The hero’s journey is used in books and films to keep the reader on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next. This popular writing structure was developed by Joseph Campbell, a successful American editor, and author.
In this article, we are going to discuss everything you need to know about the hero’s journey. You’ll learn about the structure, benefits, and how it applies to non-fiction writing.
What Is The Hero’s Journey
The hero’s journey is used in books when the main character goes on a journey to discover something new. You can almost think of it as a right of passage.
A young boy setting out on an adventure that’s going to shape his belief system and turn him into a man. There are going to be challenges, hardship, and a whole lot of pain; but the reward is worth it.
Of course, there’s more to it than that; but that’s a rough idea.
Here’s a more detailed explanation…
Hero’s Journey Steps
Every hero’s journey starts with the character living a normal life. During this time, life is relatively comfortable. The main character has a steady group of friends and a strong family he can rely on in case things go wrong.
His outlook on life has been shaped by living in a comfortable environment, so he doesn’t have the mental fortitude necessary to deal with life’s challenges.
The Call to Adventure
The call to adventure may come in a number of different ways. It normally starts with something disrupting the comfort of ordinary life.
For example, a young boy receiving a call telling him that his family has been kidnapped. Now, his life has a greater purpose. He can no longer sit around in comfort; there is a mission that needs to be completed.
The Refusal of the Call
As with every challenge in life, the character is going to have his doubts.
Can I do this?
What if this happens?
Am I confident enough for this challenge?
At this stage, it’s not uncommon for the character to refuse the challenge and relax back into the comfort of ordinary life.
To the reader, this is very relatable as challenges in real life can often cause us to have self-doubt and overanalyze everything.
Meeting with the Mentor
Sometimes, the character needs help from a mentor to push him in the right direction. The mentor can’t help him every step of the way; however, he will offer guidance and help where necessary.
In most cases, the mentor has been through the trials and tribulations the main character will face.
At this stage, the soon-to-be hero decides enough is enough and chooses to embark on the adventure.
Crossing the Threshold
Crossing the threshold is one of the most important parts of the hero’s journey. It involves taking the first step into the unknown.
In fiction books, this could be anything; however, in a non-fiction book, it could be part of the story where the character finally overcomes his fear of rejection and makes his first cold call after getting advice from a mentor.
Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Now he has his foot in the door, the tests, challenges, and hardship come full swing. At this point. The hero’s journey isn’t a walk in the part; it involves extreme challenges that push the character to their limits.
He will be alone, afraid, and dealing with extreme pressure.
However, through these trials and tribulations, the main character learns the most.
Approach to the Innermost Cave
Approaching the innermost cave refers to the part of the hero’s journey when he dives headfirst into the unknown. It normally refers to a certain event that’s more dangerous than the rest.
You can think of it as the final finale where the main character takes the last step in completing his mission.
In the previous example of his family being kidnapped, approaching the innermost cave would refer to the part where he goes in to rescue his family.
The Supreme Ordeal
Whether it’s physical or physiological, the supreme ordeal refers to a moment of extreme challenges. It typically involves a life or death scenario that has the reader hooked on the edge of their seats.
Let’s use a self-improvement book as an example.
The supreme ordeal could occur when telling the story of how somebody went from homeless to the super-rich. At some point, they may have had to face something that was truly soul-destroying, such as living on the streets.
Reward, Or Seizing The Sword
At this point, the hero has pushed through the supreme ordeal and survived. They have now come away with some type of trophy. When talking about non-fiction books, it could be surviving being homeless for two years and coming away with newfound gratitude.
The Road Back
Now the hero has been through the wringer, they have the option to return back to normal life. However, this isn’t always the easiest choice for the main character, especially when they feel compelled to continue on with the mission.
You can think of the road back like a soldier returning from war. War may be something they want to avoid; however, they feel compelled to stand by their fellow troops no matter what.
The resurrection stage normally involves one last test. This one is bigger than the others and pushes the hero to their limits. Without stepping up to the challenge, the hero’s work would have all been for nothing.
Not only that, but people are now relying on him.
Therefore, other people’s lives may also be hanging in the balance.
Return With The Elixir
After the hero has completed one final test, he is now reborn. He returns to his ordinary life; however, there is something noticeably different about him.
No longer is he the comfortable and entitled man he once was. The challenges he faced have molded him into somebody that is powerful, confident, and sure of himself.
You can think of this like when a young boy joins the military at 18. After 6 weeks of basic training, he has faced parts of himself that weren’t pretty.
Maybe he was lazy?
Facing these challenges in basic training has shown him his true self while transforming him into somebody he can be proud of.
How Fight Club Uses The Hero’s Journey
The main character in Fight Club is living a normal life. He suffers from insomnia and is living untrue to himself.
On a business trip, he meets a mentor named Tyler Durdan. He lives the type of life he wants.
After getting to know Tyler, they both decide to start a bare-knuckle underground fighting club.
Fight club presents its unique set of challenges and gives the main character a different perspective on life. Insomnia is a thing of the past and he becomes more sure of himself.
Unfortunately, this book doesn’t end well because the main character finds out that Tyler Durdan is a figment of his imagination. Therefore, to save humanity and prevent Tyer from causing destruction, he has to end his own life – killing Tyler in the process.
Why Should You Use The Hero’s Journey In Your Writing…
One of the main reasons to incorporate the hero’s journey into your writing is because it keeps your readers engaged. To hook somebody’s attention, you need to be providing emotional highs and lows.
And the hero’s journey does this perfectly.
Have you ever been watching a movie whereby the main character is close to being killed but manages to pull through.
How did you feel?
I bet you were sitting on the edge of your seat!
On the flip side, using the hero’s journey in non-fiction helps build trust with your readers, especially if your story is relatable.
How To Use The Hero’s Journey In Non-Fiction Books
While the hero’s journey is most commonly used in fiction books, it also has a place in non-fiction.
Let’s say you were writing an autobiography, you could use the same principle.
Start out by explaining your life in the beginning – before embarking on the challenge that shaped your reality.
You can then go into detail about everything that you had to face…
Once you’ve outlined the trials and tribulations you had to face, you can then talk about the lessons you learned and how they applied to your life thereafter.
Whichever type of book you’re planning to write, incorporating the hero’s journey is a great way to keep your readers engaged and take them on a journey through time. The great thing is, you can apply this to any type of writing.
It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a book about self-improvement or blog posts, adding a story is going to yield great results.