LDSM Midwest Conference Notes: The Hero’s Journey

I’ve been typing up my notes from the LDStorymakers Midwest Conference two weeks ago. Finally. I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned. I’ll start with a class I took from Don Carey on The Hero’s Journey

Sadly, I’d never heard of The Hero’s Journey before. If you haven’t either, here’s what I understand it to be:

A guy named Joseph Campbell gathered the best stories from around the world and throughout history. He found a pattern in the stories, both in outline and characters. He summarized those patterns for us.  (Read more about it here. Also, Christopher Vogler has done a lot more work on this concept. You can see his in depth website here.)

Breakdown of characters in most major stories:

  1. Hero: main character
  2. Shadows: bad guys—or could be an enemy within
  3. Mentor: great coach, teacher, or guiding principles
  4. Allies: help hero reach goal, sidekicks, buddies, girlfriends
  5. Herald: brings news of change—could be a person or event
  6. Threshold Guardians: blocks hero from reaching goal—forces or people
  7. Shape Shifter: people or things that start good and end bad, or vice versa
  8. Trickster: clowns, mischief makers

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The hero embarks  on a journey that has several stages:

  • The Ordinary World: Sympathetic overview of the hero, giving background, and showing a need for a change.
  • The Call to Adventure: Something changes the situation. The hero must face the possibility of change.
  • Refusal of the Call: Hero turns away from this change (or someone close to the hero expresses fear of change).
  • Meeting with the Mentor: Hero meets someone or something that gives him training, advice, or equipment to make the journey.
  • Crossing the Threshold: Hero commits to leave the ordinary world for something extraordinary.

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END OF ACT I

  • Tests, Allies, Enemies: Hero is tested and meets with experiences to teach him where his loyalty should rest (this is a significant bulk of the story)
  • Approaching the Inmost Cave: Hero and friends prepare for significant challenge
  • Ordeal (about ½ way point): Hero confronts death or faces greatest fear. Out of this challenge, comes a new life.
  • Seizing the Sword, or the Reward: Hero takes possession (control) of treasure won in ordeal. Celebration, but danger of losing treasure again.

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END OF ACT II

  • Road Back (about ¾ point): Hero leaves special world to bring treasure home, often involves chase
  • Resurrection (climax of story): Hero severely tested near home. Give one last fight, battle, and hero resolves conflict
  • Return with Elixir: Hero returns home with treasure. Ordinary world is transformed.

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That sums it up.

Don Carey did a great job of showing how this works in two well-known stories, Star Wars and The Sound of Music. I won’t do it here, but I would suggest you try it when you’re done reading this post. It’s a great exercise as a writer to chart the characterization and outlining of these two completely different stories to see how perfectly they fit into these explanations. By the end of his class, I felt like I could do it for any favorite book or movie.

Since the conference, I’ve done a “Hero’s Journey” for the book I’m working on, just to see how it pans out. My book, Augustina, is in the final stages of writing, yet pinpointing the signposts of my story really helped me see where the story was weak and needing more plot. And stronger characters.

It helped a ton.

The other outlining method I really like is beat sheets, specifically Blake Snyder’s, Save the Cat.

The idea is similar to The Hero’s Journey in that all stories and all hero’s follow a similar path.Without going into too much detail, this method is used for screenplays, but it translates well into fiction. In fact, there are beat sheet calculators online that I used to help me pace Augustina. Instead of minutes in a movie, I used pages. A 300 page novel would look something like this.

  • Opening Image :1
  • Theme Stated :14
  • The Set Up:1 to 27
  • The Catalyst:33
  • Debate:33 to 68

Break into ACT II

  • B Story:82
  • Fun and Games:55 to 150
  • Midpoint:150
  • The Bad Guys Close In:150 to 205
  • All is Lost :205
  • Dark Night of the Soul:205 to 232

Break Into ACT III

  • The Finale:232 to 300
  • Final Image:300

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I like this method because I can see how long (approximately) each section of my hero’s adventure should be. I hope it helps you, too. Read more about it here. Or calculate your beats here.

When I started out writing fiction, I never really intended to write fiction. I just sat down and wrote. A pantser’s approach.

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Flying by the seat of your pants

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Since then, I’ve decided I need to do a little outlining. I’m not necessarily organized when I outline. As I mentioned, I came home from the conference and outlined my mostly-written book. But even if your book is not started, semi-written, or in the perfecting stages, I would suggest taking a look at the items listed above to see how your story fits in.

Readers have certain expectations when they pick up a book–many subconscious. As authors, we should fulfill most–if not all–of them. 

These two systems help ensure we’re doing that.

How about you? Do you outline? Have you used The Hero’s Journey (or beat sheets) to help? Or do you use something else to pace?

Comment here.

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Author: Rebecca Belliston @rlbelliston

Hopeless romantic and author of CITIZENS OF LOGAN POND, SADIE and AUGUSTINA. Music nerd and composer of RELIGIOUS and CLASSICAL-STYLE music. I live in Michigan with my husband and five kids.

5 thoughts on “LDSM Midwest Conference Notes: The Hero’s Journey”

  1. I’m glad you enjoyed the class. It was great meeting you!

    I’m using both the Hero’s Journey and 7-point story structure to set up me current WIP. They complement each other nicely.

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    1. It was fun meeting you as well. I loved the paper airplane idea, btw. Great marketing. Very fun.

      It’s crazy how much more outlining I’m doing now that I feel more comfortable as a writer. It seems like I should be doing less. Not sure why that is. Maybe because I trust it to show me where the holes are.

      Thanks again!

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  2. I didn’t use outlining at all on my first book, but have used it on my second when I revised it to figure out how to get from point A to point B. I loved your hero’s journey method. I could imagine all those parts in those movies as I read through them. Great post!

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