The Hero’s Journey: 12 Steps That Make Up the Universal Structure of Great Stories

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At one point in your writer’s life, you’ve probably come across the term Hero’s Journey. Maybe you’ve even studied this guide for storytelling and applied it to your own books—and yet, something about your own application felt off. You wanted to learn more, but didn’t know where to start.

You needed a resource that would simplify the hero’s journey steps and all the other major details instead of complicate them.

You needed this post.

The Hero's Journey: The Ultimate Guide to the Universal Structure of Great Stories

The Hero’s Journey is as old as humanity itself. And over the history of humanity, this single story form has emerged over and over again. People from all cultures have seemed to favor its structure, and its familiar types of characters, symbols, relationships, and steps.

If you want to build or strengthen your writing career and win a following of many happy readers, you want this particular tool in your writer’s toolbox.

Let’s dive in.

Need help applying The Hero’s Journey to your story outline and manuscript? Download this free Hero’s Journey worksheet now!

Why I Love the Hero’s Journey (And You Will, Too)

Like many young boys, I grew up loving Star Wars. I especially loved the music and bought the soundtracks at some point in middle school. When my parents weren’t home and I had the house all to myself, I’d slip one of the CDs into my stereo, crank the volume up, and blast the London Symphony Orchestra as it laid the epic foundation for Luke Skywalker’s unforgettable trench run on the Death Star. I even swung my arms high in the air, pretending I was conducting the violins and timpani myself.

I know it’s nerdy to admit. But we love what we love, and I love the music of great movies.

In a way, the Hero’s Journey is like a wonderful soundtrack. It follows familiar beats and obeys age-old principles of human emotion. We can’t necessarily explain why a piece of music is so beautiful, but we can explain what it does and simply acknowledge that most people like it.

As I’ve come to understand Joseph Campbell’s groundbreaking monomyth theory, commonly known as the Hero’s Journey, I’ve fallen deeper and deeper in love with it.

But it’s important to make sure you know what it is, and what it isn’t.

The Hero’s Journey isn’t a formula to simply follow, plugging in hackneyed characters into cliched situations.

The Hero’s Journey also isn’t “selling out” and giving up your artistic intregrity.

However, the Hero’s Journey is a deep set of steps, scenes, character types, symbols, and themes that tend to recur in stories regardless of culture or time period. Within these archetypes are nearly infinite variations and unique perspectives that are impacted by culture and period, reflecting wonderful traits of the authors and audiences.

Also, the Hero’s Journey is a process that your reader expects your story to follow, whether they know it or not. This archetype is hard-wired into our D.N.A. To expect anything different would be practically inhuman.

Let me put it this way: To know the Hero’s Journey is to know the human soul.

This may not make sense right now, but I promise it will as this post unfolds.

To know the Hero’s Journey and its steps is to know the human soul. Learn why in this post.
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How to Use This Hero’s Journey Post

In the beginning, there were stories. These stories were told by mothers, soldiers, and performers. They were inscribed on the walls of caves, into tablets of stone, and on the first sheets of papyrus.

This is how the Hero’s Journey was born.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the Hero’s Journey twelve steps, and teach you how to apply them into your story. I’ll also share additional resources to teach you some other Hero’s Journey essentials, like character archetypes, symbols, and themes. By the end of this post, you’ll be able to easily apply the Hero’s Journey to your story with confidence.

And don’t skip out on the practice exercise at the end of the post! This will help you start to carve out the Hero’s Journey for your story with a practical fifteen minute exercise—the best way to really retain how the Hero’s Journey works is to apply it.

Table of Contents: The Hero’s Journey Guide

What is the Hero’s Journey?

Why the Hero’s Journey will make you a better writer

The Twelve-Step Hero’s Journey Structure

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. The Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Trials, Allies, and Enemies
  7. The Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return With the Elixir

5 Essential Hero’s Journey Scenes

A Guide to Structuring Your Hero’s Journey

What Is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is the timeless combination of characters, events, symbols, and relationships frequently structured as a sequence of twelve steps. It is a storytelling structure that anyone can study and utilize to tell a story that readers will love.

First identified and defined by Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey was theorizied in The Hero With a Thousand Faces. Today, it has been researched and taught by great minds, some including Carl Jung and Christopher Vogler (author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers).

This research has given us lengthy and helpful lists of archetypes, or story elements that tend to recur in stories from any culture at any time.

And while some archetypes are unique to a genre, they are still consistent within those genres. For example, a horror story from Japan will still contain many of the same archetypes as a horror story from Ireland. There will certainly be noteable differences in how these archetypes are depicted, but the tropes will still appear.

That’s the power of the Hero’s Journey. It is the skeleton key of storytelling that you can use to unlock the solution to almost any writing problem you are confronted with.

Why the Monomyth Will Make You a Better Writer

The Hero’s Journey is the single most powerful tool at your disposal as a writer.

But it isn’t a “rule,” so to speak. It’s also not a to-do list.

If anything, the Hero’s Journey is diagnostic, not prescriptive. In other words, it describes a story that works, but doesn’t necessarily tell you what to do.

But the reason you should use the Hero’s Journey isn’t because it’s a great trick or tool. You should use the Hero’s Journey because it is based on thousands of years of human storytelling.

It provides a way to connect with readers from all different walks of life.

This is why stories about fantastical creatures from imaginary worlds can forge deep emotional connections with audiences. Hollywood knows this, and its best studios take

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