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Every story is the same: The Hero’s journey

Creativity and Innovation

What do Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, Hansel & Gretel, and Hercules all have in common?

Their stories all follow a well-worn path, and in some cases are nearly identical.

In fact, once you know it, you will see this template for stories nearly everywhere.

And you might even be inspired to use it in your own creative work.

It is known as the Hero’s Journey.

In 1949, author Joseph Campbell released a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. In it, he analysed hundreds of stories from cultures around the world.

And he found that almost all of them shared a similar template, which dictated what the main character would go through during the story:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

It was so common in fact that he called it the monomyth, the single story.

While Campbell’s original summary had 1 stages the hero went through, the structure can be summarised as follows in 12 stages:

Status Quo: The hero is living their ordinary life in their ordinary world

  1. Call to adventure: Something invites the hero to leave the comfort of their life, but they might not be ready yet
  2. Assistance: The hero gets the help they need to take the step and leave their status quo, often from a more experienced or older figure
  3. Departure: The hero leaves their comfortable home and enters an unknown world
  4. Trials: The hero has to overcome challenges
  5. Approach: The hero is close to what they desire
  6. Crisis: There is a form of defeat preventing the hero getting what they want. Sometimes, this can even be death (followed by rebirth), figuratively or literally
  7. Treasure: The hero overcomes the previous obstacle and gets something valuable, either an object or knowledge
  8. Result: The hero has achieved what they set out to do.
  9. Return: The hero leaves the special world, and returns to the ordinary world a changed person
  10. New life: The hero notices something is different about their home or environment now that they are back. They adjust. Often, they share what they achieved and found.
  11. Resolution: The adventure is over. The hero settles back into their status quo, but is a different person they were previously.

Now, the idea of the monomyth should be taken with a grain of salt. It is a textbook example of biases, including selection bias and confirmation bias, where only the stories which fit the structure are used as examples.

There are many stories which do not fit the Hero’s Journey, such as the tragic heroes of Shakespeare who die at the end, thrillers, or jokes and comedic stories.

But it can be an excellent source of inspiration if you are having a hard time getting past the blank page.

And it is an interesting example of how creative ideas can be remixed over time and inspired by what came before.

So whether you decide to use your imagination to come up with a bedtime story for your child, or are writing the next blockbuster movie script or bestselling novel, take inspiration from the Hero’s Journey.

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