Episode 179: The Price of Conformity

On March 19, 2022, Kasie and Rex dove back in to the heroine’s journey with yet another model. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

The Heroine’s Journey Part 3


  • Quick review of where we’ve been
  • The Virgin’s Promise
  • Required (?) elements of the heroine’s journey
Photo by Erik Mclean on Pexels.com

Segment 1

The South Carolina Writers Association is excited to proud to present Angela Belcher Epps speaking in the Become an Author series on the topic of Get Into Your Writing Space. It’s an evening zoom session. Follow the link to register.

Where we’ve been …

We started with Gail Carriger’s non-gender-specific Heroine’s Journey. The key stages of that were: 

  • Descent – involuntary withdrawal, isolation, despair
  • Search – visit to the underworld, aided by companions
  • Ascent – structured reunification, follows compromise, reimagines the HEA – not what the heroine originally expected or pursued

Then we talked about Murdock’s decidedly female heroine’s journey:

  • Separation from the feminine
  • Embrace of the masculine
  • Boon of success
  • Recognition of emptiness
  • Healing of the mother-daughter split
  • Unification of the masculine and the feminine into a re-imagined future self

After the Murdock discussion, I told you we’d revisit this resource and take on The Virgin’s Promise this week. 

Segment 2/3

So here it is, Kim Hudson’s The Virgin’s Promise explanation of the heroine’s journey:

  1. The dependent world – heroine is trapped either by duty, expectations, financial or social dependence, in some way she is reliant upon others
  2. The price of conformity – heroine is suppressing her natural talent, skills, or true nature for fear of rejection. She may believe the lies said about her “unnatural” tendencies
  3. Opportunity to shine – risk-free in her protected world, the heroine helps someone, shows her skills, reveals her talent (think Elsa playing in the ballroom with Anna)
  4. Dresses the part – heroine starts to believe she may actually get to be herself and achieve her dreams; the low-risk or no-risk has emboldened her
  5. The secret world – she now has one foot in the possible world and one foot in the dependent world – can she have both? Or will she have to sacrifice one for the other?
  6. No longer fits her world – as she embraces her true nature, she realizes the duality is not sustainable; she may not feel like she belongs in the new world, she may take bigger risks to maintain the ruse or to try to fully realize the new world
  7. Caught shining – her duality is exposed to the dependent world, she’s blamed for deceit or greed or not being enough to either side; her talent is revealed and the expectations shift
  8. Gives up what kept her stuck – decides to let go of the dependent world and it may disappear or it may reject her; she may be on her own for the first time
  9. Kingdom in chaos – in the wake of her choice (admittedly selfish), the dependent world may come after her
  10. Wanders the Wilderness – faces her moment of doubt, belief in herself is tested
  11. Chooses her light – decides to let her gifts shine and accept both the talents and flaws she possesses; power has shifted and she now holds some of it
  12. Reordering/rescue – after breaking ties with the dependent world in stage 8, the heroine returns to home in stage 12 and reconnects and reunites with her people
  13. The kingdom is brighter – not only is she better, but the world is better because of her work and courage

Some examples of this Virgin’s Promise version of the heroine’s journey:

  • Elsa from Frozen
  • Turning Red – the new Disney/Pixar movie about the girl becoming a panda
  • Teen Wolf – less internal and a bit more shallow, but the hide/reveal/be rejected pattern nonetheless
  • Emma – Jane Austen’s matchmaker story, as seen in Clueless
  • A Bug’s Life – Flick is an inventor and bucks the accepted norms of the colony, uses the harvester to pick grain and ends up crashing the offering; goes on a journey to find warriors, brings the wrong bugs back and hides the reality of them from the colony; when the deceit is discovered, he’s accused of being selfish and rejected; Flick’s an inventor, but his real “talent” is thinking up schemes and plans. When he returns and defeats the grasshoppers, the entire colony is better off.
  • Wicked – Elpheba is green. So. Yeah. When she meets Galinda and they are in college together, Elpheba starts to believe she can be a “normal” girl. But her empathy for the persecuted ‘other’ makes her a leader of a revolution against the Wizard and Galinda rejects her. Elpheba never returns home, but the kingdom is better after she fakes her death and disappears.
  • YA novel The Girl of Fire and Thorns – Rae Carson’s story of a young woman born with a godstone embedded in her belly. Read more here.
  • YA novel Defy – by Sara B. Larson; young girl masquerades as a boy to serve in the king’s army, until she and the prince are kidnapped by a sorcerer and she has to protect them both and (possibly) admit she’s in a love triangle. Because of course she is. Read more here.
  • YA novel Shadow and Bone – by Leigh Bardugo; Alina is a mapmaker but reveals herself to be especially magical during an attack in the Fold while saving her best friend; she’s pulled into the Grisha ranks and trained, until she realizes she’s being used for her unique talent and then must fight to defy the Grisha’s commander who just so happens to be hiding a secret of his own. Read more here.

Segment 4

So how do you do it? Well, like all formulaic stories, you start with the formula. But there are some other critical pieces you need to have:

  • Flawed protagonist with secret talent, skill, ability, or strength
  • Community that is both proud of and threatened by the protagonist’s talent, skill, ability or strength
  • Conditions that force the protagonist to employ the talent, skill, ability, or strength (i.e. you’re our only hope)
  • A wise (old) character who doesn’t trust change
  • A cheerleader who encourages the protagonist to demonstrate her capabilities
  • A trial that requires more than just the raw talent and forces the character to learn control or mastery of the skill
  • A teacher who can help the character achieve that mastery (and then die)
  • Stakes! What’s at stake? What are the consequences for disrupting the status quo?

Some questions to ask if you’re considering building these heroine’s journey arcs into your story:

  • Does your protagonist feel a growing dissatisfaction with the way things are? 
  • Are they faced with the realization that the problem is something inside them? 
  • Are they held back by external circumstance and lacking opportunity for their inner gift to bloom? 
  • You’ve got a great candidate for the Virgin’s Promise or Heroine’s Journey.

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