Scriptwriting: The Hero’s Journey
What is “The Hero’s Journey”? Originally derived from Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth, The Hero’s Journey is formulaic arrangement for plotting the path of a script to fit within a three act structure. The protagonist of the story begins his/her journey in the ordinary world, goes on an adventure and returns to his/her own world, but has changed as a result of the conflicts and events he/she has experienced. Refined into twelve key stages by Christopher Vogler, The Hero’s Journey is the most popular and accepted format for a Hollywood script. So, what are these twelve stages and how do they effect and enhance the story over the course of a script’s three acts?
The first stage is the world in which our protagonist inhabits, a world we as the audience can identify with, a place of familiarity. It is “The Ordinary World” from where the story begins. It is the initial setting, a place that our hero has known all of their life, possibly reluctant to leave, but is also dissatisfied with. He/she is powerless to effect change while they reside in this world and are destined to continue along their inadequate path until one day something unusual happens. They receive “The Call to Adventure”.
“The Call to Adventure” is an event that interrupts the protagonist’s normal routine. Something that presents a challenge and invites our hero to go on a quest into the world of the unknown. However, our hero will have his/her doubts about stepping out of their comfort zone which leads us into the next stage of the journey, “The Refusal”.
In spite of wanting to accept change, the protagonist is reluctant to accept the responsibility associated with his calling. He/she may be afraid of the challenge or have a commitment that holds them back, preventing them from initially venturing out on said quest. Ultimately, something happens that they can no longer refuse the call and they eventually take the plunge.
Before our hero can cross into the world of the unknown, he/she will often receive some guidance from a trusted source. “The Mentor” will guide our hero in the right direction, give them advice on how to survive in the strange world they are about to enter, present them with an invaluable tool to aid them during their quest and give them the confidence they lacked to ensure them that they have the skills to conquer their fears. “The Mentor” may accompany the hero on his quest and will train him/her for the challenges ahead.
“Crossing the Threshold” marks the end of the script’s first act. It is the point when the protagonist leaves the safe haven of their ordinary world and sets off into the realm of the unknown. They are now fully committed to the quest and often have to surpass the guardians barring their way. It is a major turning point in the direction of the story.
The start of the second act sees the protagonist face a number of challenges and obstacles over the course of his/her journey. They learn from these experiences, grow in confidence, meet allies willing to help them during their quest and encounter the enemies attempting to hinder their progress. The protagonist begins to transform into the hero he/she will become.
However, in spite of our hero’s growing ability, his/her self-doubt remerges as they draw closer to the “Inmost Cave”, their greatest and possibly most dangerous challenge. The hero makes preparations, but knows that they are very much out of their depth.
“The Ordeal” marks both the halfway point of the script and the hero’s deadliest challenge. The protagonist’s love interest is often with them and together they narrowly escape death. However, they will have gained the insight to achieve the goal to their quest. It’s a race to get back to the ordinary world. The second crossing of the threshold is difficult in itself and gives a sense of what is in store for the climax. It also marks the end of act two and the start of three.
The final battle or climax of the script is a kind of resurrection for the protagonist. The stakes are high as should he/she fail all will suffer, but should he/she succeed, the benefits will extend into the ordinary world making it a much better place. The hero ultimately surpasses the odds and emerges as the master of both worlds.
The script concludes with a celebration for the protagonist, having completed the quest and having attained their ultimate goal. He/she has changed for the better and has gained the respect and admiration of his/her peers. As in fairy tales, on the completion of his/her journey, the hero lives happily ever after.
Next scriptwriting post Scriptwriting: Raising Your Profile