It’s time to talk about my absolute favorite topic when it comes to storytelling, The Hero’s Journey.

First popularized by Joseph Campbell, the idea behind The Hero’s Journey goes back much further and has had an impact on some of the greatest storytellers of all time, including J.R.R. Tolkien, George Lucas, and J.K. Rowling.

In this first episode of a three-part series, I’ll be talking about the first stage of The Hero’s Journey and how you can use Campbell’s theories in your own writing to create a more dynamic, real story.

If this type of content isn’t practical enough for you, don’t worry. Next week, I’ll be talking more about the rebranding Steam Powered Dreams is currently going through and how you can use branding to help you sell more books, or at least grow an audience.

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As always, below is a direct copy of the show notes. They were written before the episode was recorded and are unedited but are here for reference and SEO.


Topic: The Hero’s Journey [Part 1 – The Ordinary World]

  • If you could unlock the secret of what makes some of the most popular books and movies succeed, would you take the time to learn and understand it?
  • If you could create stories as powerful as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Ender’s Game, Hobbit, Harry Potter, or the Matrix, would you want to know how?
  • That’s exactly what we’re talking about today, the secret to why these stories relate to us so much, and how you can tap into that in your own writing.
  • So much going on since the last SPD update back in Oct of last year
  • The company has grown in terms of freelance workers, with 6 more on board for various tasks, as well as a freelance designer.
  • Our Instagram has grown a lot. Check that out by searching for Authorpreneur Mindset and say hi
  • If you’re a listener from last year, Story Pulse has been explained a bit more on the blog
    • more on that in the coming months though
  • New clients and potential new authors under our banner.
  • And, maybe most importantly, a shift in focus. As of this episode, Steam Powered Dreams is no longer a publishing company. We are moving in a slightly different direction and will now be working as a Story Studio.
    • This is a big change for our branding and what we’ll prioritize, but our goal is the same, to help writers get published and get the profit they deserve.
    • If you’re curious about this, or branding in general, then you’re in luck.
    • The next episode of Authorpreneur Mindset will talk a lot about that.
  • As for me on a personal level, the past few months since I quit my job has been both…amazing and not so amazing.
  • During the initial month and a half, things were going pretty well.
    • I had a lot of work for new and old clients for freelancing
    • started revitalizing everything I had going before
    • and I was able to  back into the swing of things
  • However, just as fast, things took a turn south, and that’s a very common problem for anyone who is trying to make it non traditionally like authorpreneurs and entrepreneurs.
    • One week you have more work than you can handle, and the next nothing. It’s balancing both the money and the rollercoaster of ups and downs that help you be successful or at least get to a point where a week of no work won’t derail your life.
  • But, enough about that, let’s get into the episode and talk about one of my very favorite topics, The Hero’s Journey.
  • The hero’s journey is a concept popularized by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces based on the concept that all stories throughout time can fit into a single concept.
  • He spent years trying to prove that every storyline in every book, movie, TV show and play are, essentially, exactly the same story.
  • And that every character can fit into a specific archetype.
  • He may have not been able to do this, but what he did find was very fascinating.
  • And if you take the time to understand his theories, it can help inform your own writing.
  • Alright, so before we get into the details of the hero’s journey, let’s define what scholars ultimately realized about what Joseph Campbell was studying; the story of a hero.
  • Not every story is a hero’s journey.
  • This is why not every story fits into his theories.
  • We can see this in many modern indie films such as Before Sunrise, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong.
  • In literature, books like The Catcher in the Rye, Lolita, and countless other classics fall in a similar category.
  • If you’ve never seen these movies or read these books, they’re more of a story about a single moment in time or events that happen to characters. There are no heroes or villains, no good or evil.
  • While these are all great stories that have a lot to offer, they don’t fit into The Hero’s Journey theory.
  • Another thing that’s important to understand that not every story goes through each of the steps outlined by Campbell, nor do all characters fall into one archetype neatly, some can even be multiple archetypes at once.
  • Alright, now that we understand that, let’s talk about what the hero’s journey is and why it works so well.
  • I’m going to mostly be referring to The Hobbit and Ender’s game here since they’re two of my favorite books.
  • Campbell broke the journey down into 12 stages over 3 sections.
  • This episode is going to talk about the first section, known as the Ordinary World.
  • The first stage shares the name of The Ordinary World and starts long before the story begins. It’s the life that the hero has lived up to this point. This is any and all backstory that you may or may not share about the characters and everything that has happened to make them who they are up to the start of the story.
  • The second stage is the Call to Action. This is where something changes and the hero is called to act. This could range from a direct threat to something more subtle.
  • In the Hobbit, the call to action is direct, when Gandolf asks him directly to join the dwarves on their adventure.
  • On the other hand, in Ender’s Game, Ender is invited to join Battle School.
  • In both of these examples, the Hero doesn’t realize at the time what is going to happen after that, nor do they realize the impact of their choices.
  • The third stage is the refusal of the call and a great example of how not every story follows every step. This stage can take one of two forms, either an inner fear that must be overcome or a physical block.
  • In the Hobbit, Bilbo turns Gandolf and the dwarves down. It takes him some time, with an inner turmoil playing out before he decides to join them. It’s his fear that holds him back. Hobbits aren’t meant to travel out of the shire!
  • On the other hand, Ender doesn’t refuse the call. Instead embraces it and goes head first into his journey.
  • An example of a physical block would be in Harry Potter. His uncle and aunt will do anything to stop him from accepting the call to adventure, i.e. the letters from Hogwarts and then Hagrid.
  • In each of these examples, fear does play a role. Ender does fear what his life will be like should he go to Battle School, and Harry Potter fears the unknown of the magical world.
  • The next two stages often times go together, and that is meeting a mentor and crossing the threshold into the second stage.
  • In fact, often times it’s the mentor that helps the hero overcome the fears they may have and take the step over the threshold.
  • In the Hobbit, it’s Gandolf, who influenced Bilbo, and knew he could count on him, even when he wasn’t sure he could count on himself.
  • In Ender’s Game, it’s Colonel Graff who cares about Ender and can see his potential.
  • So, let’s take a look at these 5 steps and think about why they work and why they’re important.
  • The Ordinary World is really all about the background of your characters and it’s very important to understand where they came from, even if you never use that in your writing. When you write your character’s story, understanding their background will help them develop as the story unfolds.
  • The call to action is where your hero realizes that there’s something that needs to get done, there’s some injustice in the world or problem that needs to be solved. This doesn’t always happen on the page, but if it doesn’t, it’s often referred to throughout the story.
  • Deciding whether to write this point in your hero’s journey should come down to how important it is for the overall story. For example, the death of a loved one that pushes the hero to ask “why” may not have a direct effect on what happens in the rest of the story and may be best suited referred to throughout the story. This can add depth to a character and even help build a relationship between two or more characters.
  • Another example is if the hero witnesses a horrific event and decides to act upon it in the moment. In one of my yet unreleased novels, the story opens with a young girl being raped on the street by an authority figure and the protagonist seeing how the people around them do nothing, and seemingly ignore what’s going on. This is important to understanding the story and why the character decides to act. Not only that, but the next 3 chapters take place as he nurses the victim back to health.
  • The important point about this is, no matter if it happens on the page or off the page, it happens, and you know what it is and why your hero is doing what they’re doing.
  • The refusal of the call is similar in that it may or may not happen on the page, but it still needs to happen in one way or another. We talked about how in Ender’s Game, Ender didn’t refuse the call outright, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t experience fear and uncertainty. He worried what would happen if he left his current life and his family. These fears make him who he is, and influence who he will become.
  • The 4th stage, meeting the mentor, is a unique one because many people misinterpret what it really means.  While often times the mentor is a physical person, such as Gandolf, it doesn’t always have to be. I could come in the form of a memory or even an animal or other non-human companions. What they provide also doesn’t have to be specific. They may provide insight, give an item of importance, or just believe in the protagonist and help guide them.
  • Without this stage, the hero will never get past their fears and cross over into the next section of the story.
  • Now, when you are planning out or writing this, keep an open mind. Your hero’s mentor may come in a form you never even thought of. In another of my novels, the mentor turns out to be the hero’s father, who was murdered a few years prior, yet he’s with her in memory and in the items he left for her after his death.
  • The end of the first section is the threshold leaving the ordinary world. Thanks to overcoming the refusal of the call and gaining the item and/or knowledge they need from the mentor, they’re ready to cross over into the unknown and actually start their adventure.
  • This is an exciting part of your character’s journey, but also one that isn’t easy to write. As the author, you may be enthusiastic and ready to go, but your character should be wary, even if they are confident. You know that everything will eventually work out, but from the protagonist’s point of view, the odds are against them.
  • So, when your character crosses this threshold, it’s an emotional time and your writing should reflect that.
  • Think about a time in your own life where you’ve had to make the leap into the unknown. You were probably a mix of excitement, anxiety, scared, and a whole bunch of other emotions and your character should be too.
  • Once the hero steps over this threshold, they’re now in the Special or Unknown World where the adventure really starts.
  • But, this is where we’ll leave it for this episode.
  • These episodes take a lot of planning and research, so the second episode for this will come in a few months, followed by two more about The Hero’s Journey before the end of the year.
  • This is by far one of my favorite topics to discuss, so please feel free to ask any questions which you can do through the website at steampowereddreams.com/authorpreneurmindset and then click on Ask A Question.
  • Or join our facebook group at facebook.com/SPDwritershelpingwriters
  • You can find me:
    • On Facebook at facebook.com/jeremylcollier
    • on Twitter at SoulScribbler,
    • and finally on Instagram at authorpreneurmindset
  • Until next week, I am your host Jeremy and don’t forget to keep moving forward.

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