Hero’s Journey popular in SCI FI and Fantasy genres?

What does a realistic hero’s journey tell us about the era in which it occurs? (lookin at you, Huck Finn)

Segment 4

This is usually our “how to” and we have a good one in episode 38, so instead of how to craft it, let’s talk about how to revise your existing narrative into a hero’s journey story. This is specifically for our critique group friend Abby who when we told her what she had was a hero’s journey got this panic-stricken look on her face.

“What should I do?” she asked as if we’d discover termites in her foundation.

First, don’t panic. Realizing you have a hero’s journey is a good thing. Because there’s a ready-made outline for you. So ask these questions:

  1. Who is your hero and how is s/he receiving “the call”?
  2. What are the circumstances requiring the character to leave where they are and travel forward?
  3. Are there any other options besides taking on the quest? I.e. Aunt Veru and Uncle Owen. Kill them.
  4. Who goes with the hero? Are they there at the beginning (Toto) or picked up along the way (Scarecrow, Tin Man, Lion)?
  5. What role does each companion play? What are their strengths? How do they contribute to the journey? (I brought a comb. I carried a watermelon.)
  6. Now map the journey: where do they go? What obstacles or monsters do they encounter? How do they defeat said monsters? 
  7. As things get tougher, fatigue sets in, and their desires start to clash and compete, how do they fall out with one another or betray one another?
  8. What will be the hero’s final ordeal? How will it test his specific weakness?

Next month is Women’s History Month and we’ll be taking on the unique characteristics of the heroine’s journey.

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