TAP025, How to Structure a Story Using the Hero’s Journey (Part 1 of 4)

by | Authorpreneur Podcast, Plot and Story Structure, Season 1: Story Structure, Writing

Hello, Writers!


So, you’ve listened to the episodes on Three-Act Structure and discovered that it didn’t quite suit the story you’re trying to tell. You’re looking for a story structure that’s focused more on character as opposed to plot. Or, perhaps you’ve been dreaming about writing Fantasy, Science Fiction, or in one of the many sub-genres of this huge category, but you don’t know where to start. If you can relate to any of those scenarios than this episode is for you. In this show, I will discuss how to structure a story using the Hero’s Journey.


So, What Can You Expect From This Episode?

In this episode on How to Structure a story Using the Hero’s Journey, I will unpack the critical moments from the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. I ended up opting to watch the movie over reading the book, partly due to the time it would take to watch over reading. It came down to fourteen hours of reading versus a three-hour movie.


There are two ways you can look at the structure of the Lord of the Rings, as a trilogy or on a per-book basis. As I looked at the larger story, I noticed that I could see elements of the Hero’s Journey in both the overall larger story and in the Fellowship of the Ring. After seeing evidence of the Hero’s Journey in the Fellowship of the Ring, I chose the first story over the trilogy. So, it goes without saying, spoiler alert.


But first, I want to unpack a brief history of the Hero’s Journey and explain why you should consider using this as the structure for your next story.


The History of the Hero’s Journey

Mythologist Joseph Campbell first created the Hero’s Journey in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Christopher Vogler later adapted it from Campbell’s original seventeen stages to a twelve plot point journey in the book, The Writers Journey. These twelve stages are divided into three acts just like Three-Act-Structure and the Save the Cat method. This method of story structure is usually portrayed as a wheel divided into two sections, the Ordinary World and the Special World. Along the outer rim of this story circle are plot points, just like a clock face.


Why Use the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is most often used in fantasy and science fiction genres because it suits a real journey, quest, or adventure. However, you could use this structure for a story about an emotional or psychological journey. So, why does this structure suit stories about either a physical or emotional journey? Because character growth is the sole focus of this story structure. In the hero’s journey, plot and character are woven together; they’re not separate entries like Three-Act-Structure. Chris Fox said it best in his book Plot Gardening in reference to Joseph Campbell’s ‘monomyth’: “This single myth told the tale of a hero overcoming adversity to become something greater.”


And that quote sums it up. That’s what the Hero’s Journey is all about; it’s a merge of character arc and plot. The plot comes from the character arc, and that’s why it works.


About this Mini-Series

Due to the length and the amount of information that I need to share with you to deliver on the promise made to you through the title of this episode, I’ve decided to turn this into a three part mini-series. The initial focus will be on breaking down the twelves stages before sharing five tips on how to structure your story using the Hero’s Journey. So, what can you expect from this three part mini-series?


This episode will focus on stages in the first act as well as examples of these stages in the first Lord of the Rings film. Episode two will focus on stages in the second act with examples from the Fellowship of the Ring. And, the third episode will cover, act three of the Hero’s Journey, tips for writing with the hero’s journey, and recommendations for further research. Now that I’ve said that out a loud, that third episode might have a lot of information in it, so depending upon its length I might create a fourth episode. I will let you know either way in next week’s episode. 

Act One

Just like Three-Act-Structure, the first act covers the first twenty-five percent of the story. At this point, it’s worth mentioning that the stages along the Hero’s Journey are not necessarily one scene but quite often can cover many scenes, as you’ll see in the examples that I share with you.


Stage #1 – Ordinary World

The story opens before the journey begins, with the hero in their ordinary world. As a reader, we meet the Hero and are introduced to their status quo. But, this doesn’t necessarily mean boring, make their everyday life interesting so skip the mundane and focus on the highlights. This story moment exists to provide contrast between the state of the hero’s life and the journey that he is about to embark upon. At this stage of the Hero’s Journey, you need to give your reader time to identify with the hero and their world because they need to care about the protagonist when their world is disrupted. Essentially, this stage serves as the setup before the Call to Adventure.


So, let’s look at an example of the Ordinary World scenes in action from the Fellowship of the Ring.


An Example from the Fellowship of the Ring:

After the prologue scenes which explain the history and the origin of the one ring and how it found its way to the shire, we see Frodo Baggins in his ordinary world. The beautiful Shire is filled with lush green forest and hills. Gandalf the Grey rides into the Shire for Bilbo’s birthday on a horse and cart with fireworks for the festivities. Frodo is eager to hear the news Gandalf has from the world outside of the shire, as he hops on board the cart. They drive towards Bag End.


We see the happy-go-lucky farm-life of the hobbits; working in the fields by day and drinking in the pub by night with friends. It’s peaceful, comfortable, safe, and happy. This is also where we find out that Gandalf has been officially labelled a disturber of the peace and get a glimpse of how attached the hobbits are to their quiet, peaceful existence. Leaving home and going on an adventure is considered almost unnatural or not a part of the hobbit life. Also in these opening scenes, we are introduced to Samwise, Merry, and Pippin, who are attending Bilbo’s 111th birthday.


Stage #2 – Call to Adventure

Now, it’s time to push the hero out of his comfort zone. In the call to adventure scenes, the protagonist is confronted with a problem he cannot ignore. As the hero discovers the depths of this problem, the stakes of the adventure become apparent. It’s at this point the reader needs to wonder if the hero will rise to the challenge, even though there is clearly more pages left to read.


The call to adventure is the start of the Hero’s Journey. It’s the catalyst that sets the hero on the path. Throughout these earlier scenes, the reader sees a passive hero, not a proactive one. Things are happening to the protagonist, and he isn’t seeking out trouble, but instead, trouble finds him.


So, let’s look at an example of the Call to Adventure scenes in action from the Fellowship of the Ring.


An Example from the Fellowship of the Ring:

Upon his departure, Bilbo gives Bag End, all his possessions, and reluctantly the ring to Frodo. Gandalf tells Frodo to keep the ring a secret and to keep it out of sight until he returns. Just like his uncle before him, Frodo is called to adventure by Gandalf after discovering that Bilbo’s ring is, in fact, the one ring.


He learns that Sauron’s spirit is tied to the ring and has endured. Sauron’s armies have multiplied in Mordor, and he only needs possession of the ring to return. Gandalf explains that after hours of torture, Gollum has revealed the ring is in the shire by uttering two words “Shire, Baggins.”


After realising the ring cannot stay in the Shire, Frodo chooses to trust Gandalf and become the new ring bearer, and leave for the village of Bree. There he will meet up with Gandalf at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. But, he is not going alone. Samwise is discovered eavesdropping and is forced to join Frodo on the quest.


Stage #3 – Refusal

At this stage of the journey the natural responses of fear, doubt, or a feeling of unworthiness set in and encourage the hero to refuse the call at first. In this scene or scenes, you need to set up the reasons why the hero shouldn’t go on the journey. These reasons may be deeply rooted in fear, the stakes, or having to do something way out of the protagonist’s comfort zone. It’s in these moments that your hero becomes relatable to the reader. Let’s face it, who hasn’t backed away from something due to fear.


But, something happens to change the hero’s mind. The stakes become personal, and the hero realises that the consequences of not going on the journey are far worse than any personal risk that’s keeping him in his comfort zone.


So, let’s look at an example of the refusal scenes in action from the Fellowship of the Ring.


An Example from the Fellowship of the Ring:

Although Frodo shows signs of hesitation and does offer the ring to Gandalf who explains he cannot take it because he fears the ring would do great evil through him, Frodo doesn’t directly refuse the call to adventure. Frodo immediately sees the ramifications if he refuses. The enemy is coming to the Shire; he will tear it apart and destroy everything he loves in search of the ring and possess it. But, that’s it, the refusal is a short moment. Throughout the film, Frodo does attempt to offer the ring to other members of the fellowship whom he trusts, but fortunately, they decline, and he is left with the burden.


Stage #4 – Meeting the Mentor

At this stage, the hero is committed to embarking upon the journey, but he soon becomes aware that he is highly unqualified for whatever lays ahead. It’s at this stage that the hero meets the mentor. A mentor can be anyone who gives the protagonist advice or help that will aid them in the adventure. So, you don’t have to limit yourself to a wise old man or an elf. But, if you love this trope then go for it.


Through the mentor, the protagonist receives some much-needed guidance or inspiration for the journey ahead. Whatever this mentor has to offer it needs to be something that the hero cannot do without. This ‘gift’ needs to dispel the hero’s doubts and fears and give him the strength and courage to begin his quest.


So, let’s look at an example of the Meeting the Mentor scenes in action from the Fellowship of the Ring.


An Example from the Fellowship of the Ring:

After a narrow escape and a successful crossing using the Bucklebury ferry, Frodo and his companions make it to the Prancing Pony at Bree. But, Gandalf is not waiting for Frodo as he expected. While in the pub, Sam tells Frodo that a man sitting in the corner has been staring at him since he arrived.


Upon causing a scene in the middle of the pub and disappearing upon wearing the ring for the first time, Strider grabs Frodo and takes him back to his room. Sam, Pippin, and Merry attempt to rescue Frodo from Strider but soon realise that he is helping Frodo.


Strider goes into detail highlighting the foe that hunts them and points out that they can no longer wait for Gandalf. The next morning Strider takes the hobbits out of the Village of Bree and away from the Nazgul.


Concluding Thoughts

The first four stages of the Hero’s Journey are the Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, The Refusal, and Meet the Mentor. Between now and the next instalment in the mini-series on the Hero’s Journey, I want you to start reading a novel or watch a film that follows this story structure. As you watch, see if you notice the first four stages in the Hero’s Journey. Create a spreadsheet or open up a note-taking app, and record these stages, and takes notes based upon what happens in these scenes. Analysing other stories will help you to become a better storyteller.


Now, I want to hear from you. Let me know how you got on with activity by sharing in the comments section below.


In next Monday’s episode of The Authorpreneur Podcast, we will discuss the next five stages of the Hero’s Journey which occur in the second act.


Thanks for listening, and happy reading and writing, everybody.


Your coach,


Amelia xx


Amelia D. Hay

Written by Amelia D. Hay

I’m Amelia. When I’m not hosting the Authorpreneur Podcast™️ and the Book Nerd Podcasts, I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Suspicion, the Lawn, and the Candidate.

On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process.

Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Suspicion, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.

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