Looking to publish? Meet your dream editor, designer and marketer on Reedsy.

Find the perfect editor for your next book

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Last updated on Aug 10, 2023

The Hero's Journey: 12 Steps to a Classic Story Structure

The Hero's Journey is a timeless story structure which follows a protagonist on an unforeseen quest, where they face challenges, gain insights, and return home transformed. From Theseus and the Minotaur to The Lion King , so many narratives follow this pattern that it’s become ingrained into our cultural DNA. 

In this post, we'll show you how to make this classic plot structure work for you — and if you’re pressed for time, download our cheat sheet below for everything you need to know.



Hero's Journey Template

Plot your character's journey with our step-by-step template.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero's Journey, also known as the monomyth, is a story structure where a hero goes on a quest or adventure to achieve a goal, and has to overcome obstacles and fears, before ultimately returning home transformed.

This narrative arc has been present in various forms across cultures for centuries, if not longer, but gained popularity through Joseph Campbell's mythology book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces . While Campbell identified 17 story beats in his monomyth definition, this post will concentrate on a 12-step framework popularized in 2007 by screenwriter Christopher Vogler in his book The Writer’s Journey .

The 12 Steps of the Hero’s Journey

A circular illustration of the 12 steps of the hero's journey with an adventurous character in the center.

The Hero's Journey is a model for both plot points and character development : as the Hero traverses the world, they'll undergo inner and outer transformation at each stage of the journey. The 12 steps of the hero's journey are: 

  • The Ordinary World. We meet our hero.
  • Call to Adventure. Will they meet the challenge?
  • Refusal of the Call. They resist the adventure.
  • Meeting the Mentor. A teacher arrives.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. The hero leaves their comfort zone.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Making friends and facing roadblocks.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. Getting closer to our goal.
  • Ordeal. The hero’s biggest test yet!
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Light at the end of the tunnel
  • The Road Back. We aren’t safe yet.
  • Resurrection. The final hurdle is reached.
  • Return with the Elixir. The hero heads home, triumphant.

Believe it or not, this story structure also applies across mediums and genres (and also works when your protagonist is an anti-hero! ). Let's dive into it.

1. Ordinary World

In which we meet our Hero.

The journey has yet to start. Before our Hero discovers a strange new world, we must first understand the status quo: their ordinary, mundane reality.

It’s up to this opening leg to set the stage, introducing the Hero to readers. Importantly, it lets readers identify with the Hero as a “normal” person in a “normal” setting, before the journey begins.

2. Call to Adventure

In which an adventure starts.

The call to adventure is all about booting the Hero out of their comfort zone. In this stage, they are generally confronted with a problem or challenge they can't ignore. This catalyst can take many forms, as Campbell points out in Hero with a Thousand Faces . The Hero can, for instance:

  • Decide to go forth of their own volition;
  • Theseus upon arriving in Athens.
  • Be sent abroad by a benign or malignant agent;
  • Odysseus setting off on his ship in The Odyssey .
  • Stumble upon the adventure as a result of a mere blunder;
  • Dorothy when she’s swept up in a tornado in The Wizard of Oz .
  • Be casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man.
  • Elliot in E.T. upon discovering a lost alien in the tool shed.

The stakes of the adventure and the Hero's goals become clear. The only question: will he rise to the challenge?

Neo in the Matrix answering the phone

3. Refusal of the Call

In which the Hero digs in their feet.

Great, so the Hero’s received their summons. Now they’re all set to be whisked off to defeat evil, right?

Not so fast. The Hero might first refuse the call to action. It’s risky and there are perils — like spiders, trolls, or perhaps a creepy uncle waiting back at Pride Rock . It’s enough to give anyone pause.

In Star Wars , for instance, Luke Skywalker initially refuses to join Obi-Wan on his mission to rescue the princess. It’s only when he discovers that his aunt and uncle have been killed by stormtroopers that he changes his mind.

4. Meeting the Mentor

In which the Hero acquires a personal trainer.

The Hero's decided to go on the adventure — but they’re not ready to spread their wings yet. They're much too inexperienced at this point and we don't want them to do a fabulous belly-flop off the cliff.

Enter the mentor: someone who helps the Hero, so that they don't make a total fool of themselves (or get themselves killed). The mentor provides practical training, profound wisdom, a kick up the posterior, or something abstract like grit and self-confidence.

Harry holding the Marauder's Map with the twins

Wise old wizards seem to like being mentors. But mentors take many forms, from witches to hermits and suburban karate instructors. They might literally give weapons to prepare for the trials ahead, like Q in the James Bond series. Or perhaps the mentor is an object, such as a map. In all cases, they prepare the Hero for the next step.



Meet writing coaches on Reedsy

Industry insiders can help you hone your craft, finish your draft, and get published.

5. Crossing the First Threshold

In which the Hero enters the other world in earnest.

Now the Hero is ready — and committed — to the journey. This marks the end of the Departure stage and is when the adventure really kicks into the next gear. As Vogler writes: “This is the moment that the balloon goes up, the ship sails, the romance begins, the wagon gets rolling.”

From this point on, there’s no turning back.

Like our Hero, you should think of this stage as a checkpoint for your story. Pause and re-assess your bearings before you continue into unfamiliar territory. Have you:

  • Launched the central conflict? If not, here’s a post on types of conflict to help you out.
  • Established the theme of your book? If not, check out this post that’s all about creating theme and motifs .
  • Made headway into your character development? If not, this character profile template may be useful:


Reedsy’s Character Profile Template

A story is only as strong as its characters. Fill this out to develop yours.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

In which the Hero faces new challenges and gets a squad.

When we step into the Special World, we notice a definite shift. The Hero might be discombobulated by this unfamiliar reality and its new rules. This is generally one of the longest stages in the story , as our protagonist gets to grips with this new world.

This makes a prime hunting ground for the series of tests to pass! Luckily, there are many ways for the Hero to get into trouble:

  • In Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle , Spencer, Bethany, “Fridge,” and Martha get off to a bad start when they bump into a herd of bloodthirsty hippos.
  • In his first few months at Hogwarts, Harry Potter manages to fight a troll, almost fall from a broomstick and die, and get horribly lost in the Forbidden Forest.
  • Marlin and Dory encounter three “reformed” sharks, get shocked by jellyfish, and are swallowed by a blue whale en route to finding Nemo.

The shark scares Marlin and Dory in Finding Nemo

This stage often expands the cast of characters. Once the protagonist is in the Special World, he will meet allies and enemies — or foes that turn out to be friends and vice versa. He will learn a new set of rules from them. Saloons and seedy bars are popular places for these transactions, as Vogler points out (so long as the Hero survives them).

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

In which the Hero gets closer to his goal.

This isn’t a physical cave. Instead, the “inmost cave” refers to the most dangerous spot in the other realm — whether that’s the villain’s chambers, the lair of the fearsome dragon, or the Death Star. Almost always, it is where the ultimate goal of the quest is located.

Note that the protagonist hasn’t entered the Inmost Cave just yet. This stage is all about the approach to it. It covers all the prep work that's needed in order to defeat the villain.

In which the Hero faces his biggest test of all thus far.

Of all the tests the Hero has faced, none have made them hit rock bottom — until now. Vogler describes this phase as a “black moment.” Campbell refers to it as the “belly of the whale.” Both indicate some grim news for the Hero.

The protagonist must now confront their greatest fear. If they survive it, they will emerge transformed. This is a critical moment in the story, as Vogler explains that it will “inform every decision that the Hero makes from this point forward.”

The Ordeal is sometimes not the climax of the story. There’s more to come. But you can think of it as the main event of the second act — the one in which the Hero actually earns the title of “Hero.”

9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)

In which the Hero sees light at the end of the tunnel.

Our Hero’s been through a lot. However, the fruits of their labor are now at hand — if they can just reach out and grab them! The “reward” is the object or knowledge the Hero has fought throughout the entire journey to hold.

Once the protagonist has it in their possession, it generally has greater ramifications for the story. Vogler offers a few examples of it in action:

  • Luke rescues Princess Leia and captures the plans of the Death Star — keys to defeating Darth Vader.
  • Dorothy escapes from the Wicked Witch’s castle with the broomstick and the ruby slippers — keys to getting back home.

Luke Sjywalker saves Princess Leila

10. The Road Back

In which the light at the end of the tunnel might be a little further than the Hero thought.

The story's not over just yet, as this phase marks the beginning of Act Three. Now that he's seized the reward, the Hero tries to return to the Ordinary World, but more dangers (inconveniently) arise on the road back from the Inmost Cave.

More precisely, the Hero must deal with the consequences and aftermath of the previous act: the dragon, enraged by the Hero who’s just stolen a treasure from under his nose, starts the hunt. Or perhaps the opposing army gathers to pursue the Hero across a crowded battlefield. All further obstacles for the Hero, who must face them down before they can return home.

11. Resurrection

In which the last test is met.

Here is the true climax of the story. Everything that happened prior to this stage culminates in a crowning test for the Hero, as the Dark Side gets one last chance to triumph over the Hero.

Vogler refers to this as a “final exam” for the Hero — they must be “tested once more to see if they have really learned the lessons of the Ordeal.” It’s in this Final Battle that the protagonist goes through one more “resurrection.” As a result, this is where you’ll get most of your miraculous near-death escapes, à la James Bond's dashing deliverances. If the Hero survives, they can start looking forward to a sweet ending.

12. Return with the Elixir

In which our Hero has a triumphant homecoming.

Finally, the Hero gets to return home. However, they go back a different person than when they started out: they’ve grown and matured as a result of the journey they’ve taken.

But we’ve got to see them bring home the bacon, right? That’s why the protagonist must return with the “Elixir,” or the prize won during the journey, whether that’s an object or knowledge and insight gained.

Of course, it’s possible for a story to end on an Elixir-less note — but then the Hero would be doomed to repeat the entire adventure.

Examples of The Hero’s Journey in Action

To better understand this story template beyond the typical sword-and-sorcery genre, let's analyze three examples, from both screenplay and literature, and examine how they implement each of the twelve steps. 

The 1976 film Rocky is acclaimed as one of the most iconic sports films because of Stallone’s performance and the heroic journey his character embarks on.

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky

  • Ordinary World. Rocky Balboa is a mediocre boxer and loan collector — just doing his best to live day-to-day in a poor part of Philadelphia.
  • Call to Adventure. Heavyweight champ Apollo Creed decides to make a big fight interesting by giving a no-name loser a chance to challenge him. That loser: Rocky Balboa.
  • Refusal of the Call. Rocky says, “Thanks, but no thanks,” given that he has no trainer and is incredibly out of shape.
  • Meeting the Mentor. In steps former boxer Mickey “Mighty Mick” Goldmill, who sees potential in Rocky and starts training him physically and mentally for the fight.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. Rocky crosses the threshold of no return when he accepts the fight on live TV, and 一 in parallel 一 when he crosses the threshold into his love interest Adrian’s house and asks her out on a date.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Rocky continues to try and win Adrian over and maintains a dubious friendship with her brother, Paulie, who provides him with raw meat to train with.
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. The Inmost Cave in Rocky is Rocky’s own mind. He fears that he’ll never amount to anything — something that he reveals when he butts heads with his trainer, Mickey, in his apartment.
  • Ordeal. The start of the training montage marks the beginning of Rocky’s Ordeal. He pushes through it until he glimpses hope ahead while running up the museum steps.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Rocky's reward is the restoration of his self-belief, as he recognizes he can try to “go the distance” with Apollo Creed and prove he's more than "just another bum from the neighborhood."
  • The Road Back. On New Year's Day, the fight takes place. Rocky capitalizes on Creed's overconfidence to start strong, yet Apollo makes a comeback, resulting in a balanced match.
  • Resurrection. The fight inflicts multiple injuries and pushes both men to the brink of exhaustion, with Rocky being knocked down numerous times. But he consistently rises to his feet, enduring through 15 grueling rounds.
  • Return with the Elixir. Rocky loses the fight — but it doesn’t matter. He’s won back his confidence and he’s got Adrian, who tells him that she loves him.

Moving outside of the ring, let’s see how this story structure holds on a completely different planet and with a character in complete isolation. 

The Martian 

In Andy Weir’s self-published bestseller (better known for its big screen adaptation) we follow astronaut Mark Watney as he endures the challenges of surviving on Mars and working out a way to get back home.

Matt Demon walking

  • The Ordinary World. Botanist Mark and other astronauts are on a mission on Mars to study the planet and gather samples. They live harmoniously in a structure known as "the Hab.”
  • Call to Adventure. The mission is scrapped due to a violent dust storm. As they rush to launch, Mark is flung out of sight and the team believes him to be dead. He is, however, very much alive — stranded on Mars with no way of communicating with anyone back home.
  • Refusal of the Call. With limited supplies and grim odds of survival, Mark concludes that he will likely perish on the desolate planet.
  • Meeting the Mentor. Thanks to his resourcefulness and scientific knowledge he starts to figure out how to survive until the next Mars mission arrives.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. Mark crosses the mental threshold of even trying to survive 一 he successfully creates a greenhouse to cultivate a potato crop, creating a food supply that will last long enough.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Loneliness and other difficulties test his spirit, pushing him to establish contact with Earth and the people at NASA, who devise a plan to help.  
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. Mark faces starvation once again after an explosion destroys his potato crop.
  • Ordeal. A NASA rocket destined to deliver supplies to Mark disintegrates after liftoff and all hope seems lost.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Mark’s efforts to survive are rewarded with a new possibility to leave the planet. His team 一 now aware that he’s alive 一 defies orders from NASA and heads back to Mars to rescue their comrade.
  • The Road Back. Executing the new plan is immensely difficult 一 Mark has to travel far to locate the spaceship for his escape, and almost dies along the way.
  • Resurrection. Mark is unable to get close enough to his teammates' ship but finds a way to propel himself in empty space towards them, and gets aboard safely.
  • Return with the Elixir. Now a survival instructor for aspiring astronauts, Mark teaches students that space is indifferent and that survival hinges on solving one problem after another, as well as the importance of other people’s help.

Coming back to Earth, let’s now examine a heroine’s journey through the wilderness of the Pacific Crest Trail and her… humanity. 

The memoir Wild narrates the three-month-long hiking adventure of Cheryl Strayed across the Pacific coast, as she grapples with her turbulent past and rediscovers her inner strength.

Reese Witherspoon hiking the PCT

  • The Ordinary World. Cheryl shares her strong bond with her mother who was her strength during a tough childhood with an abusive father.
  • Call to Adventure. As her mother succumbs to lung cancer, Cheryl faces the heart-wrenching reality to confront life's challenges on her own.
  • Refusal of the Call. Cheryl spirals down into a destructive path of substance abuse and infidelity, which leads to hit rock bottom with a divorce and unwanted pregnancy. 
  • Meeting the Mentor. Her best friend Lisa supports her during her darkest time. One day she notices the Pacific Trail guidebook, which gives her hope to find her way back to her inner strength.
  • Crossing the First Threshold. She quits her job, sells her belongings, and visits her mother’s grave before traveling to Mojave, where the trek begins.
  • Tests, Allies, Enemies. Cheryl is tested by her heavy bag, blisters, rattlesnakes, and exhaustion, but many strangers help her along the trail with a warm meal or hiking tips. 
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave. As Cheryl goes through particularly tough and snowy parts of the trail her emotional baggage starts to catch up with her.  
  • Ordeal. She inadvertently drops one of her shoes off a cliff, and the incident unearths the helplessness she's been evading since her mother's passing.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword). Cheryl soldiers on, trekking an impressive 50 miles in duct-taped sandals before finally securing a new pair of shoes. This small victory amplifies her self-confidence.
  • The Road Back. On the last stretch, she battles thirst, sketchy hunters, and a storm, but more importantly, she revisits her most poignant and painful memories.
  • Resurrection. Cheryl forgives herself for damaging her marriage and her sense of worth, owning up to her mistakes. A pivotal moment happens at Crater Lake, where she lets go of her frustration at her mother for passing away.
  • Return with the Elixir. Cheryl reaches the Bridge of the Gods and completes the trail. She has found her inner strength and determination for life's next steps.

There are countless other stories that could align with this template, but it's not always the perfect fit. So, let's look into when authors should consider it or not.

When should writers use The Hero’s Journey?

3jQDdq8HREc Video Thumb

The Hero’s Journey is just one way to outline a novel and dissect a plot. For more longstanding theories on the topic, you can go this way to read about the ever-popular Three-Act Structure or here to discover Dan Harmon's Story Circle and three more prevalent structures .

So when is it best to use the Hero’s Journey? There are a couple of circumstances which might make this a good choice.

When you need more specific story guidance than simple structures can offer

Simply put, the Hero’s Journey structure is far more detailed and closely defined than other story structure theories. If you want a fairly specific framework for your work than a thee-act structure, the Hero’s Journey can be a great place to start.

Of course, rules are made to be broken . There’s plenty of room to play within the confines of the Hero’s Journey, despite it appearing fairly prescriptive at first glance. Do you want to experiment with an abbreviated “Resurrection” stage, as J.K. Rowling did in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Are you more interested in exploring the journey of an anti-hero? It’s all possible.

Once you understand the basics of this universal story structure, you can use and bend it in ways that disrupt reader expectations.

Need more help developing your book? Try this template on for size:


Get our Book Development Template

Use this template to go from a vague idea to a solid plan for a first draft.

When your focus is on a single protagonist

No matter how sprawling or epic the world you’re writing is, if your story is, at its core, focused on a single character’s journey, then this is a good story structure for you. It’s kind of in the name! If you’re dealing with an entire ensemble, the Hero’s Journey may not give you the scope to explore all of your characters’ plots and subplot — a broader three-act structure may give you more freedom to weave a greater number story threads. ​​

Which story structure is right for you?

Take this quiz and we'll match your story to a structure in minutes!

Whether you're a reader or writer, we hope our guide has helped you understand this universal story arc. Want to know more about story structure? We explain 6 more in our guide — read on!

6 responses

PJ Reece says:

25/07/2018 – 19:41

Nice vid, good intro to story structure. Typically, though, the 'hero's journey' misses the all-important point of the Act II crisis. There, where the hero faces his/her/its existential crisis, they must DIE. The old character is largely destroyed -- which is the absolute pre-condition to 'waking up' to what must be done. It's not more clever thinking; it's not thinking at all. Its SEEING. So many writing texts miss this point. It's tantamount to a religions experience, and nobody grows up without it. STORY STRUCTURE TO DIE FOR examines this dramatic necessity.

↪️ C.T. Cheek replied:

13/11/2019 – 21:01

Okay, but wouldn't the Act II crisis find itself in the Ordeal? The Hero is tested and arguably looses his/her/its past-self for the new one. Typically, the Hero is not fully "reborn" until the Resurrection, in which they defeat the hypothetical dragon and overcome the conflict of the story. It's kind of this process of rebirth beginning in the earlier sections of the Hero's Journey and ending in the Resurrection and affirmed in the Return with the Elixir.

Lexi Mize says:

25/07/2018 – 22:33

Great article. Odd how one can take nearly every story and somewhat plug it into such a pattern.

Bailey Koch says:

11/06/2019 – 02:16

This was totally lit fam!!!!

↪️ Bailey Koch replied:

11/09/2019 – 03:46

where is my dad?

Frank says:

12/04/2020 – 12:40

Great article, thanks! :) But Vogler didn't expand Campbell's theory. Campbell had seventeen stages, not twelve.

Comments are currently closed.

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

Bring your stories to life

Our free writing app lets you set writing goals and track your progress, so you can finally write that book!

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

  • Story Writing Guides

12 Hero’s Journey Stages Explained (+ Free Templates)

From zero to hero, the hero’s journey is a popular character development arc used in many stories. In today’s post, we will explain the 12 hero’s journey stages, along with the simple example of Cinderella.

The Hero’s Journey was originally formulated by American writer Joseph Campbell to describe the typical character arc of many classic stories, particularly in the context of mythology and folklore. The original hero’s journey contained 17 steps. Although the hero’s journey has been adapted since then for use in modern fiction, the concept is not limited to literature. It can be applied to any story, video game, film or even music that features an archetypal hero who undergoes a transformation. Common examples of the hero’s journey in popular works include Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

  • What is the hero's journey?

Stage 1: The Ordinary World

Stage 2: call of adventure, stage 3: refusal of the call, stage 4: meeting the mentor, stage 5: crossing the threshold, stage 6: tests, allies, enemies, stage 7: the approach, stage 8: the ordeal, stage 9: reward, stage 10: the road back, stage 11: resurrection, stage 12: return with the elixir, cinderella example, campbell’s 17-step journey, leeming’s 8-step journey, cousineau’s 8-step journey.

  • Free Hero's Journey Templates

What is the hero’s journey?

The hero’s journey, also known as the monomyth, is a character arc used in many stories. The idea behind it is that heroes undergo a journey that leads them to find their true selves. This is often represented in a series of stages. There are typically 12 stages to the hero’s journey. Each stage represents a change in the hero’s mindset or attitude, which is triggered by an external or internal event. These events cause the hero to overcome a challenge, reach a threshold, and then return to a normal life.

The hero’s journey is a powerful tool for understanding your characters. It can help you decide who they are, what they want, where they came from, and how they will change over time. It can be used to

  • Understand the challenges your characters will face
  • Understand how your characters react to those challenges
  • Help develop your characters’ traits and relationships

Hero's Journey Stages

In this post, we will explain each stage of the hero’s journey, using the example of Cinderella.

You might also be interested in our post on the story mountain or this guide on how to outline a book .

12 Hero’s Journey Stages

The archetypal hero’s journey contains 12 stages and was created by Christopher Vogler. These steps take your main character through an epic struggle that leads to their ultimate triumph or demise. While these steps may seem formulaic at first glance, they actually form a very flexible structure. The hero’s journey is about transformation, not perfection.

Your hero starts out in the ordinary world. He or she is just like every other person in their environment, doing things that are normal for them and experiencing the same struggles and challenges as everyone else. In the ordinary world, the hero feels stuck and confused, so he or she goes on a quest to find a way out of this predicament.

Example: Cinderella’s father passes away and she is now stuck doing chores and taking abuse from her stepsisters and stepmother.

The hero gets his or her first taste of adventure when the call comes. This could be in the form of an encounter with a stranger or someone they know who encourages them to take a leap of faith. This encounter is typically an accident, a series of coincidences that put the hero in the right place at the right time.

Example: An invite arrives inviting the family to a royal ball where the Prince will choose a wife.

Some people will refuse to leave their safe surroundings and live by their own rules. The hero has to overcome the negative influences in order to hear the call again. They also have to deal with any personal doubts that arise from thinking too much about the potential dangers involved in the quest. It is common for the hero to deny their own abilities in this stage and to lack confidence in themselves.

Example: Cinderella accepts the call by making her own dress for the ball. However, her stepmother refuses the call for her by not letting her go to the ball. And her step-sisters ruin her dress, so she can not go.

After hearing the call, the hero begins a relationship with a mentor who helps them learn about themselves and the world. In some cases, the mentor may be someone the hero already knows. The mentor is usually someone who is well-versed in the knowledge that the hero needs to acquire, but who does not judge the hero for their lack of experience.

Example: Cinderella meets her fairy godmother who equips her with everything she needs for the ball, including a dress and a carriage.

The hero leaves their old life behind and enters the unfamiliar new world. The crossing of the threshold symbolises leaving their old self behind and becoming a new person. Sometimes this can include learning a new skill or changing their physical appearance. It can also include a time of wandering, which is an essential part of the hero’s journey.

Example: Cinderella hops into the carriage and heads off to the ball. She has transformed from a servant into an elegant young lady. 

As the hero goes on this journey, they will meet both allies (people who help the hero) and enemies (people who try to stop the hero). There will also be tests, where the hero is tempted to quit, turn back, or become discouraged. The hero must be persistent and resilient to overcome challenges.

Example: At the ball, Cinderella meets the prince, and even see’s her stepmother and stepsister. She dances with Prince all night long making her step-sisters extremely jealous.

The hero now reaches the destination of their journey, in some cases, this is a literal location, such as a cave or castle. It could also be metaphorical, such as the hero having an internal conflict or having to make a difficult decision. In either case, the hero has to confront their deepest fears in this stage with bravery. In some ways, this stage can mark the end of the hero’s journey because the hero must now face their darkest fears and bring them under control. If they do not do this, the hero could be defeated in the final battle and will fail the story.

Example: Cinderella is having a great time at the ball and nearly forgets about the midnight rule. As she runs away in a hurry, her glass slipper falls off outside the palace.

The hero has made it to the final challenge of their journey and now must face all odds and defeat their greatest adversary. Consider this the climax of the story. This could be in the form of a physical battle, a moral dilemma or even an emotional challenge. The hero will look to their allies or mentor for further support and guidance in this ordeal. Whatever happens in this stage could change the rest of the story, either for good or bad. 

Example: Prince Charming looks all over the kingdom for the mysterious girl he met at the ball. He finally visits Cinderella’s house and tries the slippers on the step-sisters. The prince is about to leave and then he sees Cinderella in the corner cleaning.

When the hero has defeated the most powerful and dangerous of adversaries, they will receive their reward. This reward could be an object, a new relationship or even a new piece of knowledge. The reward, which typically comes as a result of the hero’s perseverance and hard work, signifies the end of their journey. Given that the hero has accomplished their goal and served their purpose, it is a time of great success and accomplishment.

Example: The prince tries the glass slipper on Cinderella. The glass slipper fits Cinderella perfectly, and they fall in love.

The journey is now complete, and the hero is now heading back home. As the hero considers their journey and reflects on the lessons they learned along the way, the road back is sometimes marked by a sense of nostalgia or even regret. As they must find their way back to the normal world and reintegrate into their former life, the hero may encounter additional difficulties or tests along the way. It is common for the hero to run into previous adversaries or challenges they believed they had overcome.

Example: Cinderella and Prince Charming head back to the Prince’s castle to get married.

The hero has one final battle to face. At this stage, the hero might have to fight to the death against a much more powerful foe. The hero might even be confronted with their own mortality or their greatest fear. This is usually when the hero’s true personality emerges. This stage is normally symbolised by the hero rising from the dark place and fighting back. This dark place could again be a physical location, such as the underground or a dark cave. It might even be a dark, mental state, such as depression. As the hero rises again, they might change physically or even experience an emotional transformation. 

Example: Cinderella is reborn as a princess. She once again feels the love and happiness that she felt when she was a little girl living with her father.

At the end of the story, the hero returns to the ordinary world and shares the knowledge gained in their journey with their fellow man. This can be done by imparting some form of wisdom, an object of great value or by bringing about a social revolution. In all cases, the hero returns changed and often wiser.

Example: Cinderella and Prince Charming live happily ever after. She uses her new role to punish her stepmother and stepsisters and to revitalise the kingdom.

We have used the example of Cinderella in Vogler’s hero’s journey model below:

hero's journey outline

Below we have briefly explained the other variations of the hero’s journey arc.

The very first hero’s journey arc was created by Joseph Campbell in 1949. It contained the following 17 steps:

  • The Call to Adventure: The hero receives a call or a reason to go on a journey.
  • Refusal of the Call: The hero does not accept the quest. They worry about their own abilities or fear the journey itself.
  • Supernatural Aid: Someone (the mentor) comes to help the hero and they have supernatural powers, which are usually magical.
  • The Crossing of the First Threshold: A symbolic boundary is crossed by the hero, often after a test. 
  • Belly of the Whale: The point where the hero has the most difficulty making it through.
  • The Road of Trials: In this step, the hero will be tempted and tested by the outside world, with a number of negative experiences.
  • The Meeting with the Goddess: The hero meets someone who can give them the knowledge, power or even items for the journey ahead.
  • Woman as the Temptress: The hero is tempted to go back home or return to their old ways.
  • Atonement with the Father: The hero has to make amends for any wrongdoings they may have done in the past. They need to confront whatever holds them back.
  • Apotheosis: The hero gains some powerful knowledge or grows to a higher level. 
  • The Ultimate Boon: The ultimate boon is the reward for completing all the trials of the quest. The hero achieves their ultimate goal and feels powerful.
  • Refusal of the Return: After collecting their reward, the hero refuses to return to normal life. They want to continue living like gods. 
  • The Magic Flight: The hero escapes with the reward in hand.
  • Rescue from Without: The hero has been hurt and needs help from their allies or guides.
  • The Crossing of the Return Threshold: The hero must come back and learn to integrate with the ordinary world once again.
  • Master of the Two Worlds: The hero shares their wisdom or gifts with the ordinary world. Learning to live in both worlds.
  • Freedom to Live: The hero accepts the new version of themselves and lives happily without fear.

David Adams Leeming later adapted the hero’s journey based on his research of legendary heroes found in mythology. He noted the following steps as a pattern that all heroes in stories follow:

  • Miraculous conception and birth: This is the first trauma that the hero has to deal with. The Hero is often an orphan or abandoned child and therefore faces many hardships early on in life. 
  • Initiation of the hero-child: The child faces their first major challenge. At this point, the challenge is normally won with assistance from someone else.
  • Withdrawal from family or community: The hero runs away and is tempted by negative forces.
  • Trial and quest: A quest finds the hero giving them an opportunity to prove themselves.
  • Death: The hero fails and is left near death or actually does die.
  • Descent into the underworld: The hero rises again from death or their near-death experience.
  • Resurrection and rebirth: The hero learns from the errors of their way and is reborn into a better, wiser being.
  • Ascension, apotheosis, and atonement: The hero gains some powerful knowledge or grows to a higher level (sometimes a god-like level). 

In 1990, Phil Cousineau further adapted the hero’s journey by simplifying the steps from Campbell’s model and rearranging them slightly to suit his own findings of heroes in literature. Again Cousineau’s hero’s journey included 8 steps:

  • The call to adventure: The hero must have a reason to go on an adventure.
  • The road of trials: The hero undergoes a number of tests that help them to transform.
  • The vision quest: Through the quest, the hero learns the errors of their ways and has a realisation of something.
  • The meeting with the goddess: To help the hero someone helps them by giving them some knowledge, power or even items for the journey ahead.
  • The boon: This is the reward for completing the journey.
  • The magic flight: The hero must escape, as the reward is attached to something terrible.
  • The return threshold: The hero must learn to live back in the ordinary world.
  • The master of two worlds: The hero shares their knowledge with the ordinary world and learns to live in both worlds.

As you can see, every version of the hero’s journey is about the main character showing great levels of transformation. Their journey may start and end at the same location, but they have personally evolved as a character in your story. Once a weakling, they now possess the knowledge and skill set to protect their world if needed.

Free Hero’s Journey Templates

Use the free Hero’s journey templates below to practice the skills you learned in this guide! You can either draw or write notes in each of the scene boxes. Once the template is complete, you will have a better idea of how your main character or the hero of your story develops over time:

The storyboard template below is a great way to develop your main character and organise your story:

hero's journey outline

Did you find this guide on the hero’s journey stages useful? Let us know in the comments below.

Hero’s Journey Stages

Marty the wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When he's not reading a ton of books or writing some of his own tales, he loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house he has devoted his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.

Related Posts

How To Write A Myth

Comments loading...

  • Features for Creative Writers
  • Features for Work
  • Features for Higher Education
  • Features for Teachers
  • Features for Non-Native Speakers
  • Learn Blog Grammar Guide Community Events FAQ
  • Grammar Guide

Hero's Journey 101: How to Use the Hero's Journey to Plot Your Story

Dan Schriever

Dan Schriever

The Hero's Journey cover

How many times have you heard this story? A protagonist is suddenly whisked away from their ordinary life and embarks on a grand adventure. Along the way they make new friends, confront perils, and face tests of character. In the end, evil is defeated, and the hero returns home a changed person.

That’s the Hero’s Journey in a nutshell. It probably sounds very familiar—and rightly so: the Hero’s Journey aspires to be the universal story, or monomyth, a narrative pattern deeply ingrained in literature and culture. Whether in books, movies, television, or folklore, chances are you’ve encountered many examples of the Hero’s Journey in the wild.

In this post, we’ll walk through the elements of the Hero’s Journey step by step. We’ll also study an archetypal example from the movie The Matrix (1999). Once you have mastered the beats of this narrative template, you’ll be ready to put your very own spin on it.

Sound good? Then let’s cross the threshold and let the journey begin.

What Is the Hero’s Journey?

The 12 stages of the hero’s journey, writing your own hero’s journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a common story structure for modeling both plot points and character development. A protagonist embarks on an adventure into the unknown. They learn lessons, overcome adversity, defeat evil, and return home transformed.

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

Joseph Campbell , a scholar of literature, popularized the monomyth in his influential work The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949). Looking for common patterns in mythological narratives, Campbell described a character arc with 17 total stages, overlaid on a more traditional three-act structure. Not all need be present in every myth or in the same order.

The three stages, or acts, of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey are as follows:

1. Departure. The hero leaves the ordinary world behind.

2. Initiation. The hero ventures into the unknown ("the Special World") and overcomes various obstacles and challenges.

3. Return. The hero returns in triumph to the familiar world.

Hollywood has embraced Campbell’s structure, most famously in George Lucas’s Star Wars movies. There are countless examples in books, music, and video games, from fantasy epics and Disney films to sports movies.

In The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (1992), screenwriter Christopher Vogler adapted Campbell’s three phases into the "12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey." This is the version we’ll analyze in the next section.

The three stages of Campbell's Hero's Journey

For writers, the purpose of the Hero’s Journey is to act as a template and guide. It’s not a rigid formula that your plot must follow beat by beat. Indeed, there are good reasons to deviate—not least of which is that this structure has become so ubiquitous.

Still, it’s helpful to master the rules before deciding when and how to break them. The 12 steps of the Hero's Journey are as follows :

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call of Adventure
  • Refusal of the Call
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the First Threshold
  • Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword)
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return with the Elixir

Let’s take a look at each stage in more detail. To show you how the Hero’s Journey works in practice, we’ll also consider an example from the movie The Matrix (1999). After all, what blog has not been improved by a little Keanu Reeves?

The Matrix

#1: The Ordinary World

This is where we meet our hero, although the journey has not yet begun: first, we need to establish the status quo by showing the hero living their ordinary, mundane life.

It’s important to lay the groundwork in this opening stage, before the journey begins. It lets readers identify with the hero as just a regular person, “normal” like the rest of us. Yes, there may be a big problem somewhere out there, but the hero at this stage has very limited awareness of it.

The Ordinary World in The Matrix :

We are introduced to Thomas A. Anderson, aka Neo, programmer by day, hacker by night. While Neo runs a side operation selling illicit software, Thomas Anderson lives the most mundane life imaginable: he works at his cubicle, pays his taxes, and helps the landlady carry out her garbage.

#2: The Call to Adventure

The journey proper begins with a call to adventure—something that disrupts the hero’s ordinary life and confronts them with a problem or challenge they can’t ignore. This can take many different forms.

While readers may already understand the stakes, the hero is realizing them for the first time. They must make a choice: will they shrink from the call, or rise to the challenge?

The Call to Adventure in The Matrix :

A mysterious message arrives in Neo’s computer, warning him that things are not as they seem. He is urged to “follow the white rabbit.” At a nightclub, he meets Trinity, who tells him to seek Morpheus.

#3: Refusal of the Call

Oops! The hero chooses option A and attempts to refuse the call to adventure. This could be for any number of reasons: fear, disbelief, a sense of inadequacy, or plain unwillingness to make the sacrifices that are required.

A little reluctance here is understandable. If you were asked to trade the comforts of home for a life-and-death journey fraught with peril, wouldn’t you give pause?

Refusal of the Call in The Matrix :

Agents arrive at Neo’s office to arrest him. Morpheus urges Neo to escape by climbing out a skyscraper window. “I can’t do this… This is crazy!” Neo protests as he backs off the ledge.

The Hero's Journey in _The Matrix_

#4: Meeting the Mentor

Okay, so the hero got cold feet. Nothing a little pep talk can’t fix! The mentor figure appears at this point to give the hero some much needed counsel, coaching, and perhaps a kick out the door.

After all, the hero is very inexperienced at this point. They’re going to need help to avoid disaster or, worse, death. The mentor’s role is to overcome the hero’s reluctance and prepare them for what lies ahead.

Meeting the Mentor in The Matrix :

Neo meets with Morpheus, who reveals a terrifying truth: that the ordinary world as we know it is a computer simulation designed to enslave humanity to machines.

#5: Crossing the First Threshold

At this juncture, the hero is ready to leave their ordinary world for the first time. With the mentor’s help, they are committed to the journey and ready to step across the threshold into the special world . This marks the end of the departure act and the beginning of the adventure in earnest.

This may seem inevitable, but for the hero it represents an important choice. Once the threshold is crossed, there’s no going back. Bilbo Baggins put it nicely: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Crossing the First Threshold in The Matrix :

Neo is offered a stark choice: take the blue pill and return to his ordinary life none the wiser, or take the red pill and “see how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Neo takes the red pill and is extracted from the Matrix, entering the real world .

#6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Now we are getting into the meat of the adventure. The hero steps into the special world and must learn the new rules of an unfamiliar setting while navigating trials, tribulations, and tests of will. New characters are often introduced here, and the hero must navigate their relationships with them. Will they be friend, foe, or something in between?

Broadly speaking, this is a time of experimentation and growth. It is also one of the longest stages of the journey, as the hero learns the lay of the land and defines their relationship to other characters.

Wondering how to create captivating characters? Read our guide , which explains how to shape characters that readers will love—or hate.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies in The Matrix :

Neo is introduced to the vagabond crew of the Nebuchadnezzar . Morpheus informs Neo that he is The One , a savior destined to liberate humanity. He learns jiu jitsu and other useful skills.

#7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

Man entering a cave

Time to get a little metaphorical. The inmost cave isn’t a physical cave, but rather a place of great danger—indeed, the most dangerous place in the special world . It could be a villain’s lair, an impending battle, or even a mental barrier. No spelunking required.

Broadly speaking, the approach is marked by a setback in the quest. It becomes a lesson in persistence, where the hero must reckon with failure, change their mindset, or try new ideas.

Note that the hero hasn’t entered the cave just yet. This stage is about the approach itself, which the hero must navigate to get closer to their ultimate goal. The stakes are rising, and failure is no longer an option.

Approach to the Inmost Cave in The Matrix :

Neo pays a visit to The Oracle. She challenges Neo to “know thyself”—does he believe, deep down, that he is The One ? Or does he fear that he is “just another guy”? She warns him that the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

#8: The Ordeal

The ordeal marks the hero’s greatest test thus far. This is a dark time for them: indeed, Campbell refers to it as the “belly of the whale.” The hero experiences a major hurdle or obstacle, which causes them to hit rock bottom.

This is a pivotal moment in the story, the main event of the second act. It is time for the hero to come face to face with their greatest fear. It will take all their skills to survive this life-or-death crisis. Should they succeed, they will emerge from the ordeal transformed.

Keep in mind: the story isn’t over yet! Rather, the ordeal is the moment when the protagonist overcomes their weaknesses and truly steps into the title of hero .

The Ordeal in The Matrix :

When Cipher betrays the crew to the agents, Morpheus sacrifices himself to protect Neo. In turn, Neo makes his own choice: to risk his life in a daring rescue attempt.

#9: Reward (Seizing the Sword)

The ordeal was a major level-up moment for the hero. Now that it's been overcome, the hero can reap the reward of success. This reward could be an object, a skill, or knowledge—whatever it is that the hero has been struggling toward. At last, the sword is within their grasp.

From this moment on, the hero is a changed person. They are now equipped for the final conflict, even if they don’t fully realize it yet.

Reward (Seizing the Sword) in The Matrix :

Neo’s reward is helpfully narrated by Morpheus during the rescue effort: “He is beginning to believe.” Neo has gained confidence that he can fight the machines, and he won’t back down from his destiny.

A man holding a sword

#10: The Road Back

We’re now at the beginning of act three, the return . With the reward in hand, it’s time to exit the inmost cave and head home. But the story isn’t over yet.

In this stage, the hero reckons with the consequences of act two. The ordeal was a success, but things have changed now. Perhaps the dragon, robbed of his treasure, sets off for revenge. Perhaps there are more enemies to fight. Whatever the obstacle, the hero must face them before their journey is complete.

The Road Back in The Matrix :

The rescue of Morpheus has enraged Agent Smith, who intercepts Neo before he can return to the Nebuchadnezzar . The two foes battle in a subway station, where Neo’s skills are pushed to their limit.

#11: Resurrection

Now comes the true climax of the story. This is the hero’s final test, when everything is at stake: the battle for the soul of Gotham, the final chance for evil to triumph. The hero is also at the peak of their powers. A happy ending is within sight, should they succeed.

Vogler calls the resurrection stage the hero’s “final exam.” They must draw on everything they have learned and prove again that they have really internalized the lessons of the ordeal . Near-death escapes are not uncommon here, or even literal deaths and resurrections.

Resurrection in The Matrix :

Despite fighting valiantly, Neo is defeated by Agent Smith and killed. But with Trinity’s help, he is resurrected, activating his full powers as The One . Isn’t it wonderful how literal The Matrix can be?

#12: Return with the Elixir

Hooray! Evil has been defeated and the hero is transformed. It’s time for the protagonist to return home in triumph, and share their hard-won prize with the ordinary world . This prize is the elixir —the object, skill, or insight that was the hero’s true reward for their journey and transformation.

Return with the Elixir in The Matrix :

Neo has defeated the agents and embraced his destiny. He returns to the simulated world of the Matrix, this time armed with god-like powers and a resolve to open humanity’s eyes to the truth.

The Hero's Journey Worksheet

If you’re writing your own adventure, you may be wondering: should I follow the Hero’s Journey structure?

The good news is, it’s totally up to you. Joseph Campbell conceived of the monomyth as a way to understand universal story structure, but there are many ways to outline a novel. Feel free to play around within its confines, adapt it across different media, and disrupt reader expectations. It’s like Morpheus says: “Some of these rules can be bent. Others can be broken.”

Think of the Hero’s Journey as a tool. If you’re not sure where your story should go next, it can help to refer back to the basics. From there, you’re free to choose your own adventure.

Are you prepared to write your novel? Download this free book now:

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

The Novel-Writing Training Plan

So you are ready to write your novel. excellent. but are you prepared the last thing you want when you sit down to write your first draft is to lose momentum., this guide helps you work out your narrative arc, plan out your key plot points, flesh out your characters, and begin to build your world..

hero's journey outline

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Dan holds a PhD from Yale University and CEO of FaithlessMTG

Get started with ProWritingAid

Drop us a line or let's stay in touch via :

thinkwritten site icon


The Hero’s Journey: A 17 Step Story Structure Beat Sheet

' src=

The Hero’s Journey is a classic plot structure made up of 17 steps. Learn how to craft an epic story using the Hero’s Journey story beats.

the hero's journey

We may receive a commission when you make a purchase from one of our links for products and services we recommend. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. Thank you for support!

Sharing is caring!

The Hero’s Journey is a story structure that tells how a hero starts in one place, goes on an adventure into an unknown world, and then returns to what they started with.

This blog post will explain the 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey and share how you can use this common plot structure to write your own story or novel.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

hero sea voyage

Joseph Campbell first introduced the Hero’s Journey in 1949. It is based on the idea that we can break down most stories into one basic story structure.

The plot structure of the Hero’s Journey is made up of 17 steps, all of which can be excellent guideposts for you when plotting your novel and planning your chapters.

To simplify the 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey, there are 3 main acts of the story: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return.

17 steps of the hero's journey

Here’s an overview of all of the 17 steps of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:

Act One: The Departure

The Call to Adventure

Refusal of the call, supernatural aid.

  • The Crossing of the First Threshold

Belly of the Whale

Act 2: The Initiation :

The Road of Trials

The meeting with the goddess, woman as the temptress, atonement with the father/abyss, the ultimate boon.

Act 3: The Return:

Refusal of the Return

The magic flight, rescue from without, the crossing of the return threshold, master of the two worlds, freedom to live.

In this post, we will cover each step of the Hero’s Journey and what it includes. If you are writing a novel , think of this as the ultimate beat sheet to help you plan and plot your novel !

hero's journey beat sheet

To understand the 17 steps of the hero’s journey, we will share with you exactly what happens in each step and what it should include. We’ve divided the 17 steps into the three main acts: The Departure, The Initiation, and the Return.

Let’s dive on in, shall we?

The Departure

the departure

The Departure (Act 1) of the Hero’s Journey is all about your novel’s main characters and their ordinary lives. You want to show how they live before something happens that throws them into a world outside of what was normal for them.

In a nutshell, The Departure is when we see our heroes start in their current environment and set out on an adventure where they leave their comfort zone.

There are 5 steps of the Departure, each of which can help you base your chapters for your novel. Let’s look at these 5 steps in detail.

call to adventure

In the first 1 or 2 chapters of our book, our character is introduced and is given the call to adventure. Of course, the call to adventure is what sets our character on their journey. There is a moment when our hero realizes something isn’t right, and it’s time for them to become the hero of their own story.

The Call to Adventure should introduce your main characters and what part of life they are living before things start changing for them. You want this to be a scene that you can use to give your reader an idea of who they are and what their life is like.

The call to adventure is sometimes also called the inciting incident because it often comes from another character or situation in which our hero feels compelled to do something. This could come in the form of a problem or something that they’ve always wanted to accomplish.

Once we understand the character’s life and why they must go on their journey, we move onto the next crucial element: Refusal of the Call.

the refusal of the call

The Refusal of the Call sounds like it’s a bad thing, but in reality, it can help the hero grow and become more self-sufficient. In this step of the Departure, we see that our character isn’t sure if they are ready for such an adventure.

The refusal of the call is often used as a way for your reader to get more insight into some of your character’s weaknesses. It can also open up the character to seeing what they are missing in their life and get them a little more excited about going after it.

When writing your story, you will show your readers why your hero is reluctant to go on the journey. Why don’t they want to change? What are their fears? This step helps build your character arc, as well as builds some suspense in the story.

You also want to make sure in this step that the refusal of the call is resolved in some way. This can be through another character encouraging your hero or by realizing what they are missing out on if they don’t go on the journey.

Either way, you need to ensure this scene or chapter ends with the hero deciding to accept the challenge.

After your main character decides whether or not they want to go on this journey, we move onto Supernatural Aid.

supernatural aid

Supernatural aid is the hero’s first experience with a mentor or teacher. While we use the term supernatural here, it does not necessarily have to be some mystical being.

It could be a random stranger giving our hero advice or someone who has been to this magical place before and knows the path. The important thing is this character is someone who will help your protagonist in their journey.

Supernatural aid helps your audience understand there will be obstacles along the way. The hero will need help. You will need a strong supporting character willing to give our main character advice on how they should proceed through their journey.

In this scene, you want to show us why you chose these characters for mentors. What qualities do they possess? Do they have experience with adventures like this? Why can they help the hero, and more importantly, why do they want to help the hero?

Once this person is introduced, we are ready for the next stage of the Hero’s Journey: Crossing the First Threshold.

Crossing the First Threshold

crossing the first threshold

Crossing the first threshold is where your hero commits to going on the journey. They may have made some attempts at it before, but now they are fully committed and ready to go, even if that means leaving their comfort zone behind.

Your character will be doing something different than what they’ve done in the past, or perhaps this act will lead them into a dark and dangerous place.

For example, your hero may leave their home for the first time to go on this journey, or they are finally ready to go and confront someone who has been standing in their way of happiness.

In this 4th step of the Hero’s Journey, you want to show your reader why this is such a big change for the character.

You want to show your character scared and uncertain of what lies ahead for them while still being brave enough to continue on their journey! You don’t need to make this scene too long or spend time explaining every little detail; just put us in the headspace of your hero so we can understand what unknown dangers and fears are ahead.

Once our hero takes their first steps towards danger, we find ourselves in the Belly of the Whale.

belly of the whale

The Belly of the Whale is the last step before the hero breaks away from their normal existence and sense of self. When someone enters this stage, they are showing that they want to change.

A typical element of the Belly of the Whale Scene is displaying a small problem or threat. These problems aren’t the major conflict of the story, but it is enough of an obstacle that we see the hero absolutely cannot go back to where they used to be and must change.

In this scene, it’s common to show a “dark night of the soul.” This is where they feel like everything in their life has been turned upside down, and things seem hopeless. Yet, they must commit to making a change and continuing on their journey in this final step of the Departure stage.

Now that we’ve covered all the steps of the Departure state let’s move onto Act 2: The Initiation.

The Initiation

The second act of our story, the Initiation, is the part where things get interesting. The character is now deeper into their journey and facing new challenges that they must overcome.

Not only are we focusing on our hero’s personal development, but our protagonist’s character traits start to change. They will be showing how they’ve become different from who they were in Act One and developing the traits needed for a successful journey.

road of trials

The first scene or chapter of the Initiation stage of the Hero’s Journey is The Road of Trials. The Road of Trials is where the protagonist faces a series of tests that your hero must pass to move onto the next stage.

These trials will continue until our hero has shown they are ready for whatever is waiting ahead on their journey and have discovered what lessons they needed to learn along the way.

Usually, there is a series of 3 tests, and your hero will not ace all of them immediately. Sometimes, we will revisit the person introduced as a mentor or guiding force from Act One in these scenes, as the hero will certainly need some support in going through these trials.

In this scene, you want to make sure your reader sees how the hero experiences growth and changes. You want your reader to appreciate how far our hero has come along their journey, but there are still more experiences ahead for them!

meeting of the goddess

The next step of the Initiation stage is The Meeting with the Goddess/Saviour. This is where we are introduced to someone who will give our protagonist a sense of love, peace, safety, and unity.

This character is essential because they offer our protagonist something he didn’t have before and will be the support that helps them through whatever journey lies ahead. Sometimes they appear as a love interest, but not always.

The Goddess figure is often human but could also be an animal or nature spirit. They are someone who will help your hero become whole again. They are an equal opposite of your hero.

In this scene, we want our hero to feel everything is going to be okay now. They will learn that they don’t need to face their problems alone; someone here with them understands what they are going through.

Of course, this doesn’t last forever as we move into the next chapter: Woman as the Temptress.


In this next step, the hero faces physical temptations that might cause them to be distracted from their quest. Again, it’s important to understand this does not mean you need to introduce a female character in this scene – the woman is only a metaphorical symbol.

Many things can tempt our heroes to stray from their path. It might be money, power, or fame. It could even be something as simple as food and drink. But, of course, these temptations are not meant actually to distract the protagonist from their path. Our hero must resist them to gain a greater reward at the end of this stage.

Throughout this scene, they may face several such temptations until our hero learns how to resist them and stay focused on what they really want.


The word Atonement means “reparations for a wrong or injury,” and the Father is a symbol for an authority figure in the hero’s life. Finally, the Abyss represents death or darkness.

In this scene, the hero must confront whatever it is that holds the most power over them. This could be another character or it could even be internal conflict where the hero must come face-to-face with the dark side of their personality and be willing to embrace it.

The goal of this step in the Hero’s Journey is to make your protagonist question their entire being. Only when they confront the most powerful obstacle in their path and reconcile with it can they move forward on their journey.

As with most characters, the father does not have to be an actual father or even a male figure. The important thing is this figure is a person of power and authority over the hero.

There are many ways the hero can reconcile with the father figure – they can defeat this person, win this person’s approval, or reconcile with a part of themselves that is related to the father.

This step is important because it forces your protagonist to face their biggest fears and insecurities. It gives them the opportunity and confidence boost to overcome these obstacles once and for all.


Apotheosis is another word for “the highest point of a person’s spiritual, moral or intellectual development.” It is when the protagonist transcends their humanity and becomes something more than they were before.

In this step of The Hero’s Journey, your protagonist will undergo an important change that brings them closer to being the ideal self they set out to be at the beginning.

In this stage of the Hero’s Journey, our hero learns something new about themselves that prepares them for the hardest part of their journey. This revelation gives them the necessary knowledge to complete their quest.

This step is often referred to as “the answer.” The protagonist will usually gain this new insight from a character who embodies wisdom or spiritual power, such as their mentor figure.

Now that our character has finally grown to where they need to be to accomplish their quest, they are ready for The Ultimate Boon’s next step.

ultimate boon

The ultimate boon is the fulfillment of the purpose of the journey. This is when the hero finally achieves what they set out to accomplish.

All of the previous steps of the journey worked to this point to help the hero finally reach their goal.

In mythology, the “boon” is often something otherworldly. It could be the fountain of youth, an ancient scroll with sacred information, or a magical potion.

There are many ways to play out this step of The Hero’s Journey, so your character’s end goal will determine what the boon is.

This step of The Hero’s Journey often includes a battle with something that opposes your protagonist, such as an enemy or villain.

Our heroes might have to face their own dark side to achieve this final prize and complete their journey successfully. This could cause them to question whether or not they even want what the boon is.

When your protagonist achieves this final goal, it marks a major change in their life. Now we are ready to proceed to Act 3: The Return.

Act 3: The Return

the return

Act Three of the Hero’s Journey often moves faster than the other acts of our story. In The Return, we see how the protagonist’s newfound knowledge and achievement of their goal affect their life and world.

This step of The Hero’s Journey is crucial because it gives us a glimpse as to what our character has learned from this journey, which is the ultimate test of whether they have truly successfully achieved their quest or not.

Let’s dive into the remaining scenes of our story.

refusal to leave

The Refusal of the Return is when our protagonist does not want to return home after achieving their goal. They may be too frightened of what awaits them, or they may not want to give up the new life and world they have found themselves in.

Just as they were hesitant to go on the adventure in the beginning, they are also hesitant to go back.

They may be concerned with how their “boon” might affect the world – such as a magic potion or secret power that could get into the wrong hands. They may worry about what consequences they may face when they go back, or they may be afraid nothing is left for them to return to.

In some cases, our hero doesn’t want to leave because they have become comfortable with their new world and who they have become.

However, to truly finish the quest, our hero must return home. This refusal of return helps build up the tension to the final resolution of the story. This is when the reader questions whether the hero will return home – and wonders with great anticipation of what might happen when it happens.

magic flight

The Magic Flight is the final conflict to the story where our protagonist must escape danger, sometimes using their newfound knowledge or boon. This is a way of symbolically proving that they have truly learned from this journey and are ready to bring it back home with them.

This part of The Hero’s Journey often involves a chase scene or battle against an opposing force. However, this is the final push necessary push they need to realize they must make the journey home because it becomes apparent they cannot stay where they are.

rescue without

The Rescue From Without step of the Hero’s Journey is when the protagonist is rescued from danger by an outside source.

This outside source may be an ordinary person, or it might resemble deus ex machina, or god-like intervention, where something rescues our hero from an impossible situation, such as lightning striking that saves the day for our hero.

When you are writing the rescue scene, the circumstances of the rescue must be believable. Most people do not like the deus ex machina in writing simply because it’s too easy.

Those of us who have lived life long enough all know that a magic fairy godmother isn’t going to swoop us in, wave her wand and make all our problems disappear.

After being rescued, the hero truly has no other choice except to return home.

crossing the return threshold

The Crossing of the Return Threshold is when our protagonist finally returns home after completing their adventure and achieving their goal.

This is the part of The Hero’s Journey where we see what they have learned from this journey and how it affects them.

In this story scene, you will want to answer the following questions: How has the hero changed from their journey? How is their old world different from when they left? How do they acclimate to being back home? Finally, how do others react to their return?

master of two worlds

This is the part of The Hero’s Journey where our protagonist has reached their full potential. They have overcome their fears and grown in ways they could never have imagined.

They are a new person and have been forever changed by what they’ve experienced. Yet, it allows them to go back into society with heightened wisdom, power, skills, or resources that will help others in need when called upon again.

In this scene, we see the hero apply their knowledge and share it with the world.

freedom to live

After our hero has conquered all of their fears and has put their wisdom to good use, the hero finally has the freedom to do anything they want.

This is the resolution of our story – we see our heroes accomplish their “happily ever after.” Their fears or concerns no longer control them, and nothing exists between them and what they want.

More often than not, this closing chapter of the story gives the reader some closure. We want some type of affirmation that the story is truly complete. We get a glimpse of what our protagonist will do with their life now that they are free to live it.

If you’re looking for a story structure that is proven and effective, the Hero’s Journey might be perfect for you. With 17 stages of development, it will help you create an engaging plot with your readers and develop strong characters .

And of course, while the Hero’s Journey is the classic beat sheet for writers, remember you don’t always have to dedicate one chapter to each step. Sometimes you can combine 2-3 steps in one scene, while other steps might take several chapters to cover.

The important thing is you now know the Hero’s Journey! We hope this is helpful for you – whether you are writing your own novel or studying the Hero’s Journey arc in literature. Most of all, we hope that by breaking down each step of the Hero’s Journey, you can better understand all of it.

Do you have any thoughts or questions on the Hero’s Journey? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!

' src=

Chelle Stein wrote her first embarrassingly bad novel at the age of 14 and hasn't stopped writing since. As the founder of ThinkWritten, she enjoys encouraging writers and creatives of all types.

Similar Posts

5 Signs of a Strong Novel Plot

5 Signs of a Strong Novel Plot

How to Name Your Characters

How to Name Your Characters

How to Write a Novel: Writing a Book in 4 Steps

How to Write a Novel: Writing a Book in 4 Steps

160+ Character Development Questions & Free Printable Worksheet

160+ Character Development Questions & Free Printable Worksheet

How to Write Dialogue: 6 Tips for Writing Powerful Dialogue

How to Write Dialogue: 6 Tips for Writing Powerful Dialogue

How to Avoid Over Planning Your Novel

How to Avoid Over Planning Your Novel

So if you’re writing an epic fantasy that will be a series, are these 17 steps strung out across the entire series, or redone in each book?

Thank you for such a helpful article. This has helped me fill in a glaring hole in my novel outline and shown me what was missing. I’m really grateful for this advice.

Glad it was helpful for you Laura!

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.


Book Marketing for Self-Publishing Authors

Home / Book Writing / The Hero’s Journey: The 12 Steps of Mythic Structure

The Hero’s Journey: The 12 Steps of Mythic Structure

The Hero’s Journey plot structure is a common template for writing a compelling story. It also has a built-in character arc for the hero or heroine. Whether you write detailed outlines before getting into any prose, or you think writing is best done without an outline, the Hero’s Journey can help. Many writers fall somewhere in between, keeping in mind the broad strokes of a plot structure like the Hero’s Journey as they write. 

Now, before you roll up your sleeves and get started with plotting your brand new idea, make sure it's viable to become a bestseller. Take just a few minutes to use book idea validation – without it, your book risks obscurity after it's published. If you have already written your book with a structure like the Hero's Journey and are looking to increase your sales, read how to make your book #1 on Amazon so you don't miss out on new readers.

One thing’s for sure: learning the twelve steps of the Hero’s Journey can only help your writing. This is why I recommend Plottr as an excellent tool to strengthen your writing. They have the Hero’s Journey and other well-known story archetypes to choose from so you can find one that best fits your particular story. 

More on Plottr later. For now, let’s go on an adventure through the Hero’s Journey!

  • The origins of the Hero’s Journey
  • The 12 Steps of the Journey
  • Examples of the Hero’s Journey
  • How to incorporate this story structure into your writing

Table of contents

  • What is the Hero’s Journey?
  • The Hero’s Journey: An Overview
  • 1. The Ordinary World
  • 2. The Call to Adventure
  • 3. Refusing the Call to Adventure
  • 4. Meeting the Mentor
  • 5. Crossing the Threshold
  • 6. Test, Allies, and Enemies
  • 7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • 8. The Ordeal
  • 9. The Reward
  • 10. The Road Back
  • 11. Resurrection
  • 12. Return With the Elixir
  • Star Wars: A New Hope
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring
  • The Hunger Games
  • Bonus Option: Use the Hero's Journey in a Series
  • What Stories Work With the Hero’s Journey?

Get it for FREE here: Get the PDF Here

Popularized by mythologist Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces , the Hero’s Journey is a story structure that has been used to tell exciting and captivating stories for centuries. Campbell, a literature professor, found that this was a common mythic structure. It’s widely known by the moniker the Hero’s Journey, but this name didn’t come around until well after Campbell’s 1949 book.

Campbell’s name for it was the monomyth. 

Other scholars and storytellers have made tweaks to Campbell’s original monomyth structure, which has seventeen steps instead of the twelve I’ll be discussing today. The version of the Hero’s Journey widely used by screenwriters, authors, and playwrights today was popularized by screenwriter and producer Christopher Vogler .

You can apply this story structure to mythology, films, books, and even short stories.

There are three overall stages to the Hero’s Journey, each with individual story beats. These are 1) Departure, 2) Initiation, and 3) Return.

  • The Ordinary World
  • The Call to Adventure
  • Refusing the Call to Adventure
  • Meeting the Mentor
  • Crossing the Threshold
  • Test, Allies, and Enemies
  • Approach to the Inmost Cave
  • The Road Back
  • Resurrection
  • Return With the Elixir

Format Beautiful Professional Books

Easy to use, and and full of amazing features, you can quickly turn your book into a professional book.

The Twelve Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Each of the twelve steps has its own story beats that happen. As we finish each stage, we’ll reflect on each story beat with an example from a famous movie. 

The first step in the Hero’s Journey is your chance to familiarize the reader with the known world in which your story happens. This means giving the reader what they need to know to make sense of the world (otherwise known as exposition ). If your story takes place in a reality much like our own, you won’t have a lot to do. But if magic and mythical beasts are normal, or it’s far into the future and interstellar travel is possible, you’ll have a bit more work to do here.  If you're having trouble picking which type of world is best for your book, research popular keywords in your genre to reveal settings that readers find interesting.

While you introduce the world, you’ll want to introduce the main character(s) as well. And in doing so, it’s important to give the reader a reason to like him, her, or them . While the protagonist is in their normal, ordinary world, they should want something more or different. And this want or need should dovetail nicely with the primary conflict of the story. 

  • Introduce the world and the character in an interesting way. Readers will give you some leeway at the beginning of the book, but if it reads like a textbook, you’ll lose them pretty quickly!
  • Give the character personality and dimension . Needs, wants, flaws, and characteristics don’t all have to come out right away, but there should be enough for the reader to want to follow the hero through the story. 

Tip: This first step should take the first 10-12% of the story. 

Step two, the call to adventure, is also called the inciting incident. This is something disruptive that pulls the hero out of their ordinary world and toward a journey that will ultimately change their life . . . if they survive. 

This call propels the rest of the story forward , so it should be exciting enough for the reader to want to continue with the story. This will change from genre to genre, so it’s important to know the tropes of whatever genre you’re writing in.  On Amazon, there are thousands of genre categories to choose from, so research potential category options to better understand your market.

  • Most heroes will resist this initial call to action. The stakes should be very real and clear to the reader at this point. In many stories, the stakes will be life or death.
  • Remember that your story needs to grow in intensity until it peaks at the climax. So the call to action should be dramatic, but things will get worse for the protagonist from here.

Tip: The Call To Adventure should happen around the 12% mark.  

Not every protagonist will refuse the call. Some may be ready to go. But if you pay attention to some of your favorite stories, you’ll likely see that most heroes ‌resist initially until ‌they have no choice. 

Something should happen to make a refusing hero realize that they have no choice but to take on the challenge presented to them. For every refusal, some incident or information should come out that will raise the stakes and make the hero realize they must face the challenge . The hero ventures forth at the end of this section.

  • It’s good to have the character refuse the call for a reason that ties in with the need or want established in the first step of the Hero’s Journey. 
  • Give them a good reason to refuse — and an even better reason to finally heed the call to adventure. 

Tip: The refusal section starts around the 15% mark of the story.  

At this point in the story, the protagonist has responded to the call to adventure. But their initial unease is still there. They don’t yet have the skills, items, or knowledge to succeed against such a challenge. This is where the mentor comes in. 

The mentor helps the protagonist gain the confidence needed to continue on the journey. This is usually done in a multifaceted manner, with both physical and mental help. Much of the time, the mentor provides tough love, kicking the protagonist’s butt into action, so to speak. While mentors are often people, they can also take the form of information, like a map, a magic scepter, or any other number of things that help the hero along. 

  • Make it clear that, without the mentor, the protagonist would likely fall flat were they to continue on unaided. 
  • The hero’s time with the mentor should ultimately result in a revelation , giving the hero exactly what they need (or at least what they think they need) to face the antagonist or challenge. 

Tip: Have this section start around the 20% mark of the story.

Step five of the Hero’s Journey is often called the point of no return. While the protagonist has learned from the mentor and gained confidence, this story beat forces them to engage fully with the challenge. Usually, this dramatic turning point is orchestrated by the antagonist, giving both the reader and the protagonist an idea of how powerful the villain really is.

One common tactic is to have the mentor killed in this section. Whatever you choose to do, make it pivotal and have it reinforce the central theme and conflict of the story . This is also the end of the Departure section, otherwise known as the first act. 

  • Until this point, the hero has had one foot in their ordinary world. Now, there’s no choice but to go forward into unknown territory, otherwise called the special world. 
  • The hero’s reaction to this pivotal story beat should be in line with what the reader knows about them. They need to work for any major changes that come about in this section. 

Tip: Crossing the Threshold usually starts around the 25% mark. 

This section marks the beginning of the second act. Building on everything that has come before, the protagonist should be challenged, putting their new abilities and knowledge to the test. It will become clear that the hero still needs help to resolve the main conflict of the story. This is where allies come into play. By teaming up with allies, the hero should continue to grow, playing off the other characters and working to overcome the tests or setbacks in the Special World. 

Enemies are those that put the tests in their place, working actively against the hero and allies. The reader should learn to care about the allies, which ‌means making them multifaceted characters. By the time this section is done, not all allies will have made it. Some may have even betrayed the hero. Likewise, enemies can also transform in this section, turning into allies. 

  • While the allies may want the same thing as the hero, they may have conflicting views on how to get it. Everyone in agreement all the time makes for a boring story. 
  • The hero’s abilities should be in doubt — both by the hero and the reader. 

Tip: This section occurs around the 30% mark. 

The approach to the inmost cave section gives the characters (and reader) a chance to reflect on the challenges of the previous section. Remember that the stakes and tension need to continue rising, so the previous section should have been the hardest challenge yet. The hero and allies are beaten and bruised — maybe one or more has died along the way — but the protagonist is still alive. The journey continues. 

The group is closer to the goal — and to the place or time of ultimate danger. They’re regrouping and gathering their wits as they prepare to face the antagonist or some of the villain’s formidable forces.

  • This is a good place for the characters to formulate a plan of attack, clarifying the price of failure and the prize for success. 
  • At this point, the hero has redoubled his effort and believes he is ready to face the challenge, despite his setbacks. The ordinary world is now far behind and impossible to get back to. The only way out is through. 

Tip: This section happens around the 40% mark. 

The ordeal is the biggest test yet and a transformative event that affects how the hero goes forward on their journey. This confrontation has the highest stakes so far, and it’s part of the central conflict. It brings the hero to their darkest point yet, and results in a metamorphosis of sorts that allows them to push through to the other side. 

Campbell spoke of the ordeal in terms of death and rebirth for the protagonist. The hero uses all they have learned up to this point to push through the ordeal. A character close to the hero is often killed in this section, whether it be the mentor, a close ally, or a loved one. However, it’s not always a death. It could involve facing fears, going up against the biggest foe, or breaking through some seemingly insurmountable mental barrier. Whatever form the ordeal takes, the hero is broken down and comes out the other side stronger than before . 

  • This section is a long one, taking nearly a fifth of the story. It should be dramatic, compelling, and speak directly to the heart of both the external and internal conflicts of the story.
  • Don’t be afraid to make things hard on your characters in this section. Even though the reader knows the hero will prevail, they should be left wondering in this section. 

Tip: The Ordeal takes place from around the 50% mark. 

Also called seizing the sword, this is the section in which the hero gets whatever they were searching for during the story. They’ve made it through the ordeal, and this is the reward. It can be an object, clarity, knowledge, or new skills/abilities. Whatever the reward is, it needs to be important in defeating the antagonist at the coming climax . 

After the action and emotion of the ordeal, this section is a place for the reader and characters to regroup and catch their breath again. It can be a good place for a celebration of sorts, something to show for the sacrifices made so far. The hero may even reflect on all it took to get here. 

  • It should be clear to the reader how the reward will help the hero to finish the journey.
  • This is a major milestone in the journey and should be treated as such. It also marks the end of act two.  

Tip: The Reward section takes place around the 70% mark of the story. 

Reward firmly in hand, the hero starts the journey back to the ordinary world. But every action has consequences, and those of claiming the reward block the hero’s road back. It becomes clear that things aren’t so simple, and the hero’s tribulations aren’t yet over. 

The unforeseen consequences of claiming the reward make the hero realize they’re in more danger than ever before, and they must face the antagonist head-on before returning to the ordinary world. The hero prepares for the ultimate battle — the climax. 

  • It should be clear to the reader why the hero must face the antagonist once and for all. There should be no choice, given who the hero has become and the stakes they now face. 
  • This is a good place to re-establish the central conflict of the story and make clear the results of failure. 

Tip: This section happens around the 75% mark. 

This is the climax of the story — the ultimate showdown between hero and villain . The tension and the stakes are higher than they’ve been throughout the story. If the hero fails, the world as they know it will be forever changed for the worst. The hero uses all they have learned on the journey to defeat the antagonist. 

The hero comes out of the confrontation changed, transformed into a true hero. This should be a dramatic transformation, completing the resurrection started earlier in the story. 

  • Like every other challenge, the hero needs to earn this victory by sacrificing something for it. In some stories, the hero may even sacrifice him or herself.
  • By vanquishing the antagonist, the hero should find the strength or gain the knowledge to address their internal conflict in a satisfactory manner. 

Tip: This section happens around the 85% mark .  

The last section of the story details the hero’s return from the special world to the ordinary world. Sometimes called the magic flight, the hero now has changed for the better. Show what new skills, items, knowledge, or understanding of the world the hero brings with them (the elixir). This “elixir” can often be used to help those the hero left behind in the ordinary world. 

In most stories, the hero will return to celebration. They’ve risked it all, saved lives, and learned important lessons. The people in the ordinary world are happy to have them back. The hero may decide to settle back into this world to use their newfound abilities. Or they may find they’ve outgrown it and have a taste for adventure.

  • Re-establish the hero’s internal conflict and show how solving it has changed their view and life, completing the character arc . 
  • If you’re writing a series, provide a hook for the next story here by hinting at another conflict the hero will need to deal with. 

Tip: This section happens around the 95% mark and finishes out the story! 

Examples of the Hero’s Journey from Famous Works

In George Lucas's Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope , we can see the Hero's Journey in action. We also see it in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and The Hunger Games . Let’s take a look now.

  • Luke Skywalker — an archetypal hero — in his Ordinary World, living with his aunt and uncle, hoping for adventure. 
  • Luke’s Call to Adventure comes when he activates a hidden message from Princess Leia that R2D2 is carrying for Obi-Wan Kenobi. 
  • Luke initially Refuses the Call — until he returns home to discover his aunt and uncle have been killed by Imperial forces.
  • While Luke has already met his Mentor (Obi-Wan), the active mentoring really starts after Luke's home has been destroyed and the only family he's ever known killed.
  • When Luke, Obi-Wan, and the droids step into the dangerous Mos Eisley Spaceport, it signifies the beginning of Luke's heroic journey and the Crossing of the Threshold. 
  • Luke and Obi-Wan hire a couple of Allies, Han Solo and Chewbacca, to transport them off the planet. Once on the Millennium Falcon, Luke's Tests begin. 
  • The Approach to the Inmost Cave happens when the Death Star captures the Falcon in a tractor beam and pulls them in. 
  • The Ordeal happens while Obi-Wan goes off to try and disengage the tractor beam. Luke, Han, and the others rescue Princess Leia. Obi-Wan confronts Darth Vader and sacrifices himself so the others can get away. 
  • With the Rewards (the Death Star plans and the princess), Luke thinks he should be able to defeat the Empire. And while Obi-Wan's death weighs on him, he can see success ahead.
  • The Road Back is interrupted as the Falcon is attacked. They have no choice but to go to the Rebel base to deliver the Death Star plans, even though they’re being tracked.
  • As the Rebels are attacking the Death Star, Obi-Wan's voice speaks to Luke, telling him to use the Force. Luke does, using all that he's learned and finally “sacrificing” his old self, embracing the Force and “Resurrecting” as a true hero. He fires and blows up the Death Star.  
  • Luke Returns to the Rebel base triumphant. Both he and Han Solo receive medals and accolades for delivering the (temporary) blow to the evil Empire.
  • We get to see Frodo’s idyllic Ordinary World in the Shire. The idea of adventure is attractive to him, but not overly so.  
  • Frodo’s Call to Adventure begins after Bilbo disappears, leaving behind the Ring, which Gandalf entrusts to young Frodo. 
  • Frodo Refuses the Call not just once, but repeatedly throughout the story. He feels he is not the one to be entrusted with such a job of carrying and disposing of the Ring. 
  • Gandalf acts as Frodo’s Mentor, instructing him on what he must do to protect the Ring and, in so doing, protecting the Shire. 
  • Frodo and Sam quite literally Cross the Threshold as they leave the Shire after splitting from Gandalf. 
  • Frodo and Sam run into Allies Merry and Pippin on their way toward Bree. They are also Tested by Enemies as they’re pursued by the Nazgûl. These tests continue until the group gets to Rivendell. 
  • The Approach to the Inmost Cave is the group’s approach to the Mines of Moria — literal caves. 
  • The Ordeal happens inside the Mines of Moria as the group is attacked by orcs and then Balrog, which Gandalf fights off, falling down into the depths and presumed dead. 
  • The Reward is sparse in The Fellowship of the Rings. Gandalf is gone, and the group escapes with their lives. 
  • The Road Back isn’t signified in this story by a turn back to the Ordinary World. Instead, it’s Frodo’s stay in Lothlórien, where he sees the stakes of his failure in a vision. 
  • The Resurrection is the climax of the story, where the Uruk-hai catch up with the group and Boromir betrays Frodo, trying to take the ring from him. Frodo realizes he must travel alone to Mordor. 
  • The Return with the Elixir portion is Sam’s refusal to let Frodo journey alone. Frodo pulls him into the boat and they cross the river together. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fellowship are determined to save Merry and Pippin. To be continued . . . 
  • We see Katniss Everdeen living in her Ordinary World (District 12) with her mother and sister. It’s a bleak, depressing world, but it’s her Ordinary World nonetheless.
  • After Prim, Katniss’s sister is called for Tribute, Katniss volunteers in her stead. This is the Call to Adventure. 
  • This is one example of a story with no real Refusal of the Call. She may not want to take part in the Hunger Games, but she makes the decision and sticks with it to save her sister. 
  • Katniss meets Haymitch, her Mentor. Though a drunk, he guides her on the politics and gives her tips on surviving the Games. 
  • Katniss Crosses the Threshold when she’s put on the train to the capital, leaving her Ordinary World behind.
  • The Tests, Enemies, and Allies section starts when she has to navigate the preparation for the Games. She meets Rue and has Peeta as an ally, as well. The Careers are clearly enemies to contend with later. 
  • Katniss Approaches the Inmost Cave when the Hunger Games begin. 
  • The Ordeal is plain to see as the Games commence, and Katniss struggles to stay alive amid the chaos. 
  • The Reward comes when only Katniss and Peeta are left alive in the arena. They don’t have to fight, thanks to a rule change; they can both claim victory. 
  • It looks good for Katniss and Peeta until the Capital changes the rules again, putting an obstacle in the path of the Road Back. Suddenly, they’re forced to decide which of them gets to live. 
  • The Resurrection portion of the story plays out as Katniss and Peeta threaten to kill themselves, leaving no winner and possibly sowing the seeds of revolution. The Capital changes the rules again, allowing both of them to claim victory. 
  • Katniss gets to live, Returning from the Games as a hero. One who just may be able to make some real change to her Ordinary World.  

Let's say you want to think big. Like a 12 book series big. One little fun way that I use the Hero's Journey is to use each of the 12 steps to represent an entire book as a whole. You could also condense this into 6 books, 3 books, etc.

For example, the original Star Wars trilogy does a fantastic job of fitting the hero's journey not only into the first movie (A New Hope) but also into the trilogy as a whole. The first movie could easily represent the first four steps of the hero's journey from a macro-perspective (as well as covering all 12 within its self-contained plot), with The Empire Strikes Back covering steps 5-8, and Return of the Jedi covering steps 9-12.

Seriously though, the OG Star Wars trilogy is a masterclass in plotting, you guys.

In other words, the Hero's Journey doesn't have to be used just for a single novel, it can be a great way to progress your character from a more zoomed out perspective through an entire series.

Now that you know what to look for, think about some of your favorite stories. See if you can see the beats of the Hero's Journey in them. From Harry Potter and Toy Story to the Lion King and The Hunger Games , you'll find evidence of this story structure.

Its uses aren't just for adventure stories, though. With a little tweaking, a sweet romance story could also follow this template pretty closely. The point of the Hero’s Journey plot template isn’t to lock you into a formula that you can’t deviate from. Instead, it’s a tool that can guide you along. When you know the tropes of your genre, you can marry them with the major beats of the Hero’s Journey to come up with a novel readers will love . Remember, however, that writing an incredible novel is only part of the battle to find loyal readers- it's also important to have a strong marketing strategy so people can actually discover your book, as outlined in my free e-book on how to become an Amazon bestseller.

To make story beats easier, I recommend giving Plottr a try. It’s a great storytelling tool for writers that can help keep you on track using structures like the Hero’s Journey, Dan Harmon’s Story Circle , the Three Act Structure , and more. 

Dave Chesson

When I’m not sipping tea with princesses or lightsaber dueling with little Jedi, I’m a book marketing nut. Having consulted multiple publishing companies and NYT best-selling authors, I created Kindlepreneur to help authors sell more books. I’ve even been called “The Kindlepreneur” by Amazon publicly, and I’m here to help you with your author journey.

Related Posts

How to write a screenplay, how to write magical realism: definition, examples, and instructions, point of view vs perspective: the difference and examples, sell more books on amazon, amazon kindle rankings e-book.

Learn how to rank your Kindle book #1 on Amazon with our collection of time-tested tips and tricks.

Join the community

Join 111,585 other authors who receive weekly emails from us to help them make more money selling books.

Joseph Campbell's Hero Journey - Featured

  • Scriptwriting

Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey: A Better Screenplay in 17 Steps

  • What is a Scene
  • What is The Three Act Structure
  • What is Story Structure
  • What is a Story Beat
  • What Is a Plot
  • Plot vs Story
  • What is a Non-Linear Plot
  • What is a Plot Device
  • What is Freytag’s Pyramid
  • Screenplay Structure Examples
  • What is a Story Mountain
  • Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
  • What is Save the Cat
  • Dan Harmon’s Story Circle
  • What is Aristotle’s Poetics
  • What is Exposition
  • What is an Inciting Incident
  • What is Rising Action
  • What is the Climax of a Story
  • What is the Falling Action
  • What is Denouement
  • How to Write the First Ten Pages of a Screenplay
  • Plot Structure Tools
  • The Ultimate Film Beat Sheet
  • Secrets to Great Exposition in Screenwriting
  • Writing Exposition in Film
  • Best Inciting Incident Examples
  • Examples of Midpoint In Movies
  • Write Your Script For Free

dds are that if you’ve had any interest in writing a script within the past fifty years you’ve heard of the Hero’s Journey. A writer you got drinks with swore by it, a film professor suggested you read about it.  Or you overheard the barista at your local coffee shop talking about how Die Hard is a picture-perfect template for it. But… what is it? I’ll explain all of the Hero’s Journey’s 17 steps and provide examples in the modern canon. Then you can kick writer’s block and get a strong script into the hands of agents and producers.

Watch: The Hero's Journey Explained

Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.

  • Call to Action
  • Refusal of Call
  • Supernatural Aid
  • Crossing The Threshold
  • Belly of the Whale
  • The Road of Trials
  • Meeting the Goddess
  • Atonement With the Father
  • The Ultimate Boon
  • Refusal of Return
  • Magic Flight
  • Rescue from Without
  • Crossing the Return Threshold
  • Master of Two Worlds
  • Freedom to Live

Hero’s Journey Examples

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Graphic

The monomyth featuring three of your favorite franchises!

The hero's journey begins, 1. call to action.

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Cell Phone

Adventure is calling. Will your hero pick up?

The initial step in the first act of the Hero’s Journey - known as the departure - is the “call to action." The Hero is beckoned to go on a journey. Think Frodo Baggins meeting Gandalf. Or the Owl inviting Harry Potter to Hogwarts. 

If having a tall wizard extend a hand may be a little too on the nose for you, don't worry. This comes in all forms. In   Citizen Kane , the mystery surrounding Charles Foster Kane’s final words is the call to action for the reporter, Jerry Thompson, to get to work.

The Hero Hesitates

2. refusal of call.

Next is the Hero’s “refusal of call.” The Hero initially balks at the idea of leaving their lives. The Shire is beautiful, after all, who wants to embark on a dangerous journey across the world? 

This refusal is typically because of a duty or obligation they have at home. Be it family, or work, it’s something our Hero cares deeply about. But, as pressure mounts, they eventually succumb and decide to leave with the help of “supernatural aid.”

The Hero Receives Assistance

3. supernatural aid.

Once the Hero has committed themselves to embarking on whatever that quest may be (keep in mind, a Hero’s Journey can apply to a modern, emotional story, as well), they receive “supernatural aid.”

Individuals give the Hero information or tools at the start of their journey to help their chances of completing the task. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it definitely wasn’t built alone. Every hero has a set of allies helping them get the job done. From Luke, Han, and Chewie to Harry, Ron, and Hermoine, these teams are iconic and nearly inseparable.

The tools provided come in handy as the Hero begins…

The Hero Commits

4. crossing the threshold.

Now the hero ventures into a new, unfamiliar world where the rules and dangers are unknown. They’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto, and that becomes evidently clear when monkeys start flying. 

This stage often requires a few examples to crystalize the change in environment from familiar to dangerous. The contrast is key to play up how ill-prepared they initially are.

The Hero is Challenged

5. belly of the whale.

Next thing you know, we're in “the belly of the whale.” The first point of real danger in the Hero’s Journey. Taken from the Biblical story of Jonah entering a literal whale’s belly, it’s here that the dangers we’ve been warned about are manifested into tangible characters. Like hungry Orcs with swords.

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Anicient

This is Jonah moments before actually being in the belly of the whale.

Now our Hero must make a decision to continue and, in turn, undergo a personal metamorphosis in the process. 

They will not be the same individual at the end of this tale as they were in the beginning.  This must be made clear while in the belly of the whale, as we enter Initiation, or act two. Which is the longest slice of the Hero’s Journey pie.

This part is filled with the most failure and risk, and ends with the climax. But first, it starts with... 

The Hero is Tested

6. the road of trials.

“Road of trials” is a set of three tests that the Hero must take. Usually they will fail at least one of these tests. This could be a montage. It could also be a series of obstacles leading to a smaller goal in the journey. 

Here is where the Hero learns to use his or her tools and allies while on their way to a...

The Great Advisor

7. meeting the goddess.

At this point in the monomyth, our Hero needs a break to adjust perspective and digest the ways they've changed. It’s here that they meet with an advisor, or a trusted individual, who will help them gain a better insight into the next steps of the journey. Frodo met with Galadriel, an elf who enlightened him with visions of potential futures.

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Harry Potter 3

This is Frodo meeting with the goddess

Luke met Leia, and the two formed of a bond of kinship, motivating them to commit more to their cause. This individual doesn’t have to be a woman, but whoever it is our hero will gain something from the wisdom they impart.

But no good deed goes unpunished, and as we reward our Heroes in storytelling, we must also tempt them to failure.

The Hero is Torn

8. temptation.

Much like “road of trials,” “temptation” is a test in the Hero’s Journey. It presents a set of, well… temptations... that our Hero must either overcome or avoid. These temptations pick and pull at the insecurities of the Hero. A microcosm can be found in our own everyday lives with the simple act of getting out of bed.

The temptation to stay in the cozy confines of our comforters (and comfort zones) can be strong and sometimes overwhelming. This must be manifested in our story with some type of a cheap way out. Or an opportunity to throw in the towel. Our Hero must decline and press forward, nobly facing danger.

A Moment of Catharsis

9. atonement with the father.

Once they’ve thrown away their temptations, the Hero enters the “atonement with the father.” This is always an emotional part of the Hero’s Journey. It's a point in the monomyth where our protagonist must confront an aspect of their character from act one that has been slowing them down.

Something that could be fatal to their journey in the coming climactic stages. While this is actuated as a confrontation with a male entity, it doesn’t have to be.

The point here is that the Hero finds within themselves a change from who they were into someone more capable. Harry has to reconcile with the loss of his father figure, Dumbledore. Now take on Voldemort alone, using the lessons he’s learned on the way. Just like Luke...and every other hero ever. This is the emotional climax of the story.

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Darth Vader

"Tell your sister... you were riiiiiiiiiight..."

Death of the hero, 10. apotheosis.

With a new sense of confidence and clarity we must then make our Hero deal with “apotheosis.” This is the stage of the Hero’s Journey where a greater perspective is achieved. Often embodied by a death of the Hero’s former self; where the old Frodo has died and the new one is born.  

But this is sometimes interpreted as a more “a-ha!” moment — a breakthrough that leads to the narrative’s climax. This, too, can be tied to the death of Dumbledore and Harry’s reconciliation with the loss. This step is usually the final motivator for the Hero, driving the story into...

THe Hero Victorious

11. the ultimate boon.

This monomyth step is the physical climax of the story. This is often considered the MacGuffin of a film — the physical object that drives our Hero’s motivation. But it's a MacGuffin, to use Hitchcock's famous term, because ultimately... it doesn't matter.

In  Pulp Fiction , we never find out what’s in the briefcase, but it’s the briefcase that led them on the wild journey. When we find out what “Rosebud” actually means, it simply forms a lynchpin to help us understand who Charles Foster Kane was. The mission is accomplished and the world can rest easy knowing that it is safe from evil.

The Hero's Journey Home

12. refusal of return.

Upon a successful completion of the Hero’s Journey, and a transformation into a different person, the Hero has a “refusal to return.” The Shire seems so boring now and the last thing Harry wants is to go back to that drawer under the stairs. 

And, oftentimes, the return can be just as dangerous. This is the beginning of the third act of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey (known as the Return) and, while shorter, should still contain conflict. Our next step is an opportunity for that...

The Hero Transported

13. magic flight.

This is the point in the Hero’s Journey where they must get out alive, often requiring the help of individuals they met along the way. Dorothy still has to get back to Kansas, the solution to which may seem like a leap of faith.  

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Birds

The eagles rescue from without with a magic flight to Frodo and friends

The hero's rescue, 14. rescue from without.

Bringing us to the “rescuers from without” point in the monomyth. Just because Frodo destroyed the one ring to rule them all doesn’t mean he gets a free ride back to the Shire. Remember those giant eagles we met a while back in act two? Well their back just in time!

Homeward Bound

15. crossing the return threshold.

Once the Hero is back home, it’s time to acknowledge their change in character. “Crossing the return threshold” is the stage in the monomyth where the hero has left the chaos of the outer world and return home.

But it's hard to adjust to the old world. Remember that scene where Frodo tried to enjoy a beer back at the shire? Hard to go back to normal when you essentially live with Dark Lord PTSD.

A Triumphant Return

16. master of two worlds.

The hero survived an adventure in the chaos realm, and now survives in the normal order realm. This makes him or her the master of two worlds. Not many people come back and live to tell the tale.  

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Darth Vader

Frodo and Gandalf wandering off into the sunset post accomplishing their mission

Plus which, throughout the story, they’ve become someone much more capable and resilient than they were in act one. They've learned lessons, and brought what they learned home with them. 

Whatever issues they may have had before embarking on this chaotic tale (often the ones preventing from taking the call to action) now pale in comparison with what they’ve been through.

It’s easier to deal with your annoying cousin, Dudley, after you’ve defeated Voldemort. This, in turn, leads to...

The New Status Quo

17. freedom to live.

In many ways the Hero's Journey is about death and rebirth. The story may manifest as the death of an aspect of character, and the birth of some new way of life. But the metaphor behind any story is one about mortality.

Change is constant. Hero's living through the Hero's Journey are models for us. Models that we can travers the constant change of existence, face our mortality, and continue. In a religious sense, and religions are all part of the monomyth, this is about the eternal spirit. 

Look no farther than the prayer of St. Francis to understand this final step in the Hero's quest. "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life." 

The Hero’s Journey - 17 Steps to Craft the Perfect Screenplay - Star Wars Yoda

The Hero’s Journey Concludes

Cinematic heroes.

The monomyth is practically ubiquitous in Hollywood. As you’ve read earlier, Harry Potter , Star Wars ,   Lord of the Rings ,  and   Citizen Kane all follow the Hero’s Journey. But, because this concept was built upon the foundations of major mythologies, it's truly a "tale as old as time." 

Because Campbell discovered the Hero's Journey. He didn't make it up. Neither did those older myths. He realized as an anthropologist, that every culture all around the globe had the same story beats in all their myths. 

Sure, some myths, and some movies, use 10 of the 17, or even just 5. But throughout human history, around the world, these story beats keep showing up. In cultures that had nothing to do with one another. 

The Hero's Journey is a concept innate to being human. 

And if remembering these 17 steps may seem a little daunting, fear not. Make sure to check out Dan Harmon's abridged 8-step variation of the Hero's Journey monomyth.  Same structure, just made more digestible.

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle 

Practically speaking, the Hero’s Journey is an excellent tool for structuring an outline in a clear and familiar way. It has the power to make your script much more powerful and emotionally resonant. 

It’s circular, allowing for repeat adventures (which works well if you're learning how to write a TV pilot ) and each aspect drives the hero to the next. From the Goddess, the Hero finds temptation. From reconciling with the father, the Hero is now prepared for the final boon.

Story Circle  •  8 Proven Steps to Better Stories

Using a Hero’s Journey worksheet can help you write a treatment or create a well-structured outline , which is a valuable tool for creating a strong first draft.

By putting in the 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey before building the outline, you can ensure that the writing process will flow smoothly and efficiently. Let us know in the comments how the monomyth has helped you craft a story that escalates with every beat to an exciting climax.  

Up Next: Dan Harmon's Story Circle →

Write and produce your scripts all in one place..

Write and collaborate on your scripts FREE . Create script breakdowns, sides, schedules, storyboards, call sheets and more.

  • Pricing & Plans
  • Product Updates
  • Featured On
  • StudioBinder Partners
  • The Ultimate Guide to Call Sheets (with FREE Call Sheet Template)
  • How to Break Down a Script (with FREE Script Breakdown Sheet)
  • The Only Shot List Template You Need — with Free Download
  • Managing Your Film Budget Cashflow & PO Log (Free Template)
  • A Better Film Crew List Template Booking Sheet
  • Best Storyboard Softwares (with free Storyboard Templates)
  • Movie Magic Scheduling
  • Gorilla Software
  • Storyboard That

A visual medium requires visual methods. Master the art of visual storytelling with our FREE video series on directing and filmmaking techniques.

We’re in a golden age of TV writing and development. More and more people are flocking to the small screen to find daily entertainment. So how can you break put from the pack and get your idea onto the small screen? We’re here to help.

  • Making It: From Pre-Production to Screen
  • What is the Rule of Three — A Literary Device for Writers
  • Best Free Crime Movie Scripts Online (with PDF Downloads)
  • What is a Graphic Novel — The Art of Pictorial Storytelling
  • Types of Animation — Styles, Genres & Techniques
  • What is an Apple Box in Film — Film Set Essentials
  • 299 Facebook
  • 238 Pinterest
  • 12 LinkedIn

Improve your writing in one of the largest and most successful writing groups online

Join our writing community!

The Hero’s Journey Ultimate Writing Guide with Examples

hero's journey outline

by Alex Cabal

What do Star Wars , The Hobbit , and Harry Potter have in common? They’re all examples of a story archetype as old as time. You’ll see this universal narrative structure in books, films, and even video games.

This ultimate Hero’s Journey writing guide will define and explore all quintessential elements of the Hero’s Journey—character archetypes, themes, symbolism, the three act structure, as well as 12 stages of the Hero’s Journey. We’ll even provide a downloadable plot template, tips for writing the Hero’s Journey, and writing prompts to get the creative juices flowing.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a universal story structure that follows the personal metamorphosis and psychological development of a protagonist on a heroic adventure. The protagonist goes through a series of stages to overcome adversity and complete a quest to attain an ultimate reward—whether that’s something tangible, like the holy grail, or something internal, like self confidence.

In the process of self-discovery, the archetypal Hero’s Journey is typically cyclical; it begins and ends in the same place (Think Frodo leaving and then returning to the Shire). After the epic quest or adventure has been completed by overcoming adversity and conflict—both physical and mental—the hero arrives where they once began, changed in some as they rose to meet the ultimate conflict or ordeal of the quest.

Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler

The Hero’s Journey has a long history of conversation around the form and its uses, with notable contributors including Joseph Campbell and the screenwriter Christopher Vogler , who later revised the steps of the Hero’s Journey.

Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” framework is the traditional story structure of the Hero’s Journey archetype. Campbell developed it through analysis of ancient myths, folktales, and religious stories. It generally follows three acts in a cyclical, rather than a linear, way: a hero embarks on a journey, faces a crisis, and then returns home transformed and victorious.

Campbell’s ideation of the monomyth in his book The Hero With a Thousand Faces was influenced by Carl Jung’s perspective of psychology and models of self-transformation , where the Hero’s Journey is a path of transformation to a higher self, psychological healing, and spiritual growth.

While Campbell’s original take on the monomyth included 17 steps within the three acts, Christopher Vogler, in his book The Writer’s Journey , refined those 17 steps into 12 stages—the common formula for the modern structure many writers use today.

It’s also worth checking out Maureen Murdock’s work on the archetype, “The Heroine’s Journey.” This takes a look at the female Hero’s Journey, which examines the traditionally masculine journey through a feminist lens.

Hero’s Journey diagram: acts, steps, and stages

Below, you can see the way Volger’s Hero’s Journey is broken into twelve story beats across three acts.

A diagram representing the Hero’s Journey. The 12 steps of the journey surround a circle, which goes in a direction from act 1 to the final act.

Why is the Hero’s Journey so popular?

The structure of the Hero’s Journey appears in many of our most beloved classic stories, and it continues to resonate over time because it explores the concept of personal transformation and growth through both physical and mental trials and tribulations. In some sense, every individual in this mythic structure experiences rites of passage, the search for home and the true authentic self, which is mirrored in a protagonist’s journey of overcoming obstacles while seeking to fulfill a goal.

Additionally, the Hero’s Journey typically includes commonly shared symbols and aspects of the human psyche—the trickster, the mother, the child, etc. These archetypes play a role in creating a story that the reader can recognize from similar dynamics in their own relationships, experiences, and familiar world. Archetypes allow the writer to use these “metaphorical truths”—a playful deceiver, a maternal bond, a person of innocence and purity—to deeply and empathetically connect with the reader through symbolism. That’s why they continue to appear in countless stories all around the world.

Hero’s Journey character archetypes

Character archetypes are literary devices based on a set of qualities that are easy for a reader to identify, empathize with, and understand, as these qualities and traits are common to the human experience.

It should be noted that character archetypes are not stereotypes . While stereotypes are oversimplifications of demographics or personality traits, an archetype is a symbol of a universal type of character that can be recognized either in one’s self or in others in real life.

The following archetypes are commonly used in a Hero’s Journey:

The hero is typically the protagonist or principal point-of-view character within a story. The hero transforms—internally, externally, often both—while on their journey as they experience tests and trials and are aided or hindered by the other archetypes they encounter. In general, the hero must rise to the challenge and at some point make an act of sacrifice for the ultimate greater good. In this way, the Hero’s Journey represents the reader’s own everyday battles and their power to overcome them.

Heroes may be willing or unwilling. Some can be downright unheroic to begin with. Antiheroes are notably flawed characters that must grow significantly before they achieve the status of true hero.

The mentor often possesses divine wisdom or direct experience with the special world, and has faith in the hero. They often give the hero a gift or supernatural aid, which is usually something important for the quest: either a weapon to destroy a monster, or a talisman to enlighten the hero. The mentor may also directly aid the hero or present challenges to them that force internal or external growth. After their meeting, the hero leaves stronger and better prepared for the road ahead.

The herald is the “call to adventure.” They announce the coming of significant change and become the reason the hero ventures out onto a mysterious adventure. The herald is a catalyst that enters the story and makes it impossible for the hero to remain in status quo. Existing in the form of a person or an event, or sometimes just as information, they shift the hero’s balance and change their world.

The Threshold Guardian

This archetype guards the first threshold—the major turning point of the story where the hero must make the true commitment of the journey and embark on their quest to achieve their destiny. Threshold guardians spice up the story by providing obstacles the hero must overcome, but they’re usually not the main antagonist.

The role of the threshold guardian is to help round out the hero along their journey. The threshold guardian will test the hero’s determination and commitment and will drive them forward as the hero enters the next stage of their journey, assisting the development of the hero’s character arc within the plot. The threshold guardian can be a friend who doesn’t believe in the hero’s quest, or a foe that makes the hero question themselves, their desires, or motives in an attempt to deter the hero from their journey. Ultimately, the role of the threshold guardian is to test the hero’s resolve on their quest.

The Shape Shifter

The shape shifter adds dramatic tension to the story and provides the hero with a puzzle to solve. They can seem to be one thing, but in fact be something else. They bring doubt and suspense to the story and test the hero’s ability to discern their path. The shape shifter may be a lover, friend, ally, or enemy that somehow reveals their true self from the hero’s preconceived notion. This often causes the hero internal turmoil, or creates additional challenges and tests to overcome.

The shadow is the “monster under the bed,” and could be repressed feelings, deep trauma, or festering guilt. These all possess the dark energy of the shadow. It is the dark force of the unexpressed, unrealized, rejected, feared aspects of the hero and is often, but not necessarily, represented by the main antagonist or villain.

However, other characters may take the form of the shadow at different stages of the story as “foil characters” that contrast against the hero. They might also represent what could happen if the hero fails to learn, transform, and grow to complete their quest. At times, a hero may even succumb to the shadow, from which they will need to make sacrifices to be redeemed to continue on their overall quest.

The Trickster

The trickster is the jester or fool of the story that not only provides comic relief, but may also act as a commentator as the events of the plot unfold. Tricksters are typically witty, clever, spontaneous, and sometimes even ridiculous. The trickster within a story can bring a light-hearted element to a challenge, or find a clever way to overcome an obstacle.

The Hero’s Journey can be found all across comparative mythology

Hero’s Journey themes and symbols

Alongside character archetypes, there are also archetypes for settings, situations, and symbolic items that can offer meaning to the world within the story or support your story’s theme.

Archetypes of themes, symbols, and situations represent shared patterns of human existence. This familiarity can provide the reader insight into the deeper meaning of a story without the writer needing to explicitly tell them. There are a great number of archetypes and symbols that can be used to reinforce a theme. Some that are common to the Hero’s Journey include:

Situational archetypes

Light vs. dark and the battle of good vs. evil

Death, rebirth, and transformation in the cycle of life

Nature vs. technology, and the evolution of humanity

Rags to riches or vice versa, as commentary on the material world and social status

Wisdom vs. knowledge and innocence vs. experience, in the understanding of intuition and learned experience

Setting archetypes

Gardens may represent the taming of nature, or living in harmony with nature.

Forests may represent reconnection with nature or wildness, or the fear of the unknown.

Cities or small towns may represent humanity at its best and at its worst. A small town may offer comfort and rest, while simultaneously offering judgment; a city may represent danger while simultaneously championing diversity of ideas, beings, and cultures.

Water and fire within a landscape may represent danger, change, purification, and cleansing.

Symbolic items

Items of the past self. These items are generally tokens from home that remind the hero of where they came from and who or what they’re fighting for.

Gifts to the hero. These items may be given to the hero from a mentor, ally, or even a minor character they meet along the way. These items are typically hero talismans, and may or may not be magical, but will aid the hero on their journey.

Found items. These items are typically found along the journey and represent some sort of growth or change within the hero. After all, the hero would never have found the item had they not left their everyday life behind. These items may immediately seem unimportant, but often carry great significance.

Earned rewards. These items are generally earned by overcoming a test or trial, and often represent growth, or give aid in future trials, tests, and conflicts.

The three act structure of the Hero’s Journey

The structure of the Hero’s Journey, including all 12 steps, can be grouped into three stages that encompass each phase of the journey. These acts follow the the external and internal arc of the hero—the beginning, the initiation and transformation, and the return home.

Act One: Departure (Steps 1—5)

The first act introduces the hero within the ordinary world, as they are—original and untransformed. The first act will typically include the first five steps of the Hero’s Journey.

This section allows the writer to set the stage with details that show who the hero is before their metamorphosis—what is the environment of the ordinary world? What’s important to the hero? Why do they first refuse the call, and then, why do they ultimately accept and embark on the journey to meet with the conflict?

This stage introduces the first major plot point of the story, explores the conflict the hero confronts, and provides the opportunity for characterization for the hero and their companions.

The end of the first act generally occurs when the hero has fully committed to the journey and crossed the threshold of the ordinary world—where there is no turning back.

Act Two: Initiation (Steps 6—9)

Once the hero begins their journey, the second act marks the beginning of their true initiation into the unfamiliar world—they have crossed the threshold, and through this choice, have undergone their first transformation.

The second act is generally the longest of the three and includes steps six through nine.

In this act, the hero meets most of the characters that will be pivotal to the plot, including friends, enemies, and allies. It offers the rising action and other minor plot points related to the overarching conflict. The hero will overcome various trials, grow and transform, and navigate subplots—the additional and unforeseen complexity of the conflict.

This act generally ends when the hero has risen to the challenge to overcome the ordeal and receives their reward. At the end of this act, it’s common for the theme and moral of the story to be fully unveiled.

Act Three: Return (Steps 10—12)

The final stage typically includes steps 10—12, generally beginning with the road back—the point in the story where the hero must recommit to the journey and use all of the growth, transformation, gifts and tools acquired along the journey to bring a decisive victory against their final conflict.

From this event, the hero will also be “reborn,” either literally or metaphorically, and then beginning anew as a self-actualized being, equipped with internal knowledge about themselves, external knowledge about the world, and experience.

At the end of the third act, the hero returns home to the ordinary world, bringing back the gifts they earned on their journey. In the final passages, both the hero and their perception of the ordinary world are compared with what they once were.

The 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey

The following guide outlines the 12 steps of the Hero’s Journey and represents a framework for the creation of a Hero’s Journey story template. You don’t necessarily need to follow the explicit cadence of these steps in your own writing, but they should act as checkpoints to the overall story.

We’ll also use JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit as a literary example for each of these steps. The Hobbit does an exemplary job of following the Hero’s Journey, and it’s also an example of how checkpoints can exist in more than one place in a story, or how they may deviate from the typical 12-step process of the Hero’s Journey.

Step One: “The Ordinary World”

1. The Ordinary World

This stage in the Hero’s Journey is all about exposition. This introduces the hero’s backstory—who the hero is, where they come from, their worldview, culture, and so on. This offers the reader a chance to relate to the character in their untransformed form.

As the story and character arc develop, the reader is brought along the journey of transformation. By starting at the beginning, a reader has a basic understanding of what drives the hero, so they can understand why the hero makes the choices they do. The ordinary world shows the protagonist in their comfort zone, with their worldview being limited to the perspective of their everyday life.

Characters in the ordinary world may or may not be fully comfortable or satisfied, but they don’t have a point of reference to compare—they have yet to leave the ordinary world to gain the knowledge to do so.

Step One example

The Hobbit begins by introducing Bilbo in the Shire as a respectable and well-to-do member of the community. His ordinary world is utopian and comfortable. Yet, even within a village that is largely uninterested in the concerns of the world outside, the reader is provided a backstory: even though Bilbo buys into the comforts and normalcy of the Shire, he still yearns for adventure—something his neighbors frown upon. This ordinary world of the Shire is disrupted with the introduction of Gandalf—the “mentor”—who is somewhat uncomfortably invited to tea.

2. Call to Adventure

The call to adventure in the Hero’s Journey structure is the initial internal conflict that the protagonist hero faces, that drives them to the true conflict that they must overcome by the end of their journey.

The call occurs within the known world of the character. Here the writer can build on the characterization of the protagonist by detailing how they respond to the initial call. Are they hesitant, eager, excited, refusing, or willing to take a risk?

Step Two example

Bilbo’s call to adventure takes place at tea as the dwarves leisurely enter his home, followed by Gandalf, who identifies Bilbo as the group’s missing element—the burglar, and the lucky 14th member.

Bilbo and his ordinary world are emphasized by his discomfort with his rambunctious and careless guests. Yet as the dwarves sing stories of old adventures, caverns, and lineages, which introduce and foreshadow the conflict to come, a yearning for adventure is stirred. Though he still clings to his ordinary world and his life in the Shire, he’s conflicted. Should he leave the shire and experience the world, or stay in his comfortable home? Bilbo continues to refuse the call, but with mixed feelings.

Step Three: “Refusal of the Call”

3. Refusal of the Call

The refusal of the call in the Hero’s Journey showcases a “clinging” to one’s original self or world view. The initial refusal of the call represents a fear of change, as well as a resistance to the internal transformation that will occur after the adventure has begun.

The refusal reveals the risks that the protagonist faces if they were to answer the call, and shows what they’ll leave behind in the ordinary world once they accept.

The refusal of the call creates tension in the story, and should show the personal reasons why the hero is refusing—inner conflict, fear of change, hesitation, insecurity, etc. This helps make their character clearer for the reader.

These are all emotions a reader can relate to, and in presenting them through the hero, the writer deepens the reader’s relationship with them and helps the reader sympathize with the hero’s internal plight as they take the first step of transformation.

Step Three example

Bilbo refuses the call in his first encounter with Gandalf, and in his reaction to the dwarves during tea. Even though Bilbo’s “Tookish” tendencies make him yearn for adventure, he goes to bed that night still refusing the call. The next morning, as Bilbo awakes to an empty and almost fully clean hobbit home, he feels a slight disappointment for not joining the party, but quickly soothes his concerns by enjoying the comfort of his home—i.e. the ordinary world. Bilbo explores his hesitation to disembark from the ordinary world, questioning why a hobbit would become mixed up in the adventures of others, and choosing not to meet the dwarves at the designated location.

4. Meeting the Mentor

Meeting the mentor in the Hero’s Journey is the stage that provides the hero protagonist with a guide, relationship, and/or informational asset that has experience outside the ordinary world. The mentor offers confidence, advice, wisdom, training, insight, tools, items, or gifts of supernatural wonder that the hero will use along the journey and in overcoming the ultimate conflict.

The mentor often represents someone who has attempted to overcome, or actually has overcome, an obstacle, and encourages the hero to pursue their calling, regardless of the hero’s weaknesses or insecurities. The mentor may also explicitly point out the hero’s weaknesses, forcing them to reckon with and accept them, which is the first step to their personal transformation.

Note that not all mentors need to be a character . They can also be objects or knowledge that has been instilled in the hero somehow—cultural ethics, spiritual guidance, training of a particular skill, a map, book, diary, or object that illuminates the path forward, etc. In essence, the mentor character or object has a role in offering the protagonist outside help and guidance along the Hero’s Journey, and plays a key role in the protagonist’s transition from normalcy to heroism.

The mentor figure also offers the writer the opportunity to incorporate new information by expanding upon the story, plot, or backstory in unique ways. They do this by giving the hero information that would otherwise be difficult for the writer to convey naturally.

The mentor may accompany the hero throughout most of the story, or they may only periodically be included to facilitate changes and transformation within them.

Step Four example

The mentor, Gandalf, is introduced almost immediately. Gandalf is shown to be the mentor, firstly through his arrival from—and wisdom of—the outside world; and secondly, through his selection of Bilbo for the dwarven party by identifying the unique characteristics Bilbo has that are essential to overcoming the challenges in the journey. Gandalf doesn’t accompany Bilbo and the company through all of the trials and tribulations of the plot, but he does play a key role in offering guidance and assistance, and saves the group in times of dire peril.

Step Five: “Crossing the Threshold”

5. Crossing the Threshold

As the hero crosses the first threshold, they begin their personal quest toward self-transformation. Crossing the threshold means that the character has committed to the journey, and has stepped outside of the ordinary world in the pursuit of their goal. This typically marks the conclusion of the first act.

The threshold lies between the ordinary world and the special world, and marks the point of the story where the hero fully commits to the road ahead. It’s a crucial stage in the Hero’s Journey, as the hero wouldn’t be able to grow and transform by staying in the ordinary world where they’re comfortable and their world view can’t change.

The threshold isn’t necessarily a specific place within the world of the story, though a place can symbolize the threshold—for example a border, gateway, or crossroads that separate what is safe and “known” from what is potentially dangerous. It can also be a moment or experience that causes the hero to recognize that the comforts and routine of their world no longer apply—like the loss of someone or something close to the hero, for example. The purpose of the threshold is to take the hero out of their element and force them, and the reader, to adapt from the known to the unknown.

This moment is crucial to the story’s tension. It marks the first true shift in the character arc and the moment the adventure has truly begun. The threshold commonly forces the hero into a situation where there’s no turning back. This is sometimes called the initiation stage or the departure stage.

Step Five example

The threshold moment in The Hobbit occurs when the party experiences true danger as a group for the first time. Bilbo, voted as scout by the party and eager to prove his burglar abilities, sneaks upon a lone fire in the forest where he finds three large trolls. Rather than turn back empty-handed—as he initially wants to—Bilbo chooses to prove himself, plucking up the courage to pickpocket the trolls—but is caught in the process. The dwarves are also captured and fortunately, Gandalf, the mentor, comes to save the party.

Bilbo’s character arc is solidified in this threshold moment. He experiences his first transformation when he casts aside fear and seeks to prove himself as a burglar, and as an official member of the party. This moment also provides further characterization of the party as a whole, proving the loyalty of the group in seeking out their captured member.

Gandalf’s position as the mentor is also firmly established as he returns to ultimately save all of the members of the party from being eaten by trolls. The chapter ends with Bilbo taking ownership of his first hero talisman—the sword that will accompany him through the rest of the adventure.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once the hero has crossed the threshold, they must now encounter tests of courage, make allies, and inevitably confront enemies. All these elements force the hero to learn the new ways of the special world and how it differs from the hero’s ordinary world—i.e. how the rules have changed, the conditions of the special world vs. the ordinary world, and the various beings and places within it.

All these elements spark stages of transformation within the hero—learning who they can trust and who they can’t, learning new skills, seeking training from the mentor, and overcoming challenges that force and drive them to grow and transform.

The hero may both succeed and fail at various points of this stage, which will test their commitment to the journey. The writer can create tension by making it clear that the hero may or may not succeed at the critical moment of crisis. These crises can be external or internal.

External conflicts are issues that the character must face and overcome within the plot—e.g. the enemy has a sword drawn and the hero must fight to survive.

Internal conflicts occur inside the hero. For example, the hero has reached safety, but their ally is in peril; will they step outside their comfort zone and rise to the occasion and save their friend? Or will they return home to their old life and the safety of the ordinary world?

Tests are conflicts and threats that the hero must face before they reach the true conflict, or ordeal, of the story. These tests set the stage and prime the hero to meet and achieve the ultimate goal. They provide the writer the opportunity to further the character development of the hero through their actions, inactions, and reactions to what they encounter. The various challenges they face will teach them valuable lessons, as well as keep the story compelling and the reader engaged.

Allies represent the characters that offer support to the protagonist along the journey. Some allies may be introduced from the beginning, while others may be gained along the journey. Secondary characters and allies provide additional nuance for the hero, through interactions, events, and relationships that further show who the hero is at heart, what they believe in, and what they’re willing to fight for. The role of the allies is to bring hope, inspiration, and further drive the hero to do what needs to be done.

Enemies represent a foil to the allies. While allies bring hope and inspiration, enemies will provide challenges, conflicts, tests, and challenges. Both allies and enemies may instigate transformative growth, but enemies do so in a way that fosters conflict and struggle.

Characterization of enemies can also enhance the development of the hero through how they interact and the lessons learned through those interactions. Is the hero easily duped, forgiving, empathetic, merciful? Do they hold a grudge and seek revenge? Who is the hero now that they have been harmed, faced an enemy, and lost pieces of their innocent worldview? To answer that, the hero is still transforming and gestating with every lesson, test, and enemy faced along the way.

Step Six example

As the plot of The Hobbit carries on, Bilbo encounters many tests, allies, and enemies that all drive complexity in the story. A few examples include:

The first major obstacle that Bilbo faces occurs within the dark and damp cave hidden in the goblin town. All alone, Bilbo must pluck up the wit and courage to outriddle a creature named Gollum. In doing so, Bilbo discovers the secret power of a golden ring (another hero talisman) that will aid him and the party through the rest of the journey.

The elves encountered after Bilbo “crosses the threshold” are presented as allies in the story. The hero receives gifts of food, a safe place to rest, and insight and guidance that allows the party to continue on their journey. While the party doesn’t dwell long with the elves, the elves also provide further character development for the party at large: the serious dwarf personalities are juxtaposed against the playful elvish ones, and the elves offer valuable historical insight with backstory to the weapons the party gathered from the troll encounter.

Goblins are a recurring enemy within the story that the hero and party must continue to face, fight, and run from. The goblins present consistent challenges that force Bilbo to face fear and learn and adapt, not only to survive but to save his friends.

Step Seven: “Approach to the Inmost Cave”

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

The approach to the inmost cave of the Hero’s Journey is the tense quiet before the storm; it’s the part of the story right before the hero faces their greatest fear, and it can be positioned in a few different ways. By now, the hero has overcome obstacles, setbacks, and tests, gained and lost allies and enemies, and has transformed in some way from the original protagonist first introduced in the ordinary world.

The moment when the hero approaches the inmost cave can be a moment of reflection, reorganization, and rekindling of morale. It presents an opportunity for the main characters of the story to come together in a moment of empathy for losses along the journey; a moment of planning and plotting next steps; an opportunity for the mentor to teach a final lesson to the hero; or a moment for the hero to sit quietly and reflect upon surmounting the challenge they have been journeying toward for the length of their adventure.

The “cave” may or may not be a physical place where the ultimate ordeal and conflict will occur. The approach represents the momentary period where the hero assumes their final preparation for the overall challenge that must be overcome. It’s a time for the hero and their allies, as well as the reader, to pause and reflect on the events of the story that have already occurred, and to consider the internal and external growth and transformation of the hero.

Having gained physical and/or emotional strength and fortitude through their trials and tests, learned more rules about the special world, found and lost allies and friends, is the hero prepared to face danger and their ultimate foe? Reflection, tension, and anticipation are the key elements of crafting the approach to the cave.

Step Seven example

The approach to the cave in The Hobbit occurs as the party enters the tunnel of the Lonely Mountain. The tunnel is the access point to the ultimate goal—Thorin’s familial treasure, as well as the ultimate test—the formidable dragon Smaug. During this part of the story, the party must hide, plot, and plan their approach to the final conflict. It’s at this time that Bilbo realizes he must go alone to scout out and face the dragon.

8. The Ordeal

The ordeal is the foreshadowed conflict that the hero must face, and represents the midpoint of the story. While the ordeal is the ultimate conflict that the hero knows they must overcome, it’s a false climax to the complete story—there’s still much ground to cover in the journey, and the hero will still be tested after completing this, the greatest challenge. In writing the ordeal phase of the Hero’s Journey, the writer should craft this as if it actually were the climax to the tale, even though it isn’t.

The first act, and the beginning of the second act, have built up to the ordeal with characterization and the transformation of the hero through their overcoming tests and trials. This growth—both internal and external—has all occurred to set the hero up to handle this major ordeal.

As this stage commences, the hero is typically faced with fresh challenges to make the ordeal even more difficult than they previously conceived. This may include additional setbacks for the hero, the hero’s realization that they were misinformed about the gravity of the situation, or additional conflicts that make the ordeal seem insurmountable.

These setbacks cause the hero to confront their greatest fears and build tension for both the hero and the reader, as they both question if the hero will ultimately succeed or fail. In an epic fantasy tale, this may mean a life-or-death moment for the hero, or experiencing death through the loss of an important ally or the mentor. In a romance, it may be the moment of crisis where a relationship ends or a partner reveals their dark side or true self, causing the hero great strife.

This is the rock-bottom moment for the hero, where they lose hope, courage, and faith. At this point, even though the hero has already crossed the threshold, this part of the story shows how the hero has changed in such a way that they can never return to their original self: even if they return to the ordinary world, they’ll never be the same; their perception of the world has been modified forever.

Choosing to endure against all odds and costs to face the ordeal represents the loss of the hero’s original self from the ordinary world, and a huge internal transformation occurs within the hero as they must rise and continue forth to complete their journey and do what they set out to do from the beginning.

The ordeal may also be positioned as an introduction to the greater villain through a trial with a shadow villain, where the hero realizes that the greatest conflict is unveiled as something else, still yet to come. In these instances, the hero may fail, or barely succeed, but must learn a crucial lesson and be metaphorically resurrected through their failure to rise again and overcome the greater challenge.

Step Eight example

Bilbo must now face his ultimate challenge: burgle the treasure from the dragon. This is the challenge that was set forth from the beginning, as it’s his purpose as the party’s 14th member, the burglar, anointed by Gandalf, the mentor. Additional conflicts arise as Bilbo realizes that he must face the dragon alone, and in doing so, must rely on all of the skills and gifts in the form of talismans and tokens he has gained throughout the adventure.

During the ordeal, Bilbo uses the courage he has gained by surmounting the story’s previous trials; he’s bolstered by his loyalty to the group and relies upon the skills and tools he has earned in previous trials. Much as he outwitted Gollum in the cave, Bilbo now uses his wit as well as his magical ring to defeat Smaug in a game of riddles, which ultimately leads Smaug out of the lair so that Bilbo can complete what he was set out to do—steal the treasure.

Step Nine: “Reward”

The reward of the Hero’s Journey is a moment of triumph, celebration, or change as the hero achieves their first major victory. This is a moment of reflection for both the reader and the hero, to take a breath to contemplate and acknowledge the growth, development, and transformation that has occurred so far.

The reward is the boon that the hero learns, is granted, or steals, that will be crucial to facing the true climax of the story that is yet to come. The reward may be a physical object, special knowledge, or reconciliation of some sort, but it’s always a thing that allows for some form of celebration or replenishment and provides the drive to succeed before the journey continues.

Note that the reward may not always be overtly positive—it may also be a double-edged sword that could harm them physically or spiritually. This type of reward typically triggers yet another internal transformation within the hero, one that grants them the knowledge and personal drive to complete the journey and face their remaining challenges.

From the reward, the hero is no longer externally driven to complete the journey, but has evolved to take on the onus of doing so.

Examples of rewards may include:

A weapon, elixir, or object that will be necessary to complete the quest.

Special knowledge, or a personal transformation to use against a foe.

An eye-opening experience that provides deep insight and fundamentally changes the hero and their position within the story and world.

Reconciliation with another character, or with themselves.

No matter what the reward is, the hero should experience some emotional or spiritual revelation and a semblance of inner peace or personal resolve to continue the journey. Even if the reward is not overtly positive, the hero and the reader deserve a moment of celebration for facing the great challenge they set out to overcome.

Step Nine example

Bilbo defeats the dragon at a battle of wits and riddles, and now receives his reward. He keeps the gifts he has earned, both the dagger and the gold ring. He is also granted his slice of the treasure, and the Lonely Mountain is returned to Thorin. The party at large is rewarded for completing the quest and challenge they set out to do.

However, Tolkien writes the reward to be more complex than it first appears. The party remains trapped and hungry within the Mountain as events unfold outside of it. Laketown has been attacked by Smaug, and the defenders will want compensation for the damage to their homes and for their having to kill the dragon. Bilbo discovers, and then hides, the Arkenstone (a symbolic double edged reward) to protect it from Thorin’s selfishness and greed.

Step Ten: “The Road Back”

10. The Road Back

The road back in the Hero’s Journey is the beginning of the third act, and represents a turning point within the story. The hero must recommit to the journey, alongside the new stakes and challenges that have arisen from the completion of the original goal.

The road back presents roadblocks—new and unforeseen challenges to the hero that they must now face on their journey back to the ordinary world. The trials aren’t over yet, and the stakes are raised just enough to keep the story compelling before the final and ultimate conflict—the hero’s resurrection—is revealed in the middle of the third act.

The hero has overcome their greatest challenge in the Ordeal and they aren’t the same person they were when they started. This stage of the story often sees the hero making a choice, or reflecting on their transformed state compared to their state at the start of the journey.

The writer’s purpose in the third act is not to eclipse the upcoming and final conflict, but to up the stakes, show the true risk of the final climax, and to reflect on what it will take for the hero to ultimately prevail. The road back should offer a glimmer of hope—the light at the end of the tunnel—and should let the reader know the dramatic finale is about to arrive.

Step Ten example

What was once a journey to steal treasure and slay a dragon has developed new complications. Our hero, Bilbo, must now use all of the powers granted in his personal transformation, as well as the gifts and rewards he earned on the quest, to complete the final stages of the journey.

This is the crisis moment of The Hobbit ; the armies of Laketown are prepared for battle to claim their reward for killing Smaug; the fearless leader of their party, Thorin, has lost reason and succumbed to greed; and Bilbo makes a crucial choice based his personal growth: he gives the Arkenstone to the king as a bargaining chip for peace. Bilbo also briefly reconnects with the mentor, Gandalf, who warns him of the unpleasant times ahead, but comforts Bilbo by saying that things may yet turn out for the best. Bilbo then loyally returns to his friends, the party of dwarves, to stand alongside them in the final battle.

11. Resurrection

The resurrection stage of the Hero’s Journey is the final climax of the story, and the heart of the third act. By now the hero has experienced internal and external transformation and a loss of innocence, coming out with newfound knowledge. They’re fully rooted in the special world, know its rules, and have made choices that underline this new understanding.

The hero must now overcome the final crisis of their external quest. In an epic fantasy tale, this may be the last battle of light versus darkness, good versus evil, a cumulation of fabulous forces. In a thriller, the hero might ultimately face their own morality as they approach the killer. In a drama or romance, the final and pivotal encounter in a relationship occurs and the hero puts their morality ahead of their immediate desires.

The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been, and the hero must often choose to make a sacrifice. The sacrifice may occur as a metaphoric or symbolic death of the self in some way; letting go of a relationship, title, or mental/emotional image of the self that a hero once used as a critical aspect of their identity, or perhaps even a metaphoric physical death—getting knocked out or incapacitated, losing a limb, etc.

Through whatever the great sacrifice is, be it loss or a metaphoric death, the hero will experience a form of resurrection, purification, or internal cleansing that is their final internal transformation.

In this stage, the hero’s character arc comes to an end, and balance is restored to the world. The theme of the story is fully fleshed out and the hero, having reached some form of self-actualization, is forever changed. Both the reader and the hero experience catharsis—the relief, insight, peace, closure, and purging of fear that had once held the hero back from their final transformation.

Step Eleven example

All the armies have gathered, and the final battle takes place. Just before the battle commences, Bilbo tells Thorin that it was he who gave the Arkenstone to the city of men and offers to sacrifice his reward of gold for taking the stone. Gandalf, the mentor, arrives, standing beside Bilbo and his decision. Bilbo is shunned by Thorin and is asked to leave the party for his betrayal.

Bilbo experiences a symbolic death when he’s knocked out by a stone. Upon awakening, Bilbo is brought to a dying Thorin, who forgives him of his betrayal, and acknowledges that Bilbo’s actions were truly the right thing to do. The theme of the story is fully unveiled: that bravery and courage comes in all sizes and forms, and that greed and gold are less worthy than a life rich in experiences and relationships.

Step Twelve: “Return with the Elixir”

12. Return with the Elixir

The elixir in the Hero’s Journey is the final reward the hero brings with them on their return, bridging their two worlds. It’s a reward hard earned through the various relationships, tests, and growth the hero has experienced along their journey. The “elixir” can be a magical potion, treasure, or object, but it can also be intangible—love, wisdom, knowledge, or experience.

The return is key to the circular nature of the Hero’s Journey. It offers a resolution to both the reader and the hero, and a comparison of their growth from when the journey began.

Without the return, the story would have a linear nature, a beginning and an end. In bringing the self-actualized hero home to the ordinary world, the character arc is completed, and the changes they’ve undergone through the journey are solidified. They’ve overcome the unknown, and though they’re returning home, they can no longer resume their old life because of their new insight and experiences.

Step Twelve example

The small yet mighty hero Bilbo is accompanied on his journey home by his mentor Gandalf, as well as the allies he gathered along his journey. He returns with many rewards—his dagger, his golden ring, and his 1/14th split of the treasure—yet his greatest rewards are his experience and the friends he has made along the way. Upon entering the Shire Bilbo sings a song of adventure, and the mentor Gandalf remarks, “My dear Bilbo! Something is the matter with you, you are not the hobbit you were.”

The final pages of The Hobbit explore Bilbo’s new self in the Shire, and how the community now sees him as a changed hobbit—no longer quite as respectable as he once was, with odd guests who visit from time to time. Bilbo also composes his story “There and Back Again,” a tale of his experiences, underlining his greatest reward—stepping outside of the Shire and into the unknown, then returning home, a changed hobbit.

Books that follow the Hero’s Journey

One of the best ways to become familiar with the plot structure of the Hero’s Journey is to read stories and books that successfully use it to tell a powerful tale. Maybe they’ll inspire you to use the hero’s journey in your own writing!

The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling.

The Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The Odyssey by Homer.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

Writing tips for the Hero’s Journey

Writing a Hero’s Journey story often requires planning beforehand to organize the plot, structure, and events of the story. Here are some tips to use the hero’s journey archetype in a story:

Use a template or note cards to organize and store your ideas. This can assist in ensuring that you tie up any loose ends in the plot, and that the cadence of your story is already outlined before you begin writing.

Use word count goals for writing different sections of your story. This can help you keep pace while you plan and write the first draft. You can always revise, edit, and add in detail at later stages of development, but getting the ideas written without bogging them down with details can assist in preparing your outline, and may perhaps provide additional inspiration and guidance along the way.

Lean into creativity and be flexible with the 12 steps. They don’t need to occur in the exact order we’ve listed above, but that ordering can offer great checkpoint moments for your story.

Invest in characterization and ensure that your main character is balanced with credible strengths and weaknesses. A perfect, pure hero has no room to grow. A one-dimensional villain who relies on the trope of “pure evil” without any motivations for their actions is boring and predictable.

Ensure tension and urgency is woven into the story. An epic tale to the grocery store for baby formula may still be fraught with danger, and the price of failure is a hungry child. Without urgency, tension, and risk, a Hero’s Journey will fall flat.

Be hard on your characters. Give them deep conflicts that truly test their nature, and their mental, physical, and spiritual selves. An easy journey isn’t a memorable one.

Have a balance of scenes that play on both positive and negative emotions and outcomes for the hero to create a compelling plot line that continues to engage your reader. A story that’s relentlessly positive doesn’t provide a pathway for the hero to transform. Likewise, a story that’s nothing but doom, strife, and turmoil, without a light at the end of the tunnel or an opportunity for growth, can make a story feel stagnant and unengaging.

Reward your characters and your reader. Personal transformation and the road to the authentic self may be grueling, but there’s peace or joy at the end of the tunnel. Even if your character doesn’t fully saved the world, they—and the reader—should be rewarded with catharsis, a new perspective, or personal insight at the end of the tale.

Hero’s Journey templates

Download these free templates to help you plan out your Hero’s Journey:

Download the Hero’s Journey template template (docx) Download the Hero’s Journey template template (pdf)

Prompts and practices to help you write your own Hero’s Journey

Use the downloadable template listed below for the following exercises:

Read a book or watch a movie that follows the Hero’s Journey. Use the template to fill in when each step occurs or is completed. Make note of themes and symbols, character arcs, the main plot, and the subplots that drive complexity in the story.

When writing, use a timer set to 2—5 minutes per section to facilitate bursts of creativity. Brainstorm ideas for cadence, plot, and characters within the story. The outline you create can always be modified, but the timer ensures you can get ideas on paper without a commitment; you’re simply jotting down ideas as quickly as you can.

Use the downloadable template above to generate outlines based on the following prompts.

A woman’s estranged mother has died. A friend of the mother arrives at the woman’s home to tell her that her mother has left all her belongings to her daughter, and hands her a letter. The letter details the mother’s life, and the daughter must visit certain places and people to find her mother’s house and all the belongings in it—learning more about her mother’s life, and herself, along the way.

The last tree on earth has fallen, and technology can no longer sustain human life on Earth. An engineer, having long ago received alien radio signals from a tower in their backyard, has dedicated their life to building a spaceship in their garage. The time has come to launch, and the engineer must select a group of allies to bring with them to the stars, on a search for a new life, a new home, and “the others” out there in the universe.

A detective is given a new case: to find a much-talked-about murderer. The twist is, the murderer has sent a letter to the detective agency, quietly outing a homicidal politician who is up for re-election and is a major financial contributor to the police. In the letter, the murderer states that if the politician doesn’t come clean about their crimes, the murderer will kill the politician on the night of the election. The detective must solve the case before the election, and come to terms with their own feelings of justice and morality.

Get feedback on your writing today!

Scribophile is a community of hundreds of thousands of writers from all over the world. Meet beta readers, get feedback on your writing, and become a better writer!

Join now for free

hero's journey outline

Related articles

hero's journey outline

What Are Character Archetypes? 16 Archetypes, Plus Examples

hero's journey outline

What is the Mentor Archetype? Definition and Examples

hero's journey outline

How to Write a Book Outline for a Nonfiction Book

hero's journey outline

Writing the Rebel Archetype: Fictional Characters Who Make Their Own Rules (with Examples)

hero's journey outline

What is a Static Character? Definition and Examples

hero's journey outline

What is Conflict in a Story? Definition & 4 Types of Conflict

30 Day Books Logo 2.0

30 Day Books

A book studio for self-published & indie authors

  • Writing craft

Hero’s Journey: A Guide to the Ultimate Storytelling Framework

hero's journey outline

Every captivating story, from ancient myths to modern blockbusters, shares a common narrative structure that resonates with audiences across generations and cultures. This powerful storytelling framework is known as the hero’s journey, a concept rooted in the groundbreaking work of renowned mythologist and author, Joseph Campbell. In this blog post, we’ll delve deep into the fascinating world of the hero’s journey, exploring its key components, providing examples from iconic literature, and sharing insights on how you can harness this timeless narrative structure to elevate your own writing. So, buckle up and join us on this epic adventure as we unravel the secrets of the hero’s journey and uncover the universal threads that bind us all together through the power of storytelling.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

At its core, the hero’s journey is a narrative framework that outlines the transformative arc of a protagonist as they embark on an adventure, face and overcome challenges, and ultimately return home, forever changed by their experiences. The concept was popularized by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” where he identified a common pattern in the myths and stories from different cultures and historical periods. Campbell believed that the hero’s journey resonated deeply with readers and audiences because it mirrored universal psychological and spiritual experiences, making it a powerful tool for creating engaging and meaningful stories.

The hero’s journey serves as both a structural blueprint and a symbolic template for stories, enabling writers to craft compelling narratives that reflect the trials, triumphs, and transformations we all encounter in our own lives. By understanding and incorporating the elements of the hero’s journey into your writing, you can create stories that not only entertain but also inspire and enlighten, transcending the boundaries of time and culture to connect with the very essence of human experience.

The Three Acts of a Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey can be broken down into three distinct acts, each comprising a series of stages that capture the essential elements of the protagonist’s transformative arc. These three acts provide a roadmap for writers, helping them navigate the complex landscape of their stories and ensuring that their heroes undergo meaningful and memorable journeys.

  • Departure (The Call to Adventure)
  • Initiation (Trials and Transformation)
  • Return (Master of Two Worlds)

As we explore each act in greater detail, you’ll begin to recognize the familiar narrative beats that have captivated audiences for centuries, and discover how you can use these archetypal elements to bring your own stories to life.

It’s important to note that while the hero’s journey offers a structured framework for storytelling, it is by no means a rigid formula. Writers should feel free to adapt, modify, and expand upon the hero’s journey to suit the unique needs of their stories and characters, always bearing in mind that the ultimate goal is to create engaging, emotionally resonant narratives that connect with readers on a deeper level.

Act 1 – Departure

The first act of the hero’s journey, Departure, sets the stage for the protagonist’s transformative adventure. It introduces the hero in their familiar, ordinary world and presents them with a call to action that will propel them into the unknown. Here are the key stages of the Departure act:

  • The Ordinary World: This stage establishes the hero’s everyday life, providing a relatable starting point for the reader. It highlights the hero’s wants, needs, and any underlying issues that will be addressed throughout the story.
  • Call to Adventure: The hero is presented with a challenge, quest, or opportunity that disrupts their ordinary world and demands a response. This call to action sets the story in motion and paves the way for the protagonist’s transformative journey.
  • Refusal of the Call: Often, the hero initially resists or doubts the call to adventure, revealing their fears and insecurities. This refusal adds tension and deepens the character’s complexity, making their eventual acceptance of the call more satisfying and impactful.
  • Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a guide, teacher, or wise figure who provides advice, support, and sometimes magical aid. This mentor figure helps prepare the hero for the trials they will face, and often plays a crucial role in the protagonist’s development.
  • Crossing the Threshold: The hero finally commits to the adventure, leaving their ordinary world behind and stepping into the unknown. This stage marks the point of no return, as the hero embarks on a journey that will forever change them.

The Departure act sets the foundation for the hero’s journey, establishing the protagonist’s relatable struggles and desires while setting them on a path toward growth and transformation. As a writer, it’s essential to carefully craft this act to create a compelling and believable starting point for your hero’s adventure.

Famous Example: The Departure of Harry Potter

To help illustrate the Departure act in action, let’s examine the early stages of the beloved hero’s journey in J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

  • The Ordinary World: Harry Potter’s life is far from ideal. He lives with his cruel and uncaring aunt, uncle, and cousin, the Dursleys, in the small, ordinary town of Little Whinging. Despite his miserable circumstances, Harry longs for a sense of belonging and yearns to learn more about his deceased parents.
  • Call to Adventure: Harry receives a mysterious letter from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, inviting him to attend the prestigious institution. This invitation promises to pull him out of his mundane life and into a world of magic, wonder, and hidden potential.
  • Refusal of the Call: Initially, the Dursleys do everything in their power to prevent Harry from attending Hogwarts, hiding the letters and even fleeing to a remote island. Harry’s desire to learn about his parents and his true heritage is challenged by the Dursleys’ determination to keep him from discovering the truth.
  • Meeting the Mentor: Harry meets Rubeus Hagrid, the half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts, who not only delivers Harry’s acceptance letter but also serves as his guide and protector in the magical world. Hagrid reveals the truth about Harry’s parents, his connection to the wizarding world, and the significance of the lightning-shaped scar on his forehead.
  • Crossing the Threshold: Harry leaves his life with the Dursleys behind and steps into the magical realm by traveling through the hidden platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross Station. As he boards the Hogwarts Express, he embarks on an adventure that will transform him from a downtrodden orphan into a powerful and celebrated wizard.

By skillfully weaving together the stages of the Departure act, J.K. Rowling creates an unforgettable introduction to Harry Potter’s hero’s journey, setting the stage for a thrilling and transformative adventure that has captivated readers for generations.

Act 2 – Initiation

As the hero steps into the unknown, the second act, Initiation, unfolds. This act is where the hero’s character and resolve are tested through a series of trials and tribulations. Through these challenges, the protagonist forms new relationships, acquires new skills, and grows as an individual. Here are the key stages of the Initiation act:

  • Trials, Allies, and Enemies: The hero encounters a series of tests and obstacles that push them to their limits. They forge new alliances and face adversaries, which help them gain the skills and knowledge needed to confront their ultimate challenge. This stage is crucial for character development, as the protagonist’s reactions and choices reveal their true nature.
  • Approach to the Innermost Cave: As the hero nears the climax of their journey, they must confront their deepest fears and darkest shadows. The “Innermost Cave” can be a physical location or a metaphorical space, representing the hero’s confrontation with their greatest personal or external challenge.
  • The Ordeal: The protagonist faces their most significant trial, a life-or-death struggle that tests their strength, courage, and resourcefulness. This ordeal often leads to a symbolic or literal death and rebirth, signifying a profound transformation in the hero’s character or perception of themselves.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword): After overcoming the ordeal, the hero is granted a reward, which may take the form of a physical object, a new ability, or a revelation. This reward symbolizes the hero’s growth and newfound mastery, equipping them to face the final challenges of their journey.

The Initiation act is a crucible for the hero, as they confront adversity and evolve in response to the challenges they face. As a writer, it’s essential to craft compelling trials and conflicts that not only entertain but also illuminate the protagonist’s inner journey, revealing their strengths, weaknesses, and capacity for growth.

Famous Example: The Initiation of Luke Skywalker

To better understand the Initiation act, let’s delve into the captivating trials and tribulations of Luke Skywalker from George Lucas’s “ Star Wars : Episode IV – A New Hope.”

  • Trials, Allies, and Enemies: Luke encounters numerous challenges on his journey, from evading Imperial forces to navigating the treacherous Death Star. Along the way, he forms alliances with characters such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, each of whom plays a vital role in his development. He also confronts adversaries like Darth Vader and the ruthless Galactic Empire, which test his courage and convictions.
  • Approach to the Innermost Cave: As the Rebel Alliance prepares for their daring assault on the Death Star, Luke faces his greatest fear: the possibility of failure and the loss of his newfound friends. This moment of self-doubt forces Luke to confront his insecurities and embrace the lessons he has learned from his mentor, Obi-Wan.
  • The Ordeal: Luke’s ordeal comes during the climactic Battle of Yavin, where he pilots his X-wing fighter in a desperate attempt to destroy the Death Star before it can annihilate the Rebel base. As he faces seemingly insurmountable odds, Luke is guided by the spirit of Obi-Wan, who encourages him to trust in the Force.
  • Reward (Seizing the Sword): After successfully destroying the Death Star, Luke is celebrated as a hero and awarded a medal by Princess Leia. More importantly, he gains newfound confidence in his abilities and his connection to the Force, setting the stage for his continued growth and transformation throughout the remainder of the saga.

By incorporating the stages of the Initiation act, George Lucas masterfully charts Luke Skywalker’s transformative journey from a naïve farm boy to a resourceful and courageous hero. This compelling narrative arc not only entertains but also reflects timeless themes of self-discovery, resilience, and the power of friendship, making “Star Wars” an enduring classic that continues to captivate audiences worldwide.

Act 3 – Return

The final act of the hero’s journey, Return, brings the protagonist’s transformative arc to a satisfying conclusion. Having overcome their trials and emerged victorious, the hero must now return to their ordinary world, where they will apply their newfound wisdom, skills, or power for the benefit of others. Here are the key stages of the Return act:

  • The Road Back: The hero begins their journey back to the ordinary world, often facing challenges or temptations that test their resolve and commitment to their newfound purpose. This stage serves as an opportunity for the hero to demonstrate their growth and mastery, as they confront familiar obstacles with renewed strength and insight.
  • Resurrection: The hero faces a final, climactic ordeal that represents their ultimate test of character, courage, and transformation. Often mirroring the earlier ordeal in the Initiation act, this confrontation requires the hero to draw upon all the lessons and experiences they have gained on their journey, leading to a powerful moment of catharsis and renewal.
  • Return with the Elixir: Having triumphed over their final challenge, the hero returns to their ordinary world, bearing a tangible or intangible “elixir” that represents their transformation and the wisdom they have acquired. This elixir often serves as a solution to a problem or conflict within their community, fulfilling the hero’s ultimate purpose and bringing their journey full circle.

The Return act is a crucial component of the hero’s journey, as it not only completes the protagonist’s transformation but also reinforces the universal themes of growth, self-discovery, and the power of individual agency. As a writer, it’s essential to craft a compelling and emotionally resonant conclusion that both celebrates the hero’s achievements and emphasizes the lasting impact of their journey.

Famous Example: The Return of Frodo Baggins

To illustrate the power of the Return act, let’s explore the culmination of Frodo Baggins’s epic journey in J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings.”

  • The Road Back: After the destruction of the One Ring and the defeat of Sauron, Frodo and his companions begin their journey back to the Shire, their home in the ordinary world. Despite their hard-won victory, the hobbits are not immune to the lingering effects of their experiences, as they continue to grapple with the emotional and physical scars of their adventure.
  • Resurrection: Upon their return to the Shire, Frodo and his friends discover that their home has been ravaged by the villainous Saruman and his henchmen. This final confrontation serves as a test of the hobbits’ newfound strength and resourcefulness, as they apply the skills and lessons they have gained on their journey to rally their community and reclaim their homeland.
  • Return with the Elixir: With the Shire restored and Saruman defeated, Frodo and his companions are hailed as heroes, and their once-ordinary lives are forever transformed by their extraordinary journey. Frodo, in particular, bears the intangible elixir of wisdom and courage, which he shares through his writing and storytelling, ensuring that the legacy of their adventure endures for future generations.

Through the stages of the Return act, J.R.R. Tolkien skillfully brings Frodo Baggins’s transformative journey to a close, emphasizing the lasting impact of his experiences and the power of individual agency in shaping not only his own destiny but the fate of his entire world. This emotionally resonant and satisfying conclusion is a testament to the enduring power of the hero’s journey as a framework for creating timeless and universally resonant narratives.

How to Use the Hero’s Journey in Your Writing

Now that we’ve delved into the three acts of the hero’s journey and explored some famous examples, you may be wondering how you can apply this timeless narrative structure to your own writing. While the hero’s journey offers a valuable framework for crafting compelling stories, it’s essential to approach it as a flexible blueprint rather than a rigid formula. Here are some tips for incorporating the hero’s journey into your writing:

Identify your hero’s core desires and fears

Understanding your protagonist’s motivations and inner struggles is crucial for crafting a meaningful and emotionally resonant hero’s journey. Consider what drives your hero, what they hope to achieve, and what obstacles they must overcome to realize their goals.

Adapt the structure to your unique story

While the hero’s journey is a proven narrative structure, not every stage will be relevant or necessary for your specific story. Don’t be afraid to modify, expand, or omit certain elements to suit the needs of your characters and plot. The key is to maintain a clear sense of the protagonist’s transformative arc and ensure that their journey remains engaging and emotionally satisfying.

Create compelling challenges and conflicts

The trials and ordeals your hero faces should not only test their physical and mental abilities but also push them to confront their deepest fears and insecurities. Design conflicts that force your protagonist to grow, change, and ultimately emerge as a stronger, more capable individual.

Balance the familiar with the unexpected

While the hero’s journey is based on universal archetypes and narrative beats, it’s crucial to infuse your story with originality and surprise. Experiment with unconventional approaches to the hero’s journey, such as subverting expectations, exploring unconventional hero archetypes, or employing an unconventional narrative structure.

Emphasize your hero’s transformation

The heart of the hero’s journey lies in the protagonist’s personal growth and transformation. Ensure that your hero’s arc is clear, believable, and emotionally resonant by highlighting the lessons they learn, the relationships they form, and the inner obstacles they overcome on their journey.

By integrating the hero’s journey into your writing and adapting it to suit your unique story, you can create compelling, emotionally resonant narratives that resonate with readers and stand the test of time. In essence, you become a better writer .

The Hero’s Journey Across Cultures and Time

The hero’s journey is not only a powerful narrative framework, but it also holds immense cultural and historical significance. Present in countless myths, legends, and stories from around the world, the hero’s journey transcends time and geography, offering a universal blueprint for storytelling that resonates with diverse audiences.

Mythology and folklore

The hero’s journey can be traced back to the earliest myths and legends, from the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh to the Greek hero’s journey of Odysseus in Homer’s “The Odyssey.” These ancient narratives reflect the hero’s journey’s timeless appeal and the universal themes of transformation, self-discovery, and redemption.

Religious narratives

The hero’s journey is also deeply ingrained in religious texts and stories, such as the journeys of Moses in the Hebrew Bible or the life of the Buddha in Buddhist traditions. These narratives not only convey spiritual and moral lessons but also embody the transformative power of the hero’s journey, emphasizing the potential for personal growth and enlightenment.

Literature and popular culture

From classic novels like “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain to modern film franchises like “The Matrix” and “ The Hunger Games ,” the hero’s journey continues to captivate and inspire storytellers and audiences alike. Its enduring appeal is a testament to its ability to tap into universal human experiences and desires, transcending the boundaries of culture, language, and time.

Cross-cultural connections

The hero’s journey reveals a fascinating tapestry of interconnected narratives and themes, which can foster a greater appreciation and understanding of the diverse cultural traditions and perspectives that have shaped human history. By exploring the hero’s journey in various contexts, we can deepen our empathy and broaden our worldview, recognizing the shared human experiences that unite us all.

The hero’s journey’s remarkable longevity and cross-cultural resonance underscore its profound significance as a tool for storytelling and resource for writers . By embracing and celebrating the hero’s journey in its many forms, we can not only create compelling stories but also foster a deeper sense of connection and empathy with others, transcending the barriers of time and culture.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

Recently on the blog

  • 8 Spanish Book Illustrators That’ll Leave You In Awe
  • 8 French Book Illustrators Who Master Visual Storytelling
  • Literary Shadows: 8 Fiction Ghostwriters Unveiled
  • The 8 Best Book Ghostwriters in California: A Curated Guide
  • 20 Book Illustrators for Hire To Make Your Book Look Beautiful

Also Check Out

  • A Roundup of the Best Book Writing Software
  • Directory of Literary Agents
  • Directory of Writing Classes and Courses
  • How to Design a Book Cover That Stands Out
  • How to Find a Literary Agent
  • How to Self-Publish a Book
  • How to Write a Query Letter (+ Free Querying Toolkit)
  • Templates for Writing a Book (Free Downloads)

hero's journey outline

Introduction to the Hero’s Journey Outline

Have you ever noticed that all the good stories follow a similar pattern? That there are just certain narrative elements that resonate with many people and have an emotional impact?

While there are a variety of templates used by storytellers, one of the most well-known and influential structures is the Hero’s Journey outline. This story model is profoundly character-centered, as it demonstrates both the internal and external voyage of the hero. 

The Hero’s Journey structure is used in films, novels, video games, and all the other types of enterprises where storytelling is required. Understanding its principles will allow you to comprehend the fundamentals of crafting a powerful story. 

Our introduction to the Hero’s Journey outline will give you a rudimentary knowledge of this structure, and how with its help you can become a better storyteller.

Who Created the Hero’s Journey?

The term Hero’s Journey was coined by Joseph Campbell in 1987. 

hero's journey outline

Joseph Campbell was an American professor of literature and comparative mythology. He has traveled the world and collected folk tales, myths, legends, and stories from different countries and cultures. Throughout his travels, Campbell observed that all those stories follow a similar pattern. 

The pattern involved a hero with a specific goal, traveling into the realm of the unknown, fulfilling the wish through sacrifice, and returning to the world of the ordinary by restoring the balance. 

Even though the art of telling a story has existed long before Campbell, he was the one who tailored the term Hero’s Journey and popularized it. According to Campbell, the Hero’s Journey outline is “as old as time” and acts as a guideline to “fundamental human experience”. 

Essentially, the Hero’s Journey outline is a story of change and sacrifice; these motifs are present in all the stories. Campbell said that on an elemental level we are all retelling the universal story, over and over again; he dubbed it the monomyth . 

The Monomyth: Separation, Initiation, Return 

The Monomyth follows a basic yet cardinal structure. It involves a hero, with a particular goal in mind, who needs to venture into the unknown, leaving the ordinary world behind, and return balance for the sake of the greater good through sacrifice. 

Another important aspect that needs to be understood, is that Hero’s Journey incorporates a set of archetypal characters. Archetypal character constitutes a patterned quality of a certain character, again present in all stories. Some of the archetypal characters are hero, tyrant, damsel in distress, wise old man, fool, etc. 

The monomyth is usually depicted through a circle diagram, separated into three segments. In a clockwise direction, a hero needs to pass through the whole circle, and return to the back where he has started from. Only now the hero has manifested his destiny, self-actualized his potential, and completed a sacrifice that is going to bring out the best. 

hero's journey outline

Traditionally, the Hero’s Journey template was divided into three segments and 17 stages. The three segments are separation, initiation, return.  We are going to break down these three segments, analyze each stage, and see why each one of them is important for a storytelling purpose. 

The Hero’s Journey Outline

The separation segment represents a departure from the known and the ordinary realm. This is the world that needs some change, needs saving. The hero leaves the comfort of everyday life behind and sails out for the adventure into the unknown territory. 

1. The Ordinary World

The Ordinary World is where the hero exists before the story starts, unknowing of what is to come. This is the status quo of our story, an ordinary world that needs to be left behind for the better.

2. Call to an Adventure

This is when the hero is invited to start the journey. This call, also known as an inciting incident, acts as a story catalyst. It disrupts the comfort of the everyday life of our hero and sets him out on an adventure. 

3. Refusal of the Call

The moment of doubt before setting out for an adventure. Hero refuses the call, because of insecurities and fears. On a storytelling level, this stage suggests that stakes for the upcoming journey are indeed too high. This is the last moment our hero can quit, but as the risks increase, the hero ends up accepting the call. 

4. Meeting the Mentor

Here is where the archetype of Wise Old Man comes in. The mentor figure provides important insight and guidance for the adventure. Usually, the hero is also given an amulet or a tool that will assist them later on in the story. Think about this character for a second. Obi-Wan Kenobi assisting Luke Skywalker with words of wisdom on Tatooine, or Alfred the Butler advising Bruce Wayne. This is also a great part of your story for the exposition. As a writer, you can introduce important information about your world and the story in this section. 

5. Crossing the First Threshold

By crossing the first threshold, the hero leaves all that is known and needed behind. This is the moment that marks the commitment of the hero to the journey. It is the point of no turning back, stakes are now higher than ever, and the only way is forward.

The initiation segment of the hero journey signifies the world of unknown, chaos, and mystery. Your hero needs to pass these series of tasks, that result in a sacrifice to restore the order from chaos. 

6. Belly of the Whale

This is when a hero is faced with his first obstacle. The hero has just entered the world of the unknown as if metaphorically devoured by a whale.

7. Road of Trials

This is where all the fun begins. For the hero to come back to the new reality transformed, initiation must be fulfilled. This is where your hero meets all the obstacles, challenges, and adversaries. During every trial, the hero learns a new skill or gets an insight into how to proceed with the journey. 

8. Meeting with the Goddess

This usually signifies the positive union, and where the hero gets united with the allies. This would be a great moment in your story to introduce a love interest or other sidekick characters. 

9. Temptation

One of the hardest tasks that a hero must pass through is temptation. This is the moment when the hero is usually offered to join the dark side, to abandon the path. 

10. Dark Night of the Soul

That’s where all seemed to be lost. Bad guys are winning. There is no more hope left in the outside world. This is the darkest time of the hero’s journey when the hero loses everything.

11. Atonement

Traditionally Campbell referred to this moment in a story as an Atonement with the Father. Usually, it’s where the hero needs to confront a father figure, god, or some higher perception of Self, to atone all the mistakes. This usually results in the realization that there is still might be hope left. One last chance to make things right. 

12. Apotheosis

This is the moment of transformation, realization, and achievement. Apart from in every story when through a sense of revelation the hero achieves the mission of the journey and attains internal bliss. Now the hero is transformed through a metaphorical death, fulfills the goal, and is ready to fight the final battle to return to the world of the ordinary.

The quest is fulfilled, fear is conquered, and the hero feels complete. But what now? In the final segment of Hero’s Journey, the protagonist restores the balance, finds a way to return home, and utilizes all that has been gained during the quest. 

13. Magic Flight

Now a self-actualized hero is ready to flee the world of the unknown and bring the elixir of life back to the normal world. This is the escape, the chase before the final battle.  

14. Rescue from Without

The same way a mentor figure has helped our hero to cross the threshold into the unknown, the hero needs to receive assistance to return to the ordinary. Whether it is aid from the hero’s new allies, forces of destiny, or a mentor, Hero will require some assistance to return. 

15. Crossing the Final Threshold

Hero is ready to encounter the final adversary, confront the biggest fear, and face that final boss. With all the knowledge and experience that the hero has acquired throughout the journey, he is now ready to battle the dragon. This is the ultimate hero moment, a moment where the stakes are at their highest. Whether it is fighting the main villain, accepting a harsh truth, or making the final sacrifice, this is the moment when the hero needs to return to the world of the known. 

16. Master of Two Worlds

After completing the journey, now the hero has become the king of the two worlds; the world of known and the world of the unknown. The hero has become what he aspired to be, and the balance is about to be brought. 

17. Freedom to Live

Balance has been restored to the ordinary world. Your hero is now wiser and more complete. This is your happy ending when the goal has been fulfilled, and justice has reigned. 

The Hero’s Journey Examples in Film

But how can you incorporate monomyth into filmmaking? Have others tried doing that?

Yes! All films follow Hero’s Journey to a certain extent. Remember filmmaking is just another form of storytelling, and thus it’s the monomyth being retold through a cinematic format.

Start Wars: A New Hope

Let’s take Star Wars, and try to roughly interpret it through Hero’s Journey specter. 

In A New Hope , young Luke Skywalker sails out on his journey to save princess Lea. As he crosses the known world of his planet, he encounters many adversaries and dangers. Luke makes new allies, follows his mentor, and learns the ways of the Force.  

As Luke saves the princess, he realizes that his mission is much bigger than what he thought at first. He now needs to fight Darth Vader, lead the rebellion, and destroy Death Star to restore balance in the universe. 

Luke succeeds, risking his own life, and with the help of his allies returns to the ordinary world, now possessing Jedi skills, and knowledge to fight the evil. 

Doesn’t the story fit the monomyth structure perfectly? You can see how the creator, George Lucas, was influenced by Hero’s Journey. Lucas has paid tributes to Joseph Cambell and his work in the creation of Star Wars. 

Finding Nemo

Let’s see whether this structure works with a different genre. How about a universally loved Pixar animation Finding Nemo ? 

In an ordinary world of an overprotective clownfish, Marlin is shaken, after his only son Nemo is captured by a pair of Scuba Divers. Marlin’s call to an adventure has left him no choice and has sent him immediately to the world of the unknown, with one universal goal: to locate his missing son.

As Marlin crosses the threshold into the abyss of chaos, he is faced with a serious road of trials: predatory sharks, a pack of jellyfish, evil seagulls. At some point, Marlin enters a stage  Belly of the Whale , while swallowed by a giant whale. On his journey, Marlin meets loyal allies: a blue tang Dory, turtles, and Pelican Nigel. With their help, Marlin reaches the final destination, the Dentist’s Office, and finds his son. To retrieve him, Marlin risks his own life, and in the end, finds Nemo. 

The story ends with a happy ending, where Marlin and Nemo return home. After being initiated into the world of danger and chaos, Marlin improves his life by recognizing his overprotectiveness and leaves happily ever after with his growing-up-son. Marvin’s journey explores a universal theme of a father-son relationship and utilizes elements of coming-of-age drama; something that many people can emphasize with. 

And how about more philosophical films like The Matrix ? Did the Wachowskis follow a monomyth structure? Spoiler alert: yes they did.

Neo, a young hacker, leaves his world of the “known” by choosing a red pill; a pill that reveals the truth about the Matrix, and brings him out to the real world. In the real world, where humans are enslaved by Artificial Intelligence, Neo is prophesied to be the One, a man to free humans from the oppression of the machines. 

Neo is mentored by his Wise Old Man, Morpheus, and is supported by powerful allies like Trinity. To survive and liberate humanity, Neo fights his enemies, and finally sacrifices his own life. 

In the end, Neo indeed becomes the Master of the Two Worlds. e gets resurrected, and masters the laws of the physical Matrix, virtually becoming a superhuman. 

Now think about other films. What about Harry Potter, Cinderella, Jaws, Saving Private Ryan, Devil’s Advocate, The Avengers. Isn’t it the same story told in different ways?

As you can see, all great storytellers think alike. These filmmakers used a traditional Monomyth structure, where the hero has completed a conventional journey, yet everyone ended up with such a different movie! 

Do not see Hero’s Journey as a creative limitation. Quite the contrary, own in by knowing it, and make it your own!

How to Use Hero’s Journey in Your Story?

So how can you incorporate the Hero’s Journey into your screenplays?

One thing guaranteed: knowing the Hero’s Journey outline can make your storytelling more powerful. Filmmakers ranging from Christopher Nolan to Steven Spielberg have revealed that they use Hero’s Journey constantly in their work.

Remember, a hero’s journey is a combination of not only external but an internal sojourn that your protagonist undertakes. Knowing the Hero’s Journey outline will help you to understand your story on a deeper level. 

There are a couple of useful techniques that you can practice to understand this narrative structure better. For example, you can re-watch your favorite film, with the Hero’s Journey outline in front of you. While you watch it, see how well the film fits the pattern. It might skip a couple of stages or re-arrange, but the overall structure will remain the same.

Whenever you are working on the story, try using the beats of your plot to match the beats of the Hero’s Journey. This will give your story shape, structure, and tempo. 

And by the way: rules are meant to be broken. Use the general structure of the monomyth to craft the story, but feel free to interchange some things. You should always find creative ways to alter and re-contextualize the hero’s journey wheel somehow. This is what is going to make your work stand out in the end. 

In Conclusion

Congratulations! Now you know how all the good stories are made. It is a lot to process, but if you start applying this knowledge when you watch or read something it gets easier. 

Knowing the monomyth structure, won’t only make you a better storyteller, but it will make you a better person. If you think about life and its periods, we all pass through our own Hero’s Journey. 

Think about growing up. As you mature, you leave the family house and descend into the voyage of the unknown, to transform yourself and manifest a beautiful future. Perhaps the reason why this storytelling structure works so well is that it mirrors our own life. 

Further Reading List: 

  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces (1949) – Joseph Campbell
  • The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (1992) – Christopher Vogel
  • Poetics – Aristotle 
  • Screenplay (1979) – Syd Field


Hero’s Journey: A Guide to Becoming The Hero Of Your Story

What will your story be?

Be the hero of your story . It’s common advice from motivational speakers and life coaches, a call to arms to take centre stage and tackle life’s challenges head-on, to emerge victorious in the face of adversity, to transform through hardship. 

As humans, hardwired to view the world and share experiences through the medium of stories, myths often act as powerful motivators of change. From ancient cave paintings to the Star Wars and its Death Star to Harry Potter and his battle against evil, the hero’s journey structure is a familiar one. It’s also one you need to know if you want to know how to write a book , but I digress. 

This article will outline the stages, and psychological meaning, of the 12 steps of Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey. So, are you ready to become the hero of your story? Then let the adventure begin…

Who is Joseph Campbell? 

Joseph Campbell was an American professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College, and an expert of mythology that once spent five years in a rented shack, buried in books for nine hours each day. His greatest contribution is the hero’s journey, outlined in his book The Hero with A Thousand Faces . Campbell was able to synthesise huge volumes of heroic stories, distilling a common structure amongst them.

Near the end of his life, Campbell was interviewed by Bill Moyers in a documentary series exploring his work, The Power of Myth .

Throughout their discussion, Campbell highlighted the importance of myth not just in stories, but in our lives, as symbols to inspire us to flourish and grow to our full potential.

How is the hero’s journey connected to self development?

You might be wondering what storytelling has to do with self-development. Before we dive into the hero’s journey (whether that is a male or a female hero’s journey), context will be useful. Joseph Cambell was heavily inspired by the work of Carl Jung, the groundbreaking psychologist who throughout his life worked on theories such as the shadow, collective unconscious, archetypes, and synchronicity.

the hero's journey steps

Jung’s greatest insight was that the unconscious is a vast, vibrant landscape, yet out sight from the ordinary conscious experience. Jung didn’t only theorize about the unconscious; he provided a huge body of work explaining the language of the unconscious, and the way in which it communicates with the conscious mind.

The nature of the unconscious

Due to its vast nature, the unconscious doesn’t operate like the conscious mind, which is based in language, logic, and rationality. The unconscious instead operates in the imaginal realm — using symbols and meaning that take time to be deciphered and understood consciously. Such symbols surface in dreams, visualizations, daydreams, or fantasies.

For Jung, the creative process is one in which contents of the unconscious mind are brought to light. Enter storytelling and character development — a process of myth-making that somehow captures the truth of deep psychological processes. 

Campbell saw the power of myth in igniting the unconscious will to grow and live a meaningful life. With that in mind, his structure offers a tool of transformation and a way to inspire the unconscious to work towards your own hero’s journey.

The 12 steps of the hero’s journey

The hero’s journey ends where it begins, back at the beginning after a quest of epic proportions. The 12 steps are separated into three acts: 

  • departure (1-5)
  • initiation (5-10)
  • return (10-1)

The hero journeys through the 12 steps in a clockwise fashion. As Campbell explains:

“The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.”

Let’s take a closer look at each of the steps below. Plus, under each is a psychological symbol that describes how the hero’s journey unfolds, and how when the hero ventures forth, he undergoes an inner process of awakening and transformation.

1. The ordinary world

The calm before the storm. The hero is living a standard, mundane life, going about their business unaware of the impending call to adventure. At this point, the hero is portrayed as very, very human. There could be glimpses of their potential, but these circumstances restrict the hero from fulfilling them. Although well within the hero’s comfort zone, at this stage, it’s clear something significant is lacking from their life.

Psychological symbol

This is represented as a stage of ignorance, pre-awakening. Living life by the status quo, on other people’s terms, or simply without questioning if this is what you want. At this point life is lived, but not deeply satisfying.

2. Call to adventure

Next is a disruption, a significant event that threatens the ways things were. This is a challenge that the hero knows deep down will lead to transformation and change, and that the days of normality, “the way things are,” are numbered. The hero confronts the question of being asked to step into their deeper potential, to awaken the power within, and to enter a new, special world.

Many of us embark on inner-journeys following hardship in life — the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, physical or mental illness. This stage occurs when it becomes apparent that, to move through suffering, one has to look within, to adventure into the soul.

3. Refusal of the call

No compelling story would be complete without friction. The hero often resists this call to adventure, as fear and self-doubt surface at full force, and the purpose of this new life direction is questioned. Can the reluctant hero journey forth? Do they have the courage?

The only way to grow and live a deeply fulfilling life is to face the discomfort of suffering. Campbell himself once said: “ The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek .” At this stage, fears, and anxieties about delving deep into the psyche arise. The temptation is to remain blissfully ignorant, to avoid discomfort, and to stay in your familiar world.

4. Meeting a mentor

As the hero faces a crisis of confidence , a wise mentor figure appears.

hero's journey steps

This character offers inspiration, guidance, or understanding that encourages the hero to have the self-belief to start this new adventure. In many stories, a mentor is someone else who has embarked on the hero’s journey, or someone who attempted, and failed. This person reflects the importance of this mission, reminding the hero their calling far exceeds their fear.

When the journey of exploration has to begin, people or situations enter your life at just the right time, guiding you in the right direction. This could be a close friend, a peer, a professional, such as a coach or therapist, or even a fictional character in a film or book. In most cases, these are chance encounters that contain a sense of knowing before the hero leaves on his or her adventure.

5. Crossing the threshold

This is a pivotal moment in the hero’s journey, as the initiation begins. This occurs when the hero fully commits to their quest, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual. This is the point of no return, where the reluctant hero embarks on their adventure, and has accepted that the way things were must change. The hero enters a new zone, one in which the call to adventure must be accepted. The hero’s resolve is hardened, and they understand they have a responsibility to confront what is ahead of them.

Whatever your life was before the call to action, this is a crossroads which is accepted, knowing your life may never be the same. This is a point of empowerment, where you realize that journeying within will lead you to greater self-understanding, even if those insights will dramatically change your life direction. 

6. Test, allies, enemies

Now the hero has ventured outside of their comfort zone, the true test begins. This is a stage of acclimatizing to unknown lands. Unknown forces work against them, as they form bonds with allies who join them along the way, or face formidable enemies or encounters that have to be conquered. Throughout this testing time, the hero will be shaped and molded through adversity, finding deeper meaning in their life and mission.

Once the journey of self-discovery is underway, the initial burst of inspiration might be tested by the difficulty of the task. You might meet people who are able to offer advice or guide you, or those who reflect areas of yourself you have to work on. 

Often, these are inner experiences, in the forms of memories, emotions, or outward tests, such as difficult circumstances that challenge your resolve and commitment to your new life direction.

7. Approach to the inmost cave

Having already crossed the threshold into the unknown and the uncertain, having faced obstacles and enemies, and having begun to utilize their qualities along the way, the next stage is another threshold. 

This is the beating heart of the hero’s challenge, where again self-doubt and fear can arise, as another threshold has to be crossed. This is often a period of respite, giving the hero time to pause and reflect. Will the hero make the leap?

The hero’s journey has ups and downs. There may be quick wins in the beginning — your new life direction may go well, or inner-work may lead you to a new place of calm or confidence. But then, out of nowhere, comes an even bigger challenge, surfacing as a question mark to the person you’ve become. Life often has a way of presenting the right challenges at the right time…

This is the life-or-death moment. This can be a meeting with an ultimate enemy or facing the hero’s deepest fear. There is an awareness that if the hero fails, their new world, or their life, could be destroyed. 

Everything the hero has fought for up to this point, all the lessons learned along the journey, all the hidden potentials actualized, will have to be utilized to survive this supreme ordeal, for the hero to be victorious. Either way, the hero will undergo a form of death, and leave the ordeal forever changed.

There are inner challenges that have to be confronted on the journey of self-discovery. This might be in the form of trauma that has to be confronted and healed, people with whom you have to have difficult conversations, or fears you have to face, actions that in the past you never thought you’d be capable of. But, with the skills you’ve learned along the way, this time you’ll be ready. But it won’t be easy.

9. Reward (seizing the sword)

Through great adversity comes triumph. Having confronted their greatest fear, and survived annihilation, the hero learns a valuable lesson, and is now fully transformed and reborn — with a prize as a reward. 

the hero's journey steps

This object is often symbolized as a treasure, a token, secret knowledge, or reconciliation, such as the return of an old friend or lover. This prize can assist in the return to the ordinary world — but there are still a few steps to come.

When confronting deep inner fears or challenges, you are rewarded with deep insights or breakthroughs. That might be in the form of achieving a significant goal or inwardly having a sense of peace or reconciliation with your past, or moments that have previously felt unresolved. As a spiritual process, this may also be the realization that behind suffering and pain lies freedom or inner peace.

10. The road back

Having traveled into distant, foreign lands and slain the dragon, now it’s time for the hero to make their return journey. This stage mirrors the original call to adventure and represents another threshold. 

The hero may be understanding their new responsibility and the consequences of their actions, and require a catalyst to make the journey back to the ordinary world with their prize.

The hard work has been done, the ultimate fear confronted, new knowledge found. Now, what’s the next step? For many, the initial stages of growth come with a period of renunciation or are symbolized by an outward journey away from home, or away from familiarity. 

Then comes the stage of returning to familiarity, or the things left behind — be it family, friends, locations, or even behaviors that were once loved and sacrificed during the journey.

11. Resurrection

When it appears the hero is out of the woods, there comes a final confrontation — an encounter with death itself. Transformed inwardly and with a personal victory complete, the hero faces a battle that transcends their individual quest, with its consequences far-reaching, for entire communities or even humanity itself. 

heroes journey

This purification solidifies the hero’s rebirth, as their new identity fully emerges just in time to return to the ordinary world.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is secondary to self-transcendence. In other words, once inner battles have been faced, and the alchemy of psychological transformation is underway, the next stage is to apply the newfound insights and knowledge to a bigger cause — supporting others, or standing up a mission that will benefit the wider world.

12. Return with the elixir

Following the final battle, the hero finally returns home. By now, personal transformation is complete, they’re returning home a different person. Having faced indescribable hardship, the hero returns with added wisdom and maturity. The elixir is the treasure they’ve returned with, ready to share with the ordinary world. This could be a sense of hope , freedom, or even a new perspective to assist those originally left behind.

The hero has a new level of self-awareness, seeing the ordinary world through fresh eyes. They’ve left internal conflict behind. There’s an understanding that things will never be the same, but that the hero’s journey was part of their destiny. 

Then comes the ultimate prize: a final reconciliation, acceptance from the community, celebration, redemption. Whatever the prize, there are three elements: change , success , and proof of the journey .

Following a transformative psychic process, there’s an understanding of what is within your control. The “ordinary world” may have many elements that remain the same, but this is accompanied by a realization that when you change, so does your reality. Previously modes of thinking may be replaced, as bridges are built with your past, giving opportunity for a renewed approach to life.

What can we learn from the hero’s journey?

At the time of writing this article, I’m in the UK visiting my family for the first time in 18 months. As I walked down paths I’d walked throughout my childhood, I was struck by how much I’ve changed over the years. A passage from T.S Eliot’s poem Little Gidding came to mind:

“We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.”

I reflected on the notion of coming full circle — to begin a journey, outwardly or inwardly, before finding yourself back at the beginning, transformed. In spiritual traditions, the circle is a powerful symbol of timelessness, death and rebirth, totality, and wholeness. Aptly, the 12 steps of the hero’s journey are depicted as a circle. It’s not a coincidence.

What can we learn from the hero’s journey? In a way, it is similar to the writer’s journey. Above all else, it’s a reminder that we each within us have a purpose, a quest and a mission in this life that can and will invoke our truest potential. The path isn’t easy — there are many, many challenges along the way. But at the right time, people and situations will come to our aid.

If you’re able to confront the mission head-on and take bold steps along the way — just like all the heroes of fiction before you, from Shakespeare’s characters to Luke Skywalker and Rey from the universe brought to us by George Lucas —  then you will be transformed, and then you can return to where you started, reborn, ready to share your gifts and your lessons with the world.

  • hero's journey
  • storytelling

' src=

Author exploring the soul of self-development, the mystery of existence, and the heartful path to maximising the human potential. Get your free copy of my book, Mindsets for Mindfulness , for practical guidance to overcome the ego on the journey of growth. More at MindThatEgo .com and on YouTube .

woman with a man with a beard, a sink full of dirty dishes and a post it note (inset)

Woman Wakes Up to Husband’s Dirty Dishes in the Sink – Instead of Cleaning Up, He Left Her a Note With 3 Words

family with a baby girl and police officers

Couple Hears “Cats Fighting” Outside – But What They Find in a Blanket Is Something Completely Different

little boy with his grandparents and a young man with his elderly grandma

22-Year-Old Grandson Decides to Become His Grandmother’s Caregiver After Refusing to Put Her in a Home

Novel Factory

A Practical Guide to Joseph Campbell and the Hero’s Journey

OVERVIEW: What are the hero’s journey steps? That is, what’s the psychological process we go through that can lead to inner transformation? This guide answers these questions.


Treasure, love, reward, approval, honor, status, freedom, and survival … these are some of the many things associated with the hero’s journey.

However, we don’t find the meaning of the hero’s journey in slaying the dragon or saving the princess.

These are but colorful metaphors and symbols for a more significant purpose.

Battling inner and outer demons, confronting bullies, and courting your ideal mate symbolize a passage through the often treacherous path of self-discovery toward adulthood.

If you complete one of these “adventures,” you’re different. Sometimes visually, but always internally.

Here, we’ll explore the meaning of the hero’s journey steps and see how it applies to psychological development and our ability to actualize our potential.

Let’s dive in …

What is the Hero’s Journey?

The hero’s journey refers to a common motif, or set of patterns, found in many ancient mythologies around the world.

The hero’s journey steps are said to be universal and found throughout recorded history.

The popularization of the hero’s journey is attributed to the late mythologist Joseph Campbell.

These stages lead an individual (the would-be hero) through a challenging process of change that often includes great hardships.

This well-known story structure is used in many modern films and storytelling. However, the true meaning of the hero’s journey motif is psychological in origin.

What is the Monomyth?

Joseph Campbell was a curious mythologist. In the field of comparative mythology, most scholars examine how one culture’s myths are different than another.

Instead of focusing on the many differences between cultural myths and religious stories, however, Campbell did the opposite: He looked for the similarities.

His studies resulted in what’s called the monomyth . The monomyth is a universal story structure.

Essentially, it’s a story template that takes a character through a sequence of stages. Campbell began identifying the patterns of this monomyth (the hero’s journey steps).

Over and over again, he was amazed to find this structure in the cultures he studied. He also observed the same sequence in many religions including the stories of Gautama Buddha, Moses, and Jesus Christ.

Campbell outlined the stages of the monomyth in his classic book  The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

What is the Hero?

The main character in the monomyth is the hero .

The hero isn’t a person, but an archetype —a set of universal images combined with specific patterns of behavior.

Think of a protagonist from your favorite film. He or she represents the hero.

The storyline of the film enacts the hero’s journey.

The Hero archetype resides in the psyche of every individual, which is one of the primary reasons we love hearing and watching stories.

What is a Myth?

We might ask, why explore the hero’s journey steps?

Sure, Hollywood uses it as their dominant story structure for its films (more on that later). But what relevance does it have for us as individuals?

Today, when we speak of “myth,” we refer to something that’s commonly believed, but untrue.

Myth, for minds like Campbell and Carl Jung however, had a much deeper meaning. Myths, for them, represent dreams of the collective psyche .

That is, in understanding the symbolic meaning of a myth, you come to know the psychological undercurrent—including hidden motivations , tensions, and desires—of the people and culture.

What is the Power of Myth?

Campbell explains to Bill Moyer in The Power of Myth : 1 Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth , 1991, 193.

Mythology is not a lie, mythology is poetry, it is metaphorical. It has been well said that mythology is the penultimate truth–penultimate because the ultimate cannot be put into words. It is beyond words. Beyond images, beyond that bounding rim of the Buddhist Wheel of Becoming. Mythology pitches the mind beyond that rim, to what can be known but not told.

As Campbell eloquently puts it in The Hero with a Thousand Faces ,

Mythology is psychology misread as biography, history, and cosmology.

Because the hero’s journey steps represent a monomyth that we can observe in most, if not all, cultures, it represents a process that is relevant to the entire human family .

hero's journey steps joseph campbell quote

What is this Process Within the Hero’s Journey?

It’s the process of personal transformation from an innocent child into a mature adult.

The child is born into a set of rules and beliefs of a group of people.

Through the child’s heroic efforts, he must break free from these conventions (transcend them) to discover himself.

In the process, the individual returns to his soul.

If we think of the hero’s journey as a roadmap for self-development, it can hold a lot of value for us.

A Quick Note About Gender: Masculine vs Feminine

This psychological decoding is based on a “Jungian” understanding of the psyche.

The hero is ultimately a masculine archetype. The female counterpart would be the heroine. While the hero and the heroine certainly share many attributes, they are not the same.

Similarly, the hero’s journey is predominantly a process of development for the masculine psyche. The hero archetype is associated with autonomy, building structure, and learning about limitations, which are qualities associated with masculine energy.

However, note that “masculine” and “feminine” are not the same as “man” and “woman.” The psyche of a man has a feminine counterpart—what Jung called the anima . The psyche of a woman has a masculine archetype called the animus . For this reason, the hero’s journey does have universal relevance.

While Western culture seems riddled with gender confusion, there are distinct differences between the masculine and the feminine psyche.

Okay, now back to our story …

The 3 Main Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Okay, so now let’s begin to break down the structure and sequence of the hero’s journey.

As Campbell explains:

The usual hero adventure begins with someone from whom something has been taken, or who feels there is something lacking in the normal experience available or permitted to the members of society. The person then takes off on a series of adventures beyond the ordinary, either to recover what has been lost or to discover some life-giving elixir. It’s usually a cycle, a coming and a returning.

This cycle of coming and returning has 3 clear stages:

Stage 1: Departure

Campbell called the initial stage departure or the call to adventure . The hero departs from the world he knows.

Luke Skywalker leaves his home planet to join Obi-Wan to save the princess. Neo gets unplugged from The Matrix with the help of Morpheus and his crew.

In the Departure stage, you leave the safety of the world you know and enter the unknown.

Campbell writes of this stage in The Hero with a Thousand Faces :

This first step of the mythological journey—which we have designated the “call to adventure”—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown.

That is, the hero must leave the known “conventional world” and enter a “special world” that is foreign.

Stage 2: Initiation

Now the hero must face a series of trials and tribulations. The hero’s journey isn’t safe.

The hero is tested in battle, skill, and conflict. He may not succeed in each action but must press on.

The protagonist will meet allies, enemies, and mentors with supernatural aid throughout the initiation stage.

Stage 3: Return

Having endured the trials and hardships of the adventure, the hero returns home.

But the hero is no longer the same. An internal transformation has taken place through the maturation process of the experience.

Luke is now a Jedi and has come to peace with his past. Neo embraces his destiny and liberates himself from the conventions of The Matrix.

The Hero’s Journey in Drama

In Three Uses of a Knife , famed playwright David Mamet suggests a similar three-act structure for plays and dramas: 2 David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama , 2000.

Act 1: Thesis . The drama presents life as it is for the protagonist. The ordinary world.

Act 2: Antithesis . The protagonist faces opposing forces that send him into an upheaval (disharmony).

Act 3: Synthesis . The protagonist attempts to integrate the old life with the new one.

We note that problems, challenges, and upheavals are the defining characteristic of this journey.

Without problems, the path toward growth is usually left behind. (More on this topic below.)

Assessing Your Place in the Hero’s Journey

Before we explore the stages of the monomyth more closely, let’s look at what these three phases reveal about self-mastery and psychological development.

Stage 1 represents our comfort zone. We feel safe here because it is known to us.

Stages 2 and 3, however, represent the unknown . Embracing the unknown means letting go of safety.

Abraham Maslow points out that we are confronted with an ongoing series of choices throughout life between safety and growth, dependence and independence, regression and progression, immaturity and maturity.

Maslow writes in Toward a Psychology of Being : 3 Abraham Maslow, Toward a Psychology of Being , 2014.

We grow forward when the delights of growth and anxieties of safety are greater than the anxieties of growth and the delights of safety.

Is it now clear why so many of us refuse the call to adventure?

We cling to the safety of the known instead of embracing the “delight of growth” that only comes from the unknown.

hero's journey steps campbell

Campbell’s 17 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell didn’t just outline three stages of the monomyth. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces , he deconstructs every step along the journey.

The stages of the hero’s journey are the common sequence of events that occurred in the monomyth motif.

Technically speaking, Campbell outlined 17 stages in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

  • 1: The Call to Adventure
  • 2: Refusal of the Call
  • 3: Supernatural Aid
  • 4: The Crossing of the First Threshold
  • 5: Belly of the Whale
  • 6: The Road of Trials
  • 7: The Meeting with the Goddess
  • 8: Woman as the Temptress
  • 9: Atonement with the Father
  • 10: Apotheosis
  • 11: The Ultimate Boon
  • 12: Refusal of the Return
  • 13: The Magic Flight
  • 14: Rescue from Without
  • 15: The Crossing of the Return Threshold
  • 16: Master of the Two Worlds
  • 17: Freedom to Live

These 17 stages or hero’s journey steps can be found globally in the myths and legends throughout recorded history.

The Modified 12 Hero’s Journey Steps

Now, let’s review these stages of the hero’s journey in more detail.

I’m going to outline these steps below using a slightly simplified version from Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers .

Vogler’s model, which is used throughout Hollywood, only has 12 steps (compared to 17), and I think it does a solid job of keeping the essence of Campbell’s monomyth structure intact.

As you read these hero’s journey steps, see if you can determine how they apply to your development.

Step 1: The Ordinary World

Before a would-be hero can enter the special world, he must first live in the ordinary world.

The ordinary world is different for each of us—it represents our norms, customs, conditioned beliefs, and behaviors. The ordinary world is sometimes referred to as the “conventional world.”

In The Hobbit , the ordinary world is the Shire where Bilbo Baggins lives with all the other Hobbits—gardening, eating and celebrating—living a simple life.

Novelist J.R.R. Tolkien contrasts this life in the Shire with the special world of wizards, warriors, men, elves, dwarfs, and evil forces on the brink of world war.

Step 2: The Call to Adventure

The first hero’s journey step is the call to adventure.

The call to adventure marks a transition from the ordinary world to the special world. The hero is introduced to his quest of great consequence.

Obi-Wan said to Luke, “You must come with me to Alderaan.” That is, Luke is invited to leave the ordinary world of his aunt and uncle’s farm life and go on an adventure with a Jedi knight.

Joseph Campbell explains: 4 Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey: Joseph Campbell On His Life And Work , 1990.

The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of this society to a zone unknown.

Step 3: Refusal of the Call

Fear of change as well as death, however, often leads the hero to refuse the call to adventure .

The ordinary world represents our comfort zone; the special world signifies the unknown.

Luke Skywalker immediately responds to Obi-Wan, “I can’t go with you,” citing his chores and responsibilities at home.

mentor archetype heros journey steps

Step 4: Meeting the Mentor

Campbell called this archetype the “mentor with supernatural aid.”

Generally, at an early stage of the adventure, the hero is graced by the presence of a wise sage . Personified in stories as a magical counselor , a reclusive hermit, or a wise leader, the mentor’s role is to help guide the hero.

Think Obi-Wan, Yoda, Gandalf, Morpheus, or Dumbledore. Sometimes cloaked in mystery and secret language, a mentor manifests when the hero is ready.

Sadly, our modern world is depleted of wise elders or shamans who can effectively bless the younger generation. (A topic for a different day.) For most of us, it is best to seek wise counsel from your inner guide , the Self within.

Step 5: Cross the First Threshold

The hero resists change initially but is ultimately forced to make a critical decision: embark on the adventure or forever remain in the ordinary world with its illusion of security.

Although Luke refuses the call to adventure initially, when he returns home to see his aunt and uncle dead, he immediately agrees to go with Obi-Wan. He crossed the first threshold.

In one sense, the first threshold is the point of no return. Once the hero shoots across the unstable suspension bridge, it bursts into flames.

There’s no turning back, at least, not how he came.

The first threshold can mark a major decision in our personal lives:

  • “I’m going to travel around the globe.”
  • “I’m going to transform my physical health.”
  • “I am going to write a book.”
  • “I’m going to master the flute.”
  • “I’m going to realize my true nature.”

This first breakthrough is a feat within itself; however, it is only the first of many turning points.

Step 6: Tests, Allies, Enemies

Along the hero’s journey, the main character encounters many obstacles and allies.

Luke meets Obiwan (mentor), Han Solo, Princess Leia, and the rebel alliance while fighting many foes. Neo meets Morpheus (mentor), Trinity, and the rest of the Nebuchadnezzar crew while having to fight Agents in a strange world.

Some people may try to stop you along your quest—possibly saying you’re unreasonable or unrealistic. These “dream-stoppers” are often cleverly masked as friends and family who appear to have positive intentions but hinder your development nonetheless.

Your ability to identify obstructions on your path and align with support along your adventure is critical to your adventure.

Unfortunately, because few complete their hero’s journey to mature adulthood, most people will unconsciously attempt to sabotage yours.

Step 7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

The next significant threshold is often more treacherous than the first.

Entering the villain’s castle or the evil billionaire’s mansion, this second major decision usually puts the hero at significant physical and psychological risks.

Neo decides to go save Morpheus who’s being held in a building filled with Agents.

Within the walls of the innermost cave lies the cornerstone of the special world where the hero closes in on his objective.

For a man, the innermost cave represents the Mother Complex, a regressive part of him that seeks to return to the safety of the mother. 5 Robert Johnson, He: Understanding Masculine Psychology, 1989.  When a man seeks safety and comfort—when he demands pampering—it means he’s engulfed within the innermost cave.

For a woman, the innermost cave often represents learning how to surrender to the healing power of nurturance—to heal the handless maiden. 6 Robert Johnson, The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden: Understanding the Wounded Feeling Function in Masculine and Feminine Psychology , 1995.

hero's journey steps joseph campbell

Step 8: Ordeal

No worthwhile adventure is easy. There are many perils on the path to growth, self-discovery , and self-realization.

A major obstacle confronts the hero, and the future begins to look dim: a trap, a mental imprisonment, or imminent defeat on the battlefield.

It seems like the adventure will come to a sad conclusion, as all hope appears lost. But hope remains and it is in these moments of despair when the hero must access a hidden part of himself—one more micron of energy, strength, faith, or creativity to find his way out of the belly of the beast.

Neo confronts Agent Smith in the subway station—something that was never done before. The hero must call on an inner power he doesn’t know he possesses.

Step 9: Reward

Having defeated the enemy and slain the dragon, the hero receives the prize. Pulling the metaphorical sword from the stone, the hero achieves the objective he set out to complete.

Whether the reward is monetary, physical, romantic, or spiritual, the hero transforms. Usually, the initial prize sought by the hero is physical—the sword in the stone or a physical treasure of some kind.

Step 10: The Road Back

Alas, the adventure isn’t over yet. There usually needs to be one last push to return home. Now the hero must return to the world from which he came with the sacred elixir.

Challenges still lie ahead in the form of villains, roadblocks, and inner demons. The hero must deal with whatever issues were left unresolved at this stage of the journey.

Taking moral inventory, examining the Shadow , and performing constant self-inquiry help the hero identify weaknesses and blindspots that will later play against him.

Step 11:  Resurrection

Before returning home—before the adventure is over—there’s often one more unsuspected, unforeseen ordeal.

This final threshold, which may be more difficult than the prior moment of despair, provides one last test to solidify the growth of the hero. This threshold represents the final climax.

Neo is shot and killed by Agent Smith. And, he literally resurrects to confront the enemy one last time following his transformation.

The uncertain Luke Skywalker takes that “one in a million” shot from his X-Wing to destroy the Death Star.

Step 12: Return with the Elixir

Often, the prize the hero initially sought (in Step 9) becomes secondary as a result of the personal transformation he undergoes.

Perhaps the original quest was financially driven , but now the hero takes greater satisfaction in serving others in need. The real change is always internal .

In this final stage, the hero can become the master of both worlds , with the freedom to live and grow, impacting all of humanity.

Returning with the prize, the hero’s experience of reality is different. The person is no longer an innocent child or adolescent seeking excitement or adventure.

Comfortable in his own skin, he has evolved and is now capable of handling the demands and challenges of everyday life.

The Hero’s Journey in Films

Are you now more aware of how these hero’s journey steps play out in popular films and television series?

George Lucas was friends with Joseph Campbell. Lucas used these hero’s journey steps from Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces to produce the original Star Wars film. 7 https://billmoyers.com/content/mythology-of-star-wars-george-lucas/

It’s difficult to appreciate the impact Star Wars still has on American culture and around the world. It’s even more difficult to articulate how much of that impact is attributed to Campbell’s insights.

However, one challenge our culture faces is that many popular film franchises produce movies that, most often, never complete the hero’s journey.

Many popular characters in action films like Marvel and DC Comics superheroes, James Bond, Ethan Hunt (Mission Impossible), Indiana Jones, etc. never actually transform.

heros journey steps

These characters stay in the adolescent stage of development (and we tend to celebrate that reality).

These heroes don’t evolve into the warm, vulnerable, generative adults who no longer seek adventure and excitement.

That said, since I originally published this guide in early 2018, this has begun to change.

For example, in the final Bond film, No Time to Die (2021), James Bond did demonstrate some generative growth.

The same goes for Tony Stark’s character (Ironman) in Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Where Are You On Your Hero’s Journey?

More importantly, do you see how these hero’s journey steps are unfolding in your life?

Although each of our stories is unique, they have common threads—elements of this universal structure we all share.

Returning from the moment of despair—from inside the dragon’s lair—without the reward (or lesson), you are presented with a similar adventure repeated ad infinitum —until you either learn the lesson or give up.

In the beginning, the hero’s journey is about achievement.

Whether you’re trying to build a successful business, raise a family, write a screenplay, travel to a distant land, or become a skilled artist, these all represent external achievements that often launch us into our hero’s journey.

But through this external quest—if we become more conscious—the journey transitions to an emphasis on internal growth that leads to transformation.

The Hero isn’t an expression of mature adulthood. This archetype is a by-product of adolescence. The archetypes of adulthood are different, but to access them, we must complete the hero’s journey first .

The Primary Ingredient in Every Hero’s Journey

Compelling stories and real life comes down to one thing: problems .

The protagonist faces a problem and tries to overcome it. Problems represent the essence of drama and the key to good storytelling.  Without problems, there’s no story. Problems engage us, tantalizing the human mind.

The hero must face his problems, surmount his fears, resolve his tensions, or fail.

The same is true for our development: without problems and tensions, there can be no growth.

Psychological development is the process of overcoming setbacks, limitations, and conditioned behavior to reach maturity.

hero's journey call to adventure

Refusing the Call to Adventure

Few people ever fully embrace the Hero’s Journey, a psychological odyssey that leads the individual to wholeness .

Because of our fear of the unknown, many refuse the call to adventure. We delay our journey in many ways:

  • Put important things aside.
  • Procrastinate.
  • Distract ourselves with TV, social media, and other people’s lives.
  • Make excuses.
  • Stay stuck in the lazy part .
  • Focus on competing with others.

But something brews inside of us. An internal tension builds. The tension may be small at first, but it grows stronger in the darkness. Tensions are those opposing forces at play within us. This internal conflict creates disharmony.

Humans don’t like disharmony when it bubbles into consciousness, and so these internal tensions can catapult us out of the familiar. The feeling of discord can lead to action and ultimately, some resolution.

Maybe you’re currently embracing your hero’s journey. Or perhaps you’ve been refusing the call. It matters not. What matters is what you do today— right now .

How to Embrace Your Hero’s Journey, Step by Step

The main thing you need to do to embrace your hero’s journey is stay present.

Remember, as Campbell explained, “You are the hero of your own story.”

Psychological development is supposed to be a natural process. But we aren’t currently in a world that supports healthy development.

As such, it’s vital to listen within .

Here are a few guides that may serve you:

  • Access Your Inner Guide
  • How to Ground Yourself
  • How to Stay in Your Center
  • How to Overcome Internal Resistance

Ultimately, be mindful of your fears and aspirations.

Left unchecked, your fears can subconsciously lead you to endlessly refuse the call to adventure.

In contrast, your aspirations can help you embrace your adventure.

As Joseph Campbell often said,

Follow your bliss!

Videos Related to the Hero’s Journey Steps

Book related to the hero’s journey steps.

The hero’s journey steps are outlined in the books referenced throughout this guide:

joseph campbell the hero with a thousand faces

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

the power of mytho joseph campbell

The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell

mythos series joseph campbell

Joseph Campbell’s Mythos Lecture Series (DVD)

the writer's journey christopher vogler

The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

how to be an adult david richo

How to Be an Adult by David Richo

What Do You Think?

Are you going through the hero’s journey steps?

I would like to understand the Hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell describes it as something that has been taken/lost or life giving. How do I know if my hero’s journey has been done?

If you’re examining the hero’s journey from the perspective of individuation — that is, the journey to mature adulthood — it takes many years to come to wholeness within oneself.

Psychologically speaking, the hero’s journey is inward. The characters you meet (like the Mentor) are within yourself. So it involves active imagination in bringing the archetype into some form of harmony within yourself.

You have mentioned a choice to stay in the comfort of safety or the unknow for growth. I am wondering if this is done in a Psychological manner where your life’s circumstances stay as they are or you physically live in a different environment, leaving your surroundings, people and material responsibilities etc.. Hope you can answer this for me.

If you’re a young adult, there’s often an external aspect to the hero’s journey — for example, leaving home and separating from one’s parents. But what Campbell was highlighting with the monomyth is ultimately a psychological process akin to Jungian individuation: https://scottjeffrey.com/individuation-process/

I want to share my thoughts on the heroes journey. After reading the twelve steps, and what you said- I quote “Step 12: Return with the Elixir Often, the prize the hero initially sought (in Step 9) becomes secondary as a result of the personal transformation he undergoes.

Perhaps the original quest was financially driven, but now the hero takes greater satisfaction in serving others in need.

The real change is always internal.

In this final stage, the hero can become the master of both worlds, with the freedom to live and grow, impacting all of humanity.”

My favorite movie for a while now has been The Peaceful Warrior, I have just watched Coach Carter. They seem to tell the same story and I think the story of The Heroes Journey. You have mentioned Star Wars, James Bond and the Matrix.

In the movies The Peaceful Warrior, and Coach Carter, the achievement earned is an inward spiritualism that is, I quote” impacting all of humanity.” Thank-you.

If The Peaceful Warrior is your favorite movie, read Dan Millman’s “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior” — the book the film is based on. Much deeper insights. It’s a magical book — especially when you’re just setting out on your self-discovery journey.

I have read about 25% so far, I am not a good reader. I give myself three pages each day, yet often I’m reading more. It is as if the movie is replaying and I’m able to go with it, imaging the main characters. There is more information from reading than watching the movie, though I am thinking there is a lot of fiction, as it has been described on the net. Though I just need to adhere to the believable parts. I don’t know if it is possible to remember the day’s events that happened during college. For example, what people said, what they were doing throughout the day. My college day’s I can only remember situations that happened all dispersed from one another, with only a few minutes recalled. Does someone like yourself able to recall conversations and put them as dialogs for a book? Or is it a writer’s privilege to invent these for the book?

“The Peaceful Warrior” is a work of fiction. The genre is technically called “visionary fiction.”

There is a passage in the book where Socrates say’s “Mind is an illusory reflection of cerebral fidgeting. It comprises all the random uncontrolled thoughts that bubble into awareness from the subconscious. Consciousness is not the mind; awareness is not mind; attention is not mind. Mind is an obstruction, an aggravation, a primal weakness in the human experiment. It is a kind of evolutionary mistake in the human being. I have no use for the mind.” I don’t think think this way because what we have as humans is natural and so it has a purpose. I am interested if you would give an opinion on this statement Socrates said.

For the most part, I agree with Millman’s statements. They are also consistent with much of the Eastern traditions. An essential aspect of the meditative traditions is to “pacify the mind”. They sometimes even use stronger longer of “killing the mind.” But at other times, they make the distinction between the “aware mind” versus the “monkey mind” or the “shining mind” versus the “stirring mind.” But in terms of the untrained mind (which is the mind of over 99% of people), I agree with Millman. I just wouldn’t call it “evolutionary.”

Millman would have already made ethical judgment towards any begger, so, he should not have thought twice about ignoring him. But because his story, is going through a transformation, he had these menacing mind talks. Do you think if you were in the same situation as him, would you give the begger money or use your self-consciousness to clear negative mind noise? I am wondering if a second time in the same situation would make one change their reaction…

This is quoted from the book; “A scrawny young teenager came up to me. “Spare some change, can’t you?” “No, sorry,” I said, not feeling sorry at all. As I walked away I thought, “Get a job.” Then vague guilts came into my mind; I’d said no to a penniless beggar. Angry thoughts arose. “He shouldn’t walk up to people like that!” I was halfway down the block before I realized all the mental noise i had tuned in to, and the tension it was causing – just because some guy had asked me for money and I’d said no. In that instant I let it go.”

I finished the peaceful warrior and found it enjoyable. The preview of Dan’s second book (Sacred Journey of the peaceful warrior) sums up what he was expressing through his life.

There was one part I have heard before where the dialog between Dan and Soc was flat, with no meaning. Thank-you.

I would like to balance the four functions Jung describes (thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition) in your Individuation Process page. How do I know when feeling and sensation are active in everyday events? Could you give me an example? Thank-you.

Brett, please use the related guide page to address your questions.

The Individuation process page has not got a comments section.

I was walking in the bush on a moonlit windy night. The moving branches displayed a moving shadow, I was startled at first thought someone was behind me. Then I put the moonlight and the moving branches together and summed up what had happened without turning around. Was my thinking a Feeling, thinking, intuition or sensation? Thank-you.

I didn’t realize the comment sections weren’t open on that other guide. The psychological types represent our dominant orientations for processing information. When you were startled, was your attention on your body or the fear itself? Was your mind focused on “what could that be”? No need to answer here.

But the main thing about psychological types, from a Jungian perspective, is to understand what your dominant and inferior types are so you can develop your weakest side. Taking an Enneagram assessment test can help you determine your dominant type. In that system, it’s either thinking, feeling, or sensing.

Thank-you for your reply. You gave me an example of what I believe would be my dominant (being the first impression of the event) type. The second instance you described, is that too my dominant type? I do already know what it was that brings me fear. Can you follow up with this scenario? I have done enneagram questions before, and I am hopeless in giving a true response as all multiple question apply to equally.

“I have done enneagram questions before, and I am hopeless in giving a true response as all multiple question apply to equally.”

In my experience, when people say things like this, it’s often because they are “out of center” and analyzing things in their heads. If, for example, you read detailed descriptions of each Type, there’s no way you’re going to relate equally to all of them. Only one (sometimes a few) will strike a deep cord within you. It may leave you feeling “raw” and exposed.

Using the example you provided isn’t really going to help in this context. Do you mostly live in your head (mind/thoughts/analysis), your body (gut/sensations/sensory perception), or feelings? We all use all of them, but one tends to be more dominant than the others.

Thank-you. I agree with you Quote “If, for example, you read detailed descriptions of each Type, there’s no way you’re going to relate equally to all of them”. You might think I’m procrastinating as I want to work this out. Quote” Superior Function versus Inferior Function We like to do things we’re good at and avoid doing things in which we feel inadequate. Thus, we develop specific skills while undeveloped capacities remain in the unconscious. Jung grouped these four functions into pairs: thinking and feeling, sensing and intuiting”. Follow me for a sec, I have determined my superior function is Thinking, that would leave my inferior function to feeling. I assume sensing and intuition would be in the middle. I’m going to give the answer that you will give to my question, how do I bring the four functions to the middle? Answer ; center yourself. Do you agree or tell me what I should be doing?

Brett, I can’t really speak to what you should be doing. From a Jungian perspective (as well as transpersonal psychology), you would develop your inferior function and grow in that line of intelligence. I borrow the concept of the Center from the Taoist tradition. Western psychology mainly seeks to build a healthy ego while Eastern traditions mainly focus on transcending the ego.

Is the answer to “center yourself”? Sure. But most likely you’ll only be able to do this temporarily (representing a “state” of consciousness), while if you develop via various practices, you establish different structural changes that become more stable.

How to Center Yourself.

I like this article and want to learn more. I’m sending you my questions in this article as there isn’t a comments section.

I have so many questions, do I really need these answered to be comfortable with learning? Or should I take a calming with acceptance approach, that will eventually find the answers I seek? Should I go ahead and ask… ok I will ask. In the four centers, take in information via the physical center, interpret experience via the emotional center, evaluate the world via the mental center. Could all be take in information? Thank-you.

Brett, I just opened the comment section on that centering guide. Please post your question there and then I’ll reply.

Is it always a Heroes journey to take on what seems an insurmountable task? I see this at the beginning of inspirational films. Thank-you.

Always be careful with the term “always.”

Remember that what Campbell was ultimately highlighting with his monomyth structure was a psychological process of development. So it’s best to keep that in context.

Insurmountable tasks can sometimes be a catalyst for one’s journey, but this is not always the case.

In films and storytelling, you need major a problem for the hero/protagonist to face. Otherwise, there’s no story.

With what you said in keeping the psychological process in context. I was thinking of the film where a football coach leaves a successful career in the city, to coach no-hoper orphans in the country. My first impression was that the coach is on a hero’s journey with much to lose but great inward comfort to gain. Now I think it is the orphan footballers who are on a hero’s journey, (by leading as an example of being an orphan and becoming successful to inspire them to do the same) to stand up with confidence to be equal to the rest of the world. The movie is twelve mighty orphans. Is this reasonable thinking and do you see different interpretation? Thank-you

I can’t really comment as I haven’t seen the film. In any decent film, multiple characters have “arcs.” In many cases, the coach in sports films plays the mentor/sage role but then has his own transformation as well. This is the case with Gandalf the Gray who has to “die” and be resurrected, transforming into Gandalf the White.

Merry Christmas Scott digital guide. Type to you soon:)

Does the hero’s journey have the same thoughts and feelings for a woman as a man?

From a Jungian perspective, the process would be different.

As Jungian Robert A. Johnson highlights in many of his books, the myths related to the feminine psyche are different than the myths related to the masculine. As such, they follow a different structure and aim.

That said, because there’s an anima in each male psyche and an animus in each female psyche, a part of us can relate to the hero’s journey in its totality. Hence, a heroine can go on a similar hero’s journey as a man.

What an excellent and thorough treatment. Thanks for these invaluable insights for my writing class.

Thank you for the feedback, Craig!

Session expired

Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.

  • Green Spaces in Urban Places
  • To Give is To Grow: Community Gardens Fight Food Insecurity
  • Are Words The New Weapon To Fight For Social Justice?
  • Europe has Changed: How I turned my Upset about Russia Invading Ukraine into Action
  • Dangerous Realities of Medical Misogyny
  • Student Success: Spotlight on ADHD

Love Letter to Uncertainty: A Photo Essay

Walter’s story: leaving nazi germany.

Odyssey Online

Joseph Campbell & The Hero’s Journey

In 1949, scholar  joseph campbell published his 1st book, the hero with a thousand faces. in this book, campbell introduced us to his theory that myths from around the globe share a fundamental structure, the monomyth ..

C ampbell formulated this theory over 5 years, spending 9 hours a day reading mythology from around the world. The Monomyth structure is divided into 3 events with additional stages in between. The stories of Osiris, Prometheus, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and many other tales from history use this structure. It has inspired many artists and storytellers, such as, Jim Morrison of The Doors, Bob Dylan, creator of Star Wars George Lucas, Bob Weir, and Jerry Garcia of the band, The Grateful Dead. While countless stories follow this Monomyth structure, we will use the original Star Wars Trilogy as an example for exploring this process.

The Seventeen Stages of the Monomyth

The Seventeen Stages of the Monomyth

The Cycle of Mythology

Stage 1: Separation

I n the first stage of the hero’s journey, we find our protangonist living life in a typically mundane situation. The  Star Wars , Luke Skywalker lives as a talented yet lowly and pretty damn whiny moisture farmer on Tatooine.


1. Call to Adventure – By some chance the hero will become aware of information or actions that call for them to go on a quest. The lovable and recently acquired droid R2-D2 plays a holographic message of Princess Leia pleading for Luke’s soon to be mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi’s assistance.

2. Refusal of the Call – Overwhelmed by the information, the hero refuses the call and makes excuses as to why they cannot answer it. Luke refuses Obi-Wan’s request to join him on his mission, stating that he has responsibilities at home.

Luke's Supernatural Aid is in the form of a Lightsaber

Luke’s Supernatural Aid is in the form of a Lightsaber and newfound Knowledge of the Force

3. Supernatural Aid – Once a commitment to the quest is made by the hero, they are provided with a special weapon or power that will assist them along the way. Obi-Wan gifts Luke his fathers lightsaber and explains some Force 101.

4. Crossing the Threshold – The moment when the hero actually embarks upon the journey. After Luke discovers that his family has been murdered and that nothing is left for him at home, he decides to join Obi-Wan on the quest to save Princess Leia, cause that sounds way cooler than hanging at the farm where your entire family was just massacred.

5. Belly of the Whale – The final separation between the hero and their home. Luke and Kenobi bail out from Tatooine with their new bros Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Stage 2: Initiation

The Empire Strikes Back is nothing but a road of trials for our hero, Luke

The Empire Strikes Back is nothing but a road of trials for our hero, Luke.

6. The Road of Trials – A series of usually 3 trials and tests, the hero often fails one or more of these test. In Luke’s journey the destruction of the Death Star is his first test and one that he passes. His second and third tests do not end so well. While training with Yoda on Dagobah, Luke fails in his truly mastering himself and the force. Thirdly, in the duel between himself and his newly revealed father, Darth Vader, he is defeated, injured, and almost killed.

7. The Meeting with the Goddess – Our hero experiences a love that has the power and significance to that of a mother. Luke begins to have strong feelings for Leia, his unbeknownst sister.

8. Woman as Temptress – The temptation to abandon the journey for material or other gain. Luke is close to being seduced to the dark side as the Emperor feeds his rage against his father and especially with the prospect that if he will not turn, perhaps his sister will.

9. Atonement with the Father – In this stage, the hero must confront and be initiated by whoever holds the ultimate power in their life. Luke battles Darth Vader and once again is on the losing side of the fight. Nearing death from the Emperor’s attacks, Luke begs his father to help save him from certain death.


Anakin & Luke Meet for the 1st Time

10. Apotheosis – The spiritual death and rebirth of the hero. Darth Vader hears his son’s cries for help and returns to the light, deciding to destroy the Emperor in a self sacrificial action. By bringing his father back to the light, Luke has finally become a true jedi.

11. The Ultimate Boon – The stage of achievement of the goal. Luke is a jedi, has defeated the Empire, the dark side, saved his father, and all his friends and family are safe.

12. Refusal of the Return – The hero basking in their newly found bliss, may not want to return to their previous life and share this bliss with his fellow man. Luke does the opposite of this, upon his reunification with his friends, he shares with Leia that they are siblings. He then goes on to train her and new jedi in the ways of the force.

Stage 3: Return

13. The Magic Flight – The daring escape made after obtaining the boon. Luke carries his fathers body onto a transport and flees the Death Star before its complete destruction.

The Return

The Millennium Falcon in Magical Flight

14. Rescue from Without – When powerful guides or mentors help bring the hero back to normal life. When Anniken, Obi-Wan, and Yoda appear from the ether to acknowledge Luke and his newfound jedi knighthood.

15. Crossing the Return Threshold – Retaining, integrating, and sharing wisdom learned on the quest. Luke shares his knowledge of the force with future jedi.

16. Master of Two Worlds – The hero has achieved a balance between the material and spiritual world. Luke has sorted all of his family issues, become a man and a jedi.

17. Freedom to Live – By becoming a master of the two worlds, the hero is free from regrets of the past and worries of the future, this leaves them to live in the moment. Luke has resolved all the  conflicts in his life, he is free to live at one with the force.

Each of Us are the Heroes in Our own Journey

The Monomyth is a method of story telling that is innate to humans. Cultures from around the world share it’s structure in their stories. Every human, whether they are aware of it or not, is on their own hero’s journey. By studying Joseph Campbell’s work we can better our own understanding of the tests, trials, and progress along our journey.

About Author

' src=

Tamlorn Chase

Tamlorn Chase hails from the coastal town of Santa Barbara, where he works as a wilderness guide, wildlife filmmaker, and environmental activist. Protecting the natural world is his profession and passion.

Related Posts

hero's journey outline

Father Figures

Comments are closed.

Powered by themekiller.com

The Write Practice

The Approach to the Inmost Cave: How to Write This Scene in the Hero’s Journey

by David Safford | 0 comments

Every great heroic story has that moment. It's the deep breath before the plunge. The quiet before the calamity. If you're writing a Hero's Journey story, you'll want to include this moment, too: the Approach and Ordeal. Or, the Approach to the Inmost Cave.

approach to the inmost cave

The Approach and Ordeal are essential moments you need to plan for as you draft your story. And to do it right, you're going to need to figure out three key elements:

  • Your Story's Shadow
  • The Task to Complete

Let's explore each of these and talk about how they will take your story from “Meh” to “Amazing!”

Step 7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

This step can take many shapes depending on the story's genre and world. However, no matter where your story takes place, this definition applies:

The Approach is a moment of nervous contemplation before the massive Ordeal the hero must face. It is often a moment of final preparation, confession of secrets and fears, and abandonment by uncommitted companions, leaving the hero uncertain and isolated.

If you're outlining the Approach to the Inmost Cave scene for your story, you  must  keep the Ordeal, or the Climax, in mind. They are two halves of the whole, and one must keep both in mind when planning. However, in order to plan, you need to also understand the purpose of each (and how they work together).

For today, let's focus on the Approach to the Inmost Cave. And if you'd like to learn more about the Ordeal than what's discussed in this article, read about the Ordeal here .

How Did We Get Here?

As a quick refresher, the Hero's Journey is a storytelling theory by Joseph Campbell.

Refined by Christopher Vogler into a convenient twelve-step process, the Hero's Journey begins when the hero starts humbly ( Ordinary World ) and then experiences a Call to Adventure. The hero refuses that call, and finds themself encouraged and trained by a Mentor .

Next, through a combination of will and force, the hero steps over the boundary between safety and danger, the Threshold , and begins their journey in a world of Trials, Allies, and Enemies .

This usually brings you about two-thirds of the way through your story, up to the moment you've been waiting for: the Climax.

But before every Climax, a story needs an Approach to the Inmost Cave moment.

Step #7: Approach to the Inmost Cave

Before every climactic action scene is a deep breath. Sometimes portrayed as beginning with a montage or training scene, this scene is the moment when the Hero pauses, considers all that is at Stake in order to defeat the Shadow , and then soldiers onward.

This, in Christopher Vogler's words, is called the “Approach to the Inmost Cave.”

This moment is essential, and captures the universal human emotion of fear. All heroes experience some kind of fear, whether it's fear of death, failure, or the unknown. But before any great campaign against evil, there must be an Approach.

And with an Approach, comes a Hero's Ordeal (step eight in the Hero's Journey).

The Ordeal is the scene when your hero must complete a deadly task, putting everything that's at stake on the line, and ultimately confront the Shadow. This moment is the eighth step in the Hero's Journey, and comes directly after the Approach to the Inmost Cave.

Before this moment, though, you need a scene where the hero approaches  the awaiting, climatic feat.

If you want to increase the tension and raise stakes in the Climax, you first need to write a scene that creates that calm before the storm. To do this, you need an Approach to the Inmost Cave scene that upholds three core elements.

3 Core Elements in the Approach to the Inmost Cave

In the Ordeal, the Hero confronts the Shadow and makes ultimate choices. This moment is thrilling, often action-packed, and offers the highest-stakes. However, the moment before this scene can't do the same thing. Instead there needs to be a brief, calm moment before plunging the Hero into battle.

Without this pause, the story won't elevate the suspense and tension. To get here, you're going to need to plan three storytelling elements:

  • A Shadow character
  • High stakes for success/failure
  • A nearly-impossible task associated with the Shadow

With these elements in-hand, you'll be able to craft the next two steps of the Hero's Journey: The Approach (this article) and the Ordeal .

Let's start with the Shadow.

1. The Shadow: Get Your Villain Right

Joseph Campbell identified an archetypal character who appears in almost every heroic myth: The Shadow.

The Shadow is often called the villain. But what is more important is that they are a darker version of the hero.

Belloc, the greedy archeologist who steals from Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark , says to him, “I am but a shadowy reflection of you.” For the Shadow to work, they need to be the “bad” version of what makes the Hero good.

Here are some elements that are often similar between Hero and Shadow:

  • Physicality
  • Background, family, and/or culture

However, other elements must be in opposition, otherwise there will be no reason to call your Hero “good” and the Shadow “evil.” Some include:

  • Leadership style
  • Physical strengths
  • Belief in “freedom” or some other positive societal value
  • Opinions on physical violence

When the Hero and Shadow share several characteristics , this gives them reason to threaten one another and even consider teaming up.

In fact, you've probably seen the scene where the Villain invites the Hero to join them a thousand times:

  • Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker in Star Wars
  • Voldemort to Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone 
  • Magneto to Professor X (or other X-Men heroes) in the  X-Men 

They don't just share physical traits though; what must be common are deeply held beliefs about the central conflict.

Digging deeper into  Star Wars,  both Luke and Vader possess strongly held views on one essential element of the narrative: The Force.

Should the Force be used for “good,” or wisdom and defense, as Yoda teaches? Or should it be used for power, strength, and control, as The Emporer declares?

This life crisis is what gives  Star Wars  it's true power. It isn't just that Vader is Luke's father — it's that Luke's father is wedded to evil and all its virtues, and Luke fears what that means for his own life.

Without a shared trait like this, there'd be no reason for intense internal conflict. There would only be stark opposition, and the relationship would never find any depth.

And this is what readers love.

They may claim to love action or conflict, but what they  really  love is intense internal conflict within the hero. It's your job to create it.

So as you plan the latter sections of your heroic journey, make sure you get your Shadow right by designing shared traits with your Hero to keep things interesting.

2. The Stakes: Make Them Both Specific and General

When the time comes for the Hero to face the Shadow late in the journey, the stakes need to be higher than ever.

This has to be true specifically, for the hero themself, and it has to be true generally, for the world at large and the cast of characters you've put around the Hero.

No heroic journey is about the Hero alone, as every hero symbolizes a greater societal value: Hope. Freedom. Faith.

Yet the Hero must also have plenty to lose as well. That's why it's your job to place difficult hurdles before them, especially during this climactic event in the story.

Take the example of the Harry Potter  books.

From a point of view perspective, the books are incredibly intimate, taking the reader inside Harry's tortured mind and lonely soul. Yet his epic adventures have worldwide consequences as he must confront the rising evil of the Dark Lord Voldemort.

If Voldemort wins, the bigotry of “pure blood” magic will win and wreak havoc on both the magical world and the realm of unsuspecting Muggles. Harry's character arc isn't just about him dealing with a big baddie; it's about saving two entire worlds from Lord Voldemort and his minions.

This is what heroes do: They go in place of the people and face a most ultimate form of death. They put their own skin on the line, but their actions have universal impact.

That's what makes them so beloved when they win, and so worshiped when they suffer and die.

As you plan this climactic moment when Hero and Shadow finally clash, make sure the stakes — both local to the hero and general to the world — are at their peak intensity.

3. The Task: Challenging and Unidirectional

Whatever the Hero must do to pursue their ultimate goal, there must be a massive task to accomplish.

Examples include:

  • Storming a castle
  • Surviving a death match
  • Escaping from a monster
  • Winning a fight
  • Delivering a great audition

These are the kinds of tasks we write poetry and songs about. These are the kinds of events that Lego builds toys about (except the audition/interview, of course).

There are two aspects of your confrontational task that must be incorporated into the design in order for them to be successful: Challenge and Direction.

First, the Task must be incredibly challenging.

It must be so challenging that your hero could not have succeeded in the first fifty percent of the book, and there's doubt whether or not they can succeed even now. It must be so challenging that the hero, or their companions, suffer to achieve it.

In this instance, consider  The Hunger Games.  One could argue that the games themselves represent the entire “Ordeal” stage of Katniss's hero's journey. It's not a common story structure, but it works in the world author Suzanne Collins is creating.

In the games, Katniss faces a monumental challenge: Defeat twenty-three other tributes, some from bloodthirsty Districts determined to capture victory. One of those tributes, of course, is her professed lover, Peta Malark. No easy task!

Note that the framing of the story shows Katniss approach the inmost cave, or the games, as she waits in the preparation room before rising into the arena. She and Peta eventually take revenge in a literal cave during the most critical moment when they are both injured and badly need medicine.

Not all stories prolong the Ordeal like Collins does. Others are brief but intense events, like an action or chase scene.

As an example of storming the castle, a common task in all sorts of stories from Game of Thrones  to  James Bond, the Shadow will lurk in a fortress with the object of desire (maybe a princess, a throne, a weapon, etc). In order to win the day (and prevent the awful Stakes from befalling humanity), the hero must infiltrate the castle, obtain the object of desire, and escape.

If you want this scene to be convincing, you can't have your hero sneak (or fight) in, grab the goods, and flee unscathed—at least not in this part of the Hero's Journey. You can get away with it as an opening bit (like in a Bond  movie), but NOT as the climactic battle.

The Task must be overwhelmingly expensive in sweat and blood. The Shadow and their evil cannot be overcome with ease. Otherwise you'll lose your reader's catharsis and compassion.

Second, the Task must be unidirectional.

In other words, there can be no turning back. The consequences for even starting must be immediate. Everything must change. This is the turning point in your story.

So what needs to change?

Usually these elements must transform the hero and their world:

  • The Hero no longer doubts the mission and will pursue it to the end
  • The Shadow no longer exhibits patience or mercy and will do anything to destroy the Hero
  • The world reacts to the Hero's choices: Evil creatures begin to actively hunt the Hero, good creatures actively protect the Hero
  • The object of desire is moved, destroyed, or transformed somehow

Consider yet another example:

Pixar's  Toy Story.  Woody and Buzz's major challenge is to escape the hellscape that is Sid's bedroom. They do so, but emerge to a changed world.

Their Ordinary World, Andy's bedroom, is no longer where it used to be. It is in a moving truck, rolling away from them with great speed. They have emerged from their trial only to find that all is not well anymore, and the story continues from there.

Consider, finally, this last note. After the climactic scene between Hero and Shadow, the object of desire is often transformed in a way that alters the rest of the action. It all depends on what the particular MacGuffin is.

Often it is revealed that the desired object wasn't anything special at all, forcing the hero to reconsider their goals and priorities.

Often a key character is killed during the Ordeal, heightening the stakes and lessening the desireability of the goal itself. These crises are what make hero's journeys powerful, and don't be afraid to throw your hero to the wolves in the final act of your tale.

No matter what object of desire your Hero is pursuing, the climactic moment must change everything. There is no turning back. The choice must be unidirectional.

Bring it All Together

These three elements will help you plan steps seven and eight of the Hero's Journey. Let's bring them together to form a powerful one-two punch in the climax of your story.

Remember that your Shadow must represent all the evil and selfishness that your Hero fears. That Shadow must have the potential to ruin everything the Hero holds dear. And the Task set before the Hero must be monumental and seemingly impossible to achieve.

These elements, when properly designed and blended, will yield an incredible climax that your reader will love.

What are your favorite Hero's Journey Approach and Ordeal scenes from books and movies you love? Can you find these elements in them? Let us know in the comments .

Take fifteen minutes to freewrite a scene where a hero contemplates facing an ordeal ahead. Don't worry about the specifics; instead, lean into the emotional challenge of facing the coming challenges. Here are some to inspire you as dream up a scenario:

  • Your Hero's “Shadow” character: What traits might your Hero and the Shadow have in common? What separates them and makes them enemies?
  • The Stakes involved: What could your Hero have to risk in order to defeat the Shadow and any other threat to the world?
  • The Task: What incredibly challenging feat might the Hero have to accomplish in order to successfully confront the Shadow?

Post your writing in the Practice box, then find another writer's plan and leave a helpful comment on it!

' src=

David Safford

You deserve a great book. That's why David Safford writes adventure stories that you won't be able to put down. Read his latest story at his website. David is a Language Arts teacher, novelist, blogger, hiker, Legend of Zelda fanatic, puzzle-doer, husband, and father of two awesome children.

How to Write an Adventure Story

Join over 450,000 readers who are saying YES to practice. You’ll also get a free copy of our eBook 14 Prompts :

Popular Resources

Book Writing Tips & Guides Creativity & Inspiration Tips Writing Prompts Grammar & Vocab Resources Best Book Writing Software ProWritingAid Review Writing Teacher Resources Publisher Rocket Review Scrivener Review Gifts for Writers

Books By Our Writers

Sting of the Scorpion

You've got it! Just us where to send your guide.

Enter your email to get our free 10-step guide to becoming a writer.

You've got it! Just us where to send your book.

Enter your first name and email to get our free book, 14 Prompts.

Want to Get Published?

Enter your email to get our free interactive checklist to writing and publishing a book.

Buy Screenwriting Software

  • Script Studio
  • Movie Outline 3
  • Movie Outline Ebook
  • Hollywood Script Express
  • Movie Reference Plugins
  • Online Store
  • Competitive Upgrade
  • Version Upgrade
  • Educational Solutions
  • Volume & Site Licenses
  • Screenwriting Contest
  • Screenwriting Articles
  • Screenplay Format
  • Step Outlining
  • Script Writing Glossary
  • Screenwriting Books
  • Entertainment Law
  • Screenwriting Tips
  • ScriptTips Blog
  • MFA in Screenwriting Degrees
  • Knowledge Base
  • Product Video Tour
  • Download Free Trial
  • Download Updates
  • Register Software
  • Press Releases
  • Endorsements & Testimonials
  • Reseller Application

hero's journey outline

The Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth

By dan bronzite, to structure or not to structure that is the question....

Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. In the beginning you setup your hero (or heroine) and his story, then you throw something at him that is a great source of conflict and takes him into a whole heap of trouble. After facing many foes and overcoming various obstacles the hero saves the day and wins the girl. If only writing a movie was that easy... The thing is, there are many forms of structure and some writers subscribe to one formula, while others subscribe to another. Some try not to subscribe to any and see the whole idea of structure as "evil", feeling that a story should evolve organically without rules confining ideas or obstructing the creative flow.

Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure - Monomyth

In the end, a story should dictate the kind of structure it follows or whether it shouldn't follow a structure at all. There's no point trying to write a comedy and forcing the structure of a thriller upon it - it won't work. Well, theoretically it won't but I'm sure someone will find a way! Let your characters define the story and your story define your structure and then use a formula if necessary to tighten your script. The trick is to initially let the ideas flow without paying too much attention to structure and then in your second pass begin to focus your story and separate the wheat from the chaff.

The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey

A popular form of structure derived from Joseph Campbell's Monomyth from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and adapted by Christopher Vogler is the Twelve Stage Hero's Journey . This is essentially a more detailed Character Arc for your story's hero which is overlayed onto the more traditional three-act structure that many successful Hollywood movies such as Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz when analyzed appear to follow.

Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure - Monomyth

1. Ordinary World

This is where the Hero's exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It's his safe place. His everyday life where we learn crucial details about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities and outlook on life. This anchors the Hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and hence later, empathize with his plight.

2. Call To Adventure

The Hero's adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life or to the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero's Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.

3. Refusal Of The Call

Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he will have fears that need overcoming. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the Hero will refuse the call and as a result may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem to much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant Hero.

4. Meeting The Mentor

At this crucial turning point where the Hero desperately needs guidance he meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs. He could be given an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he faces, wise advice, practical training or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero with it serves to dispel his doubts and fears and give him the strength and courage to begin his quest.

5. Crossing The Threshold

The Hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. He may go willingly or he may be pushed, but either way he finally crosses the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. It may be leaving home for the first time in his life or just doing something he has always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, this action signifies the Hero's commitment to his journey an whatever it may have in store for him.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Now finally out of his comfort zone the Hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across his path; whether they be physical hurdles or people bent on thwarting his progress, the Hero must overcome each challenge he is presented with on the journey towards his ultimate goal. The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who can't. He may earn allies and meet enemies who will, each in their own way, help prepare him for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where his skills and/or powers are tested and every obstacle that he faces helps us gain a deeper insight into his character and ultimately identify with him even more.

7. Approach To The Inmost Cave

The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero's story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face. As the Hero approaches the cave he must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown. At the threshold to the inmost cave the Hero may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon his call to adventure. He may need some time to reflect upon his journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. This brief respite helps the audience understand the magnitude of the ordeal that awaits the Hero and escalates the tension in anticipation of his ultimate test.

The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing his greatest fear or most deadly foe, the Hero must draw upon all of his skills and his experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome his most difficulty challenge. Only through some form of "death" can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey's end. This is the high-point of the Hero's story and where everything he holds dear is put on the line. If he fails, he will either die or life as he knows it will never be the same again.

9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)

After defeating the enemy, surviving death and finally overcoming his greatest personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize. The Reward may come in many forms: an object of great importance or power, a secret, greater knowledge or insight, or even reconciliation with a loved one or ally. Whatever the treasure, which may well facilitate his return to the Ordinary World, the Hero must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of his journey.

10. The Road Back

This stage in the Hero's journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which the Hero had to cross the first threshold. Now he must return home with his reward but this time the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration. But the Hero's journey is not yet over and he may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.

11. Resurrection

This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero's own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind. If he fails, others will suffer and this not only places more weight upon his shoulders but in a movie, grips the audience so that they too feel part of the conflict and share the Hero's hopes, fears and trepidation. Ultimately the Hero will succeed, destroy his enemy and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.

12. Return With The Elixir

This is the final stage of the Hero's journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death but now looks forward to the start of a new life. His return may bring fresh hope to those he left behind, a direct solution to their problems or perhaps a new perspective for everyone to consider. The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization or an end to strife, but whatever it is it represents three things: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story's other key players. The Hero's doubters will be ostracized, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again.

Structuring With Color Using Script Studio's PowerView

Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure - Monomyth

Script Studio includes five default customizable templates:

  • Hero's Journey
  • 3 Act Screenplay
  • 5 Act Stage Play
  • One Hour TV Drama
  • Half-Hour TV Sitcom

Each sample template is designed to help you structure your story and they include comprehensive information about each section, helping you understand how a particular type of story narrative works. They are, however, merely a guide and should not be rigidly adhered to. Creativity is far more important than sticking to a "formula" but they can help you pace your story and troubleshoot rewrites.

The default templates can be modified to suit your project's needs and you can even create your own templates from scratch or save templates from one project for use in another. Download a FREE Demo of Script Studio to see how its powerful screenplay formatting, character development and story structuring tools can help you make a better script!

About Dan Bronzite

Dan is a produced screenwriter and award-winning filmmaker , CEO of Buckle Up Entertainment , Nuvotech and creator of Script Studio screenwriting software . His writingcredits and written numerous specs and commissioned feature scripts including screenplay adaptations of Andrea Badenoch's Driven and Irvine Welsh's gritty and darkly comic novel Filth . Dan is a contributor to Script Magazine and has also directed three award-winning short films including his most recent  All That Glitters which garnered over 50 international film festival selections and 32 awards. His supernatural horror feature Long Time Dead  for Working Title Films was released internationally through Universal and his spec horror Do or Die  sold to Qwerty Films. He is currently setting up his directorial feature debut and various US and UK feature and series projects.

Screenwriting Article by Dan Bronzite

New Release: Script Studio

hero's journey outline

Buy Script Studio Online

hero's journey outline

What the Pros Say...

I have tried every software application imaginable in quest of the perfect way to write a movie and when I put Movie Outline on my Mac I came to the end of the rainbow. Kieth Merrill Academy Award® Winner

I use Movie Outline all the time. It has many powerful features, is easy to use and makes writing and formatting a screenplay a breeze. No script writer should be without it. Kevin Williamson Screenwriter – Scream

If you're looking for a tool to help you nurture your idea for a movie into an actual shooting script I recommend this program without hesitation. Professor Richard Walter Chairman of the UCLA Graduate Screenwriting Program

This is the most complete package I've seen for the screenwriter in one application from outline to final draft. I recommend this program to all scribes – from novice to pro. Karl Iglesias UCLA Instructor & Author

I thoroughly enjoy working with Movie Outline and find it easy to use, well designed, helpful and entertaining. If you're a novice or a seasoned pro, this program can aid greatly in your creative process. Marc Scott Zicree Writer – The Next Generation

Movie Outline does a terrific job of helping writers organize their development process from beginning to end and has effectively raised the bar in the screenwriting software arena. Sean Kennelly Creative Screenwriting

Upgrade From Movie Outline

hero's journey outline

30 Day Money Back Guarantee

hero's journey outline

  • wizard of oz
  • character arc
  • hero's journey
  • ordinary world

Products & Services

  • Hollywood Deconstructed Ebook
  • Copyright Registration
  • Script Copying & Shipping

Downloads & Demos

  • Movie Outline Video Tour
  • Compare Screenwriting Software
  • Press Kit & Graphics
  • Software Updates
  • Upgrade Software
  • Software Requirements

Screenwriting Resources

  • Screenwriting Competition
  • Screenplay Software

Company & Support

  • Press & News
  • Product Reviews
  • Authorized Resellers


  1. 12 Hero's Journey Stages Explained (Free Templates)

    hero's journey outline

  2. How to Outline Your Novel with the Hero's Journey

    hero's journey outline

  3. Introduction to the Hero’s Journey Outline

    hero's journey outline

  4. 12 Hero's Journey Stages Explained (Free Templates)

    hero's journey outline

  5. Hero's Journey Lesson

    hero's journey outline

  6. Writing the Hero’s Journey: Steps, Examples & Archetypes

    hero's journey outline


  1. Turning Goals into Quests

  2. A Hero's Journey! 🔱 #percyjackson #disneyplus #rickriordan #walkerscobell #leahjeffries #viral

  3. The hero’s journey


  5. Cleared Hero's Journey Ver 1.8 Episode 1

  6. The Hero's Journey


  1. Hero's Journey: Get a Strong Story Structure in 12 Steps

    The Hero's Journey is a model for both plot points and character development: as the Hero traverses the world, they'll undergo inner and outer transformation at each stage of the journey. The 12 steps of the hero's journey are: ... The Hero's Journey is just one way to outline a novel and dissect a plot.

  2. 12 Hero's Journey Stages Explained (+ Free Templates)

    In this post, we will explain each stage of the hero's journey, using the example of Cinderella. You might also be interested in our post on the story mountain or this guide on how to outline a book. 12 Hero's Journey Stages. The archetypal hero's journey contains 12 stages and was created by Christopher Vogler.

  3. How to Outline Your Novel with the Hero's Journey

    Step 1: Divide Your Target Word Count into 3 Acts. The first thing we need to do is break down our total target word count into three sections—or acts. In general: Act 1 "Departure" represents about 25% of the total word count. Act 2 "Descent" and Initiation" represents about 50% of the total word count.

  4. The Hero's Journey: Step-By-Step Guide with Examples

    The Hero's Journey is a common story structure for modeling both plot points and character development. A protagonist embarks on an adventure into the unknown. They learn lessons, overcome adversity, defeat evil, and return home transformed. Joseph Campbell, a scholar of literature, popularized the monomyth in his influential work The Hero ...

  5. Breaking Down The Hero's Journey Plot Structure

    Coaching Site. Breaking Down The Hero's Journey Plot Structure. In 1949, mythologist Joseph Campbell published The Hero With a Thousand Faces,which outlines the structure of the journeys that archetypical heroes experience in world myths. This structure became known as the monomyth, or Hero's Journey, and has since served as the framework ...

  6. The Hero's Journey: 12 Steps That Make Up the Universal Structure of

    Frequently the Hero is itching for some kind of adventure or change; this is why they are primed for what is to come. When the danger comes in Step 2, the Hero is ready to take the next step due to their eager, adventurous, or frustrated spirit. Learn more: Hero's Journey Step #1: Ordinary World. Step 2.

  7. The Hero's Journey: A 17 Step Story Structure Beat Sheet

    The plot structure of the Hero's Journey is made up of 17 steps, all of which can be excellent guideposts for you when plotting your novel and planning your chapters. To simplify the 17 steps of the Hero's Journey, there are 3 main acts of the story: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return. Here's an overview of all of the 17 steps ...

  8. The Hero's Journey: The 12 Steps of Mythic Structure

    The Hero's Journey plot structure is a common template for writing a compelling story. It also has a built-in character arc for the hero or heroine. Whether you write detailed outlines before getting into any prose, or you think writing is best done without an outline, the Hero's Journey can help. Many writers fall somewhere in between ...

  9. Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey: A Better Screenplay in 17 Steps

    Using a Hero's Journey worksheet can help you write a treatment or create a well-structured outline, which is a valuable tool for creating a strong first draft. By putting in the 17 steps of the Hero's Journey before building the outline, you can ensure that the writing process will flow smoothly and efficiently.

  10. Writing the Hero's Journey: Steps, Examples & Archetypes

    The 12 steps of the Hero's Journey. The following guide outlines the 12 steps of the Hero's Journey and represents a framework for the creation of a Hero's Journey story template. You don't necessarily need to follow the explicit cadence of these steps in your own writing, but they should act as checkpoints to the overall story.

  11. Hero's Journey: A Guide to the Ultimate Storytelling Framework

    At its core, the hero's journey is a narrative framework that outlines the transformative arc of a protagonist as they embark on an adventure, face and overcome challenges, and ultimately return home, forever changed by their experiences. The concept was popularized by Joseph Campbell in his seminal work, "The Hero with a Thousand Faces ...

  12. The 12 Steps of the Hero's Journey, WIth Example

    The fundamental steps include: The call to adventure, where the hero is presented with a challenge or opportunity that sets them on their path; the crossing of the threshold, leaving behind the known world and venturing into the unknown; various tests, trials, and allies that help the hero overcome obstacles along the way; a confrontation with ...

  13. Introduction to the Hero's Journey Outline

    According to Campbell, the Hero's Journey outline is "as old as time" and acts as a guideline to "fundamental human experience". Essentially, the Hero's Journey outline is a story of change and sacrifice; these motifs are present in all the stories. Campbell said that on an elemental level we are all retelling the universal story ...

  14. Hero's Journey: A Complete Guide to the Hero's Journey Steps

    The 12 steps of the hero's journey. The hero's journey ends where it begins, back at the beginning after a quest of epic proportions. The 12 steps are separated into three acts: departure (1-5) initiation (5-10) return (10-1) The hero journeys through the 12 steps in a clockwise fashion. As Campbell explains:

  15. From Ordinary to Extraordinary: How To Write The Hero's Journey

    The reason The Hero's Journey is the most popular is that it combines plot direction with character building. It is as much about the characters' emotional or mental development as it is about the physical journey they undertake. By travelling a physical path and their inner journey simultaneously, plots based around The Hero's Journey ...

  16. The Hero's Journey

    The Hero's Journey stages are the backbone to a vast amount of popular fiction, and appear in everything from Star Wars to Harry Potter to The Da Vinci code to The Hunger Games. ... Further reading - A slight variation on these examples can also be found in our own interpretation of the Hero's Journey - The Universal Plot Outline, which ...

  17. The Hero's Journey: The 12 (or 17) Steps for Writers

    The hero's journey, also referred to as the monomyth, is essentially the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, faces various challenges, comes through a crisis or major ordeal, and returns home transformed in some fundamental way. ... Joseph Campbell's original 1949 outline of the monomyth actually had ...

  18. Writing 101: What Is the Hero's Journey? 2 Hero's Journey Examples in

    This template is known as the "monomyth"—or, colloquially, the hero's journey. Hands up if you've heard this story before: A lonely hero who is trying to find himself. A sudden and unexpected journey, promising adventure and peril. A test of character, strength, and skill. An ultimate battle that tests the hero's resolve. A ...

  19. Hero's Journey Steps: Campbell's 12 Vital Stages Explained

    The Hero's Journey in Drama. In Three Uses of a Knife, famed playwright David Mamet suggests a similar three-act structure for plays and dramas: 2 David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife: On the Nature and Purpose of Drama, 2000.. Act 1: Thesis. The drama presents life as it is for the protagonist. The ordinary world. Act 2: Antithesis. The protagonist faces opposing forces that send him into ...

  20. Joseph Campbell & The Hero's Journey

    Stage 1: Separation. In the first stage of the hero's journey, we find our protangonist living life in a typically mundane situation.The Star Wars, Luke Skywalker lives as a talented yet lowly and pretty damn whiny moisture farmer on Tatooine. Until… 1. Call to Adventure - By some chance the hero will become aware of information or actions that call for them to go on a quest.

  21. Hero's journey

    Illustration of the hero's journey. In narratology and comparative mythology, the hero's journey, also known as the monomyth, is the common template of stories that involve a hero who goes on an adventure, is victorious in a decisive crisis, and comes home changed or transformed.. Earlier figures had proposed similar concepts, including psychoanalyst Otto Rank and amateur anthropologist Lord ...

  22. The Approach to the Inmost Cave: How to Write This Scene in the Hero's

    As a quick refresher, the Hero's Journey is a storytelling theory by Joseph Campbell. Refined by Christopher Vogler into a convenient twelve-step process, the Hero's Journey begins when the hero starts humbly (Ordinary World) and then experiences a Call to Adventure. The hero refuses that call, and finds themself encouraged and trained by a Mentor.

  23. The Hero's Journey

    The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey. A popular form of structure derived from Joseph Campbell's Monomyth from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and adapted by Christopher Vogler is the Twelve Stage Hero's Journey. This is essentially a more detailed Character Arc for your story's hero which is overlayed onto the more traditional three-act ...