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The Hero’s Journey Ultimate Writing Guide with Examples

how to write a hero's journey essay

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.

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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:

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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.

how to write a hero's journey essay


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.

how to write a hero's journey essay


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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:

how to write a hero's journey essay

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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.

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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. ​​

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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.

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The Hero's Journey

The Hero’s Journey: A Classic Story Structure

Writing a compelling story, especially if you’re new at this, can be grueling.  

Conflicting advice online can overwhelm you, making you want to quit before you’ve written a word.

But you know more than you think.

Stories saturate our lives. We talk, think, and communicate with story in music, on television, in video games, in books, and in movies.

Every story, regardless of genre or plot , features a main character who begins some adventure or quest, overcomes obstacles, and is transformed.

This is generically referred to as The Hero’s Journey, a broad story template popularized by Joseph Campbell in his The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

In essence, every story ever told includes at least some of the seventeen stages he outlined .

In 1985, screenwriter Christopher Vogler wrote a memo for Disney titled The Practical Guide to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces that condensed the seventeen steps to twelve.

The Hero’s Journey template has influenced storytellers worldwide, most notably George Lucas (creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones ).

Vogler says of Campbell’s writings: “The ideas are older than the pyramids, older than Stonehenge, older than the earliest cave painting.”

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is a prime example of The Hero’s Journey, so I use “she” inclusively to represent both genders.

  • The 3 Hero’s Journey Stages

1. The Departure (Separation)

The hero is compelled to leave her ordinary world.

She may have misgivings about this compulsion, and this is where a mentor may come to encourage and guide her.

Example: Katniss Everdeen is a devoted sister, daughter, and friend. She’s an avid hunter, well acquainted with the forbidden forest outside District 12, where she and her friend Gale hunt to keep their families from starving. The Hunger Games, wherein only one winner survives,  loom, and she fears she or one of her friends will be chosen. 

2. Initiation

The hero crosses into the other world, where she faces obstacles.

Sometimes she’s alone, sometimes she’s joined by a companion. Maybe a few.

Here she must use the tools she’s been given in her ordinary life to overcome each obstacle. She’ll be rewarded, sometimes tangibly.

Eventually she must return to the ordinary world with her reward.

Example: District 12’s Representative and Stylist Effie Trinket arrives to choose the Tributes who will compete in The Hunger Games. 

Katniss and her family attend, and she breathlessly wills Effie not to draw her name. She gets her wish, but to her horror, her little sister Primrose is chosen. 

Peacekeepers shove Prim toward the stage before Katniss volunteers to take her place. She’s joined by the male tribute, the baker’s son Peeta. They are soon whisked away for training and then the competition. 

The hero crosses the threshold back into her ordinary world, which looks different now. She brings with her the rewards and uses them for good.

Example: Unexpectedly, Katniss and Peeta are told there can be two victors instead of one. But Katniss and Peeta, to the dismay of the Capitol, decide they’ll die together or emerge as victors together. They emerge not only as victors, but also as celebrities. They have changed in unimaginable ways. 

  • The 12 Hero’s Journey Steps (and How to Use Them)

how to write a hero's journey essay

1 — Ordinary  World

Before your hero is transported to another world, we want to see her in her ordinary world—who is she when no one is watching? What drives her?

This sets the stage for the rest of your story , so show her human side. Make her real and knowable.

But don’t wait long to plunge her into terrible trouble. Once you give your readers a reason to care, give them more to keep them turning the pages.

Example: Katniss Everdeen is introduced as a teenager for whom life isn’t easy. Her father is dead, her mother depressed, and Katniss will do anything to provide for her family and protect her little sister. 

2 — The Call to Adventure

This is the point at which your hero’s world can never be the same. A problem, a challenge, or an adventure arises—is she up to the challenge?

Example: The Reaping, where Katniss volunteers to take Prim’s place. 

3 — Refusal of the Call

Occasionally, a hero screeches to a halt before the adventure begins. When faced with adversity, she hesitates, unsure of herself.

She must face her greatest fears and forge ahead.

Example: There is no refusal of the call in The Hunger Games. Katniss eagerly steps forward. 

4 — Meeting With the Mentor

The mentor may be an older individual who offers wisdom, a friend, or even an object, like a letter or map.

Whatever the form, the mentor gives your hero the tools she needs for the journey—either by inspiring her, or pushing her in the direction she needs to go.

Example: Katniss is introduced to Haymitch the minute she reaches the stage to accept the challenge. He’s the only person from District 12 to have ever won The Hunger Games. She’s not initially impressed, but he eventually becomes her biggest ally. 

5 — Crossing the First Threshold

In the final step of the departure phase, your hero musters the courage to forge ahead, and the real adventure begins.

There’s no turning back.

By now, you’ve introduced your hero and given your readers a reason to care what happens to her. You should have also introduced the underlying theme of your story .

Why is it important for your hero to accomplish this task?

What are the stakes?

What drives her?

Example: Katniss is transported via train to the Capitol to begin training for The Hunger Games. She’s promised Prim she’ll do everything in her power to return home.

Your hero is laser focused, but this is the point at which she faces her first obstacle. She will meet her enemies and be forced to build alliances. She will be tested and challenged.

Can she do it?

What does she learn in this initiation phase?

Example: Katniss meets her competitors for the first time during training and is able to watch them to get a sense of what challenges lie ahead.  

6 — Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Things have shifted in the new world. Danger lies ahead. Alliances are formed, chaos ensues.

Your hero may fail tests she’s confronted with at first, but her transformation begins. She has the ability and knowledge to accomplish her tasks, but will she succeed?

Example: The Hunger Games begin. Tributes die. Katniss fights without water or a weapon. Her allies are Peeta and young Rue (the 12-year-old Tribute from District 11). The strongest players have illegally spent their young lives training for The Hunger Games and loom as her enemies from the start. 

7 — Approach to the Inmost Cave

Your hero approaches danger—often hidden, sometimes more mental than physical. She must face her greatest fears time again and may even be tempted to give up. She has to dig deep to find courage.

Example: Katniss is in the arena, the games underway. There’s no escape. She’s seen death, fears she may be next, and must find water and a weapon to survive. 

8 — The Ordeal

Your hero’s darkest moment and greatest challenge so far, in a fight for her life, she must find a way to endure to the end.

This may or may not be the climax of your story, but it is the climax of the initiation stage.

During this terrible ordeal, the steepest part of her character arc takes place.

Example: Katniss faces dying of thirst (if she’s not killed by another Tribute first) and faces every obstacle imaginable, including the death of Rue, before she finally wins the battle. 

9 — Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Against all odds, your hero survives. She’s defeated her enemies , slain her dragons—she has overcome and won the reward.

Whether her reward is tangible depends on the story. Regardless, your hero has undergone a total inward and outward transformation.

Example: Peeta and Katniss stand alone in the arena, told that because they are from the same district they can both claim the victory—or can they?

10 — The Road Back

As she begins to cross the threshold back into the ordinary world, she learns the battle isn’t finished.

She must face the consequences for her actions during the initiation stage.

She’s about to face her final obstacle.

Example: The Capitol reverses and announces that only one winner will be allowed. 

11 — The Resurrection

During this climax of your story, your hero faces her final, most threatening challenge.

She may even face death one more time.

Example: Katniss and Peeta decide that if they can’t win together, there will be no winner. They decide to call the Capitol’s bluff and threaten to die together. As they are about to eat poison berries, the Capitol is forced to allow two winners. 

12 — Return With the Elixir

Your hero finally crosses the threshold back into her ordinary life, triumphant. Only things aren’t so ordinary anymore.

She’s been changed by her adventure. She brings with her rewards, sometimes tangible items she can share, sometimes insight or wisdom. Regardless, this all impacts her life in ways she never imagined.

Example: Katniss and Peeta return home celebrities. They’re given new homes, plenty of food to share, and assistants who tend to their needs. Katniss learns that her defiance of the Capitol has sparked a revolution in the hearts of residents all across Panem. 

  • Hero’s Journey Examples

You may recognize The Hero’s Journey in many famous stories, including Greek Mythology and even the Bible. Other examples:

  • Sleeping Beauty
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Indiana Jones
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Pilgrim’s Progress
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • Should You Use The Hero’s Journey Story Structure?

Structure is necessary to a story , regardless which you choose. Because the Hero’s Journey serves as a template under which all story structures fall, each bears some variation of it.

For fiction or nonfiction, your story structure determines how effectively you employ drama, intrigue, and tension to grab readers from the start and keep them to the end.

For more on story structure, visit my blog post 7 Story Structures Any Writer Can Use .

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How to write Hero’s Journey Essay: What you need to know

Why is it important to learn how to write Hero’s Journey essay? Have you ever noticed that most fairy tales have almost a similar pattern? In these stories, there is always a protagonist, problems, or even several antagonists. The protagonist always goes out on an adventure and, in the process, encounters various roadblocks.

During his adventure, he makes new friends, fights bad guys, and return to his homes as changed persons. These kinds of stories are ancient, and that is why so many narratives follow this pattern. These kinds of stories are summed up in what we call the Hero’s journey. In this article, we are going to cover everything you need to know about Hero’s journey.

What is the Hero’s journey?

The Hero’s Journey is a common story template or narrative archetype that was coined by an academic known as Joseph Campbell in 1949. The classical or earlier version of Hero’s Journey was called an “epic.” It was usually written in poetic form as Homer’s Odyssey. Nowadays, Hero’s Journey can be found in various types of work, from historical to fantasy films.

Hero’s Journey Stages

Like any other story, Hero’s Journey has a beginning, the middle part, and an ending. Although there are many forms of structure, most writers try to subscribe to one formula. Here are the 3 stages of Hero’s Journey that you need to cover when writing your essay.

1. The departure act

This is where the Hero leaves an ordinary world. This occurs after he has received a call for an adventure. Normally, the Hero is uncertain if he should go for the adventure or not. However, he’s usually convinced and counseled by a mentor figure before following the call.

2. The initiation act

This is where the Hero starts his adventure and navigates to an unfamiliar world. The Hero goes to the “special world” and begins facing various challenges. To overcome the obstacles, the protagonist has to put into practice everything he has learned.

3. The Return Act

This is where Hero returns to his ordinary or familiar land. He now realizes how his adventure to the unfamiliar world has changed his life as a person.

Hero’s Journey Steps 

In a literature class, Hero’s Journey helps you understand the fairy tales you read and also allows students to contribute more during class discussions. In creative writing, it helps writers satisfy their readers by ensuring they understand the message they are trying to convey. There are 12 steps in Hero’s Journey, and all are contained in the 3 Hero’s Journey stages.

Hero’s Journey Movies also follow these steps. Here is a breakdown of the Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell:

The departure act

  • Ordinary world
  • The Call to adventure
  • Refusal of the call to adventure
  • Meeting with the Mentor
  • Crossing his first threshold

The initiation act

  • Tests, enemies and allies
  • Going to the inmost cave
  • The encounter or ordeal
  • The reward 

The return act

  • The Road back
  • The Resurrection
  • Return with Elixir

Let’s talk about each of these 12 steps:

1) the ordinary world.

This is where we meet the Hero. The journey hasn’t started, and the Hero has not yet discovered a strange and unfamiliar world. This world is a safe place, and there are no crucial details about the Hero. He is just a human being like anyone else, but the writer gets to introduce him to readers.

2) Call to adventure

At this stage, the call for adventure begins when the protagonist receives a call to action. This call to action can include a threat to his family, safety, way of life, or the peace that exists in his community. It’s where a challenge or a problem that can’t be ignored sets in and ultimately disrupts the comfort of the ordinary world.

3) Refusal of the call

After receiving the call to adventure, the protagonist may not be ready to accept this call. This is because he has some fears in him. He feels like he might not be capable of overcoming the challenge he or his world is facing. When this happens, his community may suffer because he has refused the call.

4) Meeting the Mentor

Meeting the mentor is the point where the Hero goes to seek guidance from a mentor who will offer some advice or any other thing the protagonist may need. For instance, he can be given insight into the problem at hand, an object that may be of great importance during his adventure, practical training, or teaching on self-confidence. The advice or object the mentor gives the Hero is meant to dispel any fear and doubt the Hero may be having.

5) Crossing the Threshold

Now the Hero is committed and ready to start his journey to the unfamiliar world. Sometimes, the Hero may need to be pushed before he crosses the threshold and enters the unfamiliar world. It may be an ordinary thing for the protagonist to leave his home (although he has always been scared to do that particular task), or it can be his first time.

6) Tests, Allies, Enemies

At this stage, the Hero is confronted with a series of challenges that test him in various ways. The Hero has to overcome all of these problems, whether they are physical challenges or just tasks that involve the brain. In the process of overcoming these challenges, the Hero has to discover who can be trusted and who cannot be trusted. It’s also at this stage that his powers and skills are put to the test.

7) Going to the Inmost Cave

This cave isn’t an actual cave. Instead, it represents anything or anywhere in the Hero’s story where there is a lot of danger. Before the Hero approaches the most dangerous spot, also known as the “inmost cave,” he has to make final preparations. He may also take some time to reflect on what’s ahead of him in order to find some encouragement to continue with his adventure.

The ordeal is where the Hero faces the most task, test, or challenge. It can be a deadly enemy or something that everyone fears. The experiences and skills he has learned along the way will help him overcome this difficult challenge. Sometimes the ordeal may not be the climax of the story. In some stories, the protagonist can face more challenges.

9) Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Since the Hero has been through a lot of problems and has defeated his enemies, he can now reap his fruits of labor. The reword can come in various forms, from greater insight and knowledge, a secret, an object of power, or greater importance to even reconciling with an ally or their loved ones. Whatever the reward may be, the protagonist has to get ready for the last stage of his journey.

10) The Road Back

It’s at this stage that the protagonist realizes the light at the end maybe a little further than he thought. This is because the story is not just over yet, and he has to try to return to his ordinary life. It’s worth noting that the Hero has to deal with the aftermath and consequences of their actions based on their previous acts.

11) Resurrection

This is usually the climax of most stories, where the Hero meets his last test. It’s at this step that he has an encounter with death. Other writers refer to this stage as the final exam for the protagonist. The purpose is to test if he learned something from the Ordeal step and if they are ready to encounter even more difficult challenges. It’s at this point where you’ll find near-death escapes, and if he fails, many others will suffer. Ultimately, the Hero comes out victorious and overcomes his foe.

12) Return with the Elixir

This is the final step in the return stage, where the protagonist returns to his ordinary world. He will return as a changed person since he will have grown in person, faced many dangers, and learned a lot of things. In most cases, his return brings a lot of hope to the ordinary world and also directly solves some of the problems his community members were facing.

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25 Hero’s Journey Story Ideas to Start an Epic Adventure

by Sue Weems | 0 comments

The hero's journey is one of the most beloved and popular story frameworks in books and film. Today we have 25 prompts with hero's journey story ideas, so you can write your own epic adventure tale!

how to write a hero's journey essay

If you've watched any one of George Lucas's Star Wars films, read or watched any of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings books or films then you've experienced the hero's journey. I've walked my creative writing classes through these stories numerous times, helping them identify and emulate the story principles. 

Part of what makes these stories so compelling is that they follow a character from their ordinary life into an adventure they couldn't have imagined, leading to personal transformation.

You can see David Stafford's (our resident expert on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey Story Structure) Ultimate Guide to the Hero's Journey here if you want to see a complete breakdown of the heroic journey that creates these character arcs. 

While there are twelve stages or phases in a traditional hero's journey story, I've organized these prompts in the three essential stages: the departure, the initiation, and the return. You can combine these into a story or use them individually to fuel just one section of your larger story. 

Try one and see how it pushes your character out of their normal life and into a hero venture! 

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Departure

This opening stage is all about establishing a would-be hero's everyday life, revealing the status quo, and then disrupting it. What's expected of this character in their current state? What do they believe about themselves? 

The departure stage requires the hero to leave that mundane life, that familiar world behind to begin their adventure that will happen in a series of stages. The departure includes: the Ordinary World , the Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call , Meet the Mentor , and the Crossing of the Threshold .

1. Create a scene where your character is frustrated or in trouble at their current workplace or home. Avoid a wake-up scene unless you can make it compelling.

2. Show your character doing their favorite activity when it gets interrupted with something inconsequential.

3. Show your character interacting with a pesky sibling, challenging family member, or sometimes friend. 

4. What problem will arise in your character's community that will necessitate them leaving home to solve it? 

5. Create a major threat to your character's favorite place or person , preferably one that could be extended to the entire community. 

6. Describe the insecurities that plague your character, focusing on ones that will inform their refusal of the call to adventure. 

7. Create a mentor (or two or three!) that will inspire your character to think beyond their current limitations and plant a seed of inspiration. What kind of person or being will best speak into your character's specific fears?

8. Write the scene where the character accepts the call and leaves home to begin the adventure. 

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Initiation Stage

The initiation stage includes Trials, Allies, and Enemies ; Approach to the Inmost Cave ; The Ordeal ; and The Reward .

This next part, the initiation, is usually the longest in a story, loosely from the inciting incident to the end of the climax (and immediate repercussions). This is a place to play—get creative with the trials, the complications, and the ultimate battle.

9. Make a list of your hero's strengths and weaknesses. Now, create a trial or an antagonist that can challenge each of those traits. 

10. Write a scene where your hero meets an unexpected ally on their journey . 

11. Create a fantastical challenge or physical obstacle in the world where your story is set. Drop your hero and one other character into the situation and force them to fight their way through it. 

12. Write a scene where the hero faces something they think will be easy, but it challenges them in an unexpected (and humbling way).

13. How will your character take on a new physical look during the initiation phase? How will their build, clothing, features change? Write the description , including an outline of how it happens. 

14. Create a creature who the hero will approach as a threat. What happens in the face-off? Will the creature remain foe? or become a friend?

15. The character archetype of the shadow (sometimes called the villain) appears during the approach to the inmost cave. The villain is the dark side of the hero. Write a scene where the hero misuses their power and prowess—then see if you can adapt it for the shadow OR use it to help the hero grow. 

16. Write a scene where the hero faces their toughest foe, the scene where they are not sure they can beat evil.

17. Consider how the fight has become even more personal for the hero. Write about what they believe they are fighting for now. Make sure the stakes are high.

Hero's Journey Story Ideas for the Return

Finally, the Return stage shows off how our hero has changed, how the internal transformation has now manifested as an external change as the hero fully embraces their new status and learning.

It includes the final stages of the journey structure: The Road Back , The Resurrection , and the Return with the Elixir . 

18. Write a scene (or a list!) where the hero recounts what they have lost on the journey. 

19. Write a scene where the hero has achieved what they hoped, but somehow it falls short of what they thought it would be to them.

20. Write out the worst thing that could happen on the hero's way back home. How will they face it?

21. Describe (or draw!) a map of the hero's way home. Will they return the same way or go a new direction? What have they learned? 

22. Write a scene where your hero makes a significant sacrifice to defeat evil, preferably on behalf of their community.

23. Write a scene where the hero encounters a setback on their way home, either physical or relational. Make sure they are using their newfound confidence to solve the problem. 

24. Make a list of possible “elixirs” or rewards your hero could bring back from their adventure. Think about what is broken or important to their community and what that physical object will mean to them. Choose one elixir and write the moment the hero presents it. 

25. Write a hero's celebration feast scene. 

Now you try! 

The hero's journey structure can push you as a writer to focus on character development in addition to its opportunities for action and world building. Try one of these prompts today in your writing time and see where it leads!

Choose one of the prompts above. Set your timer for fifteen minutes and write. When finished, post your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here , and I hope you'll share feedback and encouragement with a few other writers. Help those heroes shine! 

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Sue Weems is a writer, teacher, and traveler with an advanced degree in (mostly fictional) revenge. When she’s not rationalizing her love for parentheses (and dramatic asides), she follows a sailor around the globe with their four children, two dogs, and an impossibly tall stack of books to read. You can read more of her writing tips on her website .

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The Hero’s Journey Essay (850 words)

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What is the hero’s journey?

Researchers of stories in literature and cinema wanted to see the general trends of all the works and masterpieces for a long period of time. All of them were curious: can we say that there is a unique way to write an interesting and successful story. Joseph Campbell is the man who found these patterns by studying practically all the myths of all nations. His titanic work is worth to respected, and books have to be read. Think about your favorite book or film and answer the question: ‘Does the main character follow the same pattern?’. Let’s try to find this out.

A few words about the author

Hero’s journey essay cannot be full without Joseph Campbell — the author of this theory. He was born in 1904 in New York. He is the author of nine works, including books and essays. Indian myths were interesting to Campbell, he considered them as a receptacle of spiritual truths that do not depend on time. Then he decided to find, read and understand all the known myths and to outline something common in them. He saw these basic aspects — for example, the flood, the abduction of fire, the resurrecting hero, the virgin birth, the land of the dead. His two most famous works are ‘The Hero with a thousand faces’ and ‘Masks of God.’ George Lucas (author of ‘Star Wars’) admitted that he was inspired by these works and his films in their structure contained the concepts of Campbell. Joseph Campbell is sure that any good narrative has in its structural similarities with other good stories, that everything was invented a long time ago and any deviation from this structure makes the viewer and the reader puzzled. So, what kind of structure does Campbell consider the same from a millennium to a millennium?

Hero’s journey structure

The main characteristic of Hero’s journey is its cyclic quality. Everything begins and ends on the same stage. So, let’s look closer to this theory:

  • Status quo.

This is the introduction. The usual world of the hero. This is the place where the story begins — a completely normal environment for the main character.

  • Call of adventure.

The hero receives a mysterious message, a challenge. It may be a non-accidental encounter with a person or phenomenon that will show him that he is elected.

The world has changed, and the hero needs support. Most likely, from someone who is smarter and wiser than him.

The hero had a chance to leave everything as it was, but he mustered up courage, abandoned his familiar environment and entered a new, alien world full of dangers and adventures. There is no way back; bridges are burned.

Being a hero is hard work, it has to be capitalized. He has to solve riddles, avoid traps, cut the heads of monsters. For one hero, the test is to cross the road, for another — enter the cave, fight evil, for the third — go on a date with the girl of his dreams and not disgrace yourself.

  • Forthcoming

It’s time for a harsh meeting with the hero’s worst fear. It does not have to be a real collision; we can only show the viewer or the reader what our hero fears more than anything else in the world or force the hero to engage in a fight with him and see the fear in his face.

This is the most difficult moment in the life of the hero, the culmination. He can get an incredibly heavy physical or moral blow and be on the verge of death (may even die). Everything is very bad, and there is no chance of salvation. But the hero is reborn.

When the hero has overcome the most powerful obstacle in his life, met with the greatest fear and evil, he must receive a reward. It can be anything — glory, recognition, real treasure.

It can be different. Monsters can finally obey the hero or can pursue him to the borders of his terrible world.

After all his adventures, our hero returns to his familiar world, however, much has changed.

Analysis of what happened helps the hero to change his mentality. He grew out of his old life, learned new things, destroyed the old.

  • Conclusion.

There comes the denouement. All the storylines need clarification, all of these topics have to be ended.

However, its level is higher than at the beginning. Life of a hero is completely different now. People treat him in another way; he has changed, the world too. This is the conclusion.

If you’ve read a series of ‘Harry Potter’ books by J.K. Rowling, if you’ve watched ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Avatar,’ you can easily trace the similarities of the same structure in all these works. Why does this structure work? Any story is above all about ourselves. All of these artworks describe our life, or rather, the life that we all want. That is exactly why it gets to the point, that’s why it catches us.

This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly . Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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The Hero's Journey in a Disney Movie "Toy Story"

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Published: Sep 25, 2018

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Writing help, paraphrasing tool, the hobbit hero’s journey.

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In this essay, I’m going to be talking about the relation between The Hero’s Journey Model by Joseph Campbell and how his storytelling structure applies to Tolkiens The Hobbit novel.

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”J.R.R. Tolkien

That is how Tolkien began writing The Hobbit, at first John Ronald did not even know what a Hobbit was, as weird as it may sound, at that moment Tolkien himself might have been possessed by the world he was about to create.

The ideas presented by Campbell in his book are used to analyse and study novels and their structures. There is nothing new on this book that has not been seen before, the ideas on it are ancient. What Campbell did was putting all his thoughts and structures together, that is how he discovered the pattern behind every story ever written.

In his study, he discovered that in essence, all stories are the same. They might vary and may be told differently but they all come back to the same steps.

It would be interesting to note that The Hobbit was written and published many years before Campbell began doing his study on The Hero’s Journey. This journey is something that everyone has in themselves as if it was part of us and our DNA when we make up stories in either bigger or smaller ways, we have the tendency to use a certain approximation of the formula that Campbell theorised.

So what makes up the monomyth? There are two levels of detail; the first one would be the cycle itself, which would be made of the departure, the initiation and the return. So the departure is the departure from the normal or the existing of non-magic world where the character lives, which comes more apparent later on, the departure is focused on this idea of moving away. It gets broken down into different parts, that being the call to adventure, the refusal of the call, the supernatural aid, the crossing of the first threshold, and the belly of the whale.

The next stage of the cycle is the initiation, is not in the sense of getting started on something but the things in which the hero does to get initiated into the world of the magical and the fantastic. The purpose of the hero´s journey is to take a character out of normality then change them in some way, and finally return them in their improved state.

This contains 3 different options, the road of trials, the meeting with the goddess,

The heroes journey in the hobbit begins with the first phase, known as “the departure”, this departure is not done right away, there are a series of steps we need to have in mind for it to take place as necessary and as natural as possible. In the first instance “Bilbo” the protagonist lives his life on a routine in the shire, and that’s how is portrayed monotonous and unaltered space. Nothing changed and Bilbo likes that. That’s when Gandalf shows up to carry out the second step of the journey, the call to an adventure. The mage lets him know that he requires someone to take on an adventure with. But carrying with the third step “Denial”, Bilbo refuses and he locks himself upon his home.

Acceptance after denial.

After the visit from this mage, Bilbo is presented with a multitude of dwarves showing up to his house, his manners stop him from throwing these people out and that’s when he hears of the task he was sought for.

Is there when Galdaf confesses choosing the Hobbit was his idea and how he wants him to be part of the party for the expedition, ‘While Tolkien endows his wizard with a number of stock-comic attributes, he also makes it clear that this magical grandfather-figure’(David Stevens and Carol D. Stevens)(2008)

The figure of Gandalf plays a huge role on the transformation that Bilbo will suffer, becoming his mentor will allow Bilbo to grow. Christopher Vogler says that, ‘The Call to Adventure may come in the form of a message or a messenger.

It may simply be a stirring within the hero’ (Vogler, C ,2007, pp 100.) Here we see how it was crucial for Gandalfs to push the hobbit out on the adventure, his influence made him move, when the hobbit decided on taking this adventure the 5th step begins. The Crossing of the first threshold.

That is the first instance of the character development of Bilbo, where he decides he will take on something he had never done before, that is more apparent later on when the company have the need of camping to rest, and Bilbo is dragged to look for the pony the dwarf brothers lost, they then come across a group of “Trolls” wanting to cook their pony.

Bilbo is tasked with the freeing of the animal but gets caught by the trolls, the dwarves join later on trying to free their hobbit friend, but have to surrender or he’d be tear apart. They all get caught by the creatures, soon to be eaten. It is at this point that there is a change on Bilbo’s character, he processes to explain to the trolls the disadvantages of eating dwarves, just trying to buy their friends some time, which then Gandalf uses to transform the trolls into stone with the suns light. Bilbo wouldn’t have done this sort of thing on the shire, and it is this point that the transformation that all characters go through in the journey of Campbell begins. The changes in bilbos character are external, he becomes less lazy, more outgoing, less timid.

Campbell (2008) said that ‘the hero is the man of self-achieved submission. But submission to what’

Someone who gives up their life to something that they find above them, but this definition of a hero could be attached to a villain or a fan since it does not require the reason that makes the hero’s sacrifice.

The next stage is Belly of the Whale, all known to the hero is now gone, their transformation has already begun, even if they are not aware of it. There is a permanent division of what’s known to Bilbo and himself. Bilbo begins this stage when travelling through the mountains, they come across some dangerous rainstorms and massive Stone giants fighting each other. This makes the company look for shelter, which they find on a cave, Bilbo tries to leave the company as he feels he doesn’t belong there with them and is not good enough to help the dwarves on their mission. That doesn’t last long as some floor traps swing open and they fall into the insides of the cave.

The road of trials goes next, the movie and the book will stay on this for the majority of the film, as it contains the main events for the character to develop and experience.

Bilbo is left alone when squishing between the enemies but falls on a fight with a creature, this allows him to find the Ring, which gives him invisibility. And his encounter with Gollum the creature,where they get on a game of riddles, which bilbo ends up winning due to a trick, the halfling is able to scape the cave thanks to the choices he made, letting Gollum live thanks to piety and compassion. When choosing not to end Gollums live, on an unconscious way he’s saved his own life and changed the fate of all the world. Later after he reunites with his friends, they are being hunted by the pale Orc, on this fight with these creatures, the protagonist is the only one that faces the beast after Thoring is knock out. There is a visible change on Bilbos charisma when he is the one willing to fight, knowing there is no chance for him on surviving.

The journey to the lonely mountain begins after they are rescued by giant eagles, the road of trials follows on as they will continue to face more and more challenges. The ones id like to stand out would be the fighting against the giant spiders and the liberation on the dwarves after getting caught by the black forest Elves.

The first encounter with the spiders play a huge change on Bilbo’s personality after they all get caught due to dizziness and exhaustion, the hobbit is able to wake up and free himself from the spiderwebs and tries to free his friends, I would consider this the initiation of Bilbo into becoming a greater warrior. He has learnt to combine his ingenuity with his sword and the magic powers of the ring. There is a small encounter with a baby spider, Bilbo suddenly loses possession of the ring, and tried to kill the spider trying to find it. It is at this point that he is aware of the power that the ring is inflicting on him. Before he might have not killed the spider at all, for either cowardness or pity, but not this time as he feels more comfortable with abilities and the influence of the ring on him.

There would be another instance where the hobbit is able to use these newly acquired abilities to free the dwarves once again when they get caught by the Elves. He uses the rings invisibility powers to get them out of their prison. The marching of Gandalf was necessary for Bilbo to obtain this growth for himself since he had always been protected and guided by some others. But at this time he is the one that needs to make his desitions.

The next step Is the odyssey

The next stage is the woman as temptress as in this stage bilbo will face the temptation of helping his friends or keeping a gem. “woman” is referred to the “Arkenstone”, it has the power to make the worst out of bilbo and ruin the whole adventure. But in the end, he chooses the better good and tries to use the “Arkenstone” to stop the war between the humans and elves for entering the mountain.

“he shows a great courage and non-selfish decision when he stands against his companions and chooses peace and harmony instead of wealth. ’  The Unlikeliest of Heroes : The Remarkable Evolution of Bilbo Baggins Through J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit

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Helen parshal on the other hands says that

“Hobbits, however, show the full trajectory of what courage actually means: starting from a place of innocent fear, acknowledging the fear and its limitations, and then harnessing those fears to do what must be done for the greater good.” (Helen Parshall) Hobbits: Tolkien’s Unlikely Heroes.

They all mention courage, in the case of the hobbit that is something that has been developing thought the movies, due to the adapting of Bilbo to his environment and circunstances. Hes more developmed and for consecuence a better hero. As well as self sacrifice for greater good, it would be arguable that hes been doing that for his own benefit, but the end gol is to help others.

George clarck says that ‘the successful outcome of the adventure depends on Bilbo’s physical and moral courage and on his moral choices’. Clark. G (2008) . PONER ESTO DONDE GOLLUM

To sum up as a conclusion of this essay. The journey presented here is a tool widely used and is usually a success for either book writers or movie scripts. But we need to have in mind that the hero’s journey is not a recipe or formula that needs to be followed every time, it only contains the steps, and that does not mean is applicable to every story.

Likewise, “The Hobbit” does follow those steps set by Campbell in his books, though Tolkien did not use this scheme when writing his book nor did Jackson when doing his movie, I believe that the creation of “The hobbit” itself might have contributed to the books and the theory presented by Campbell.

Bilbo is the best example of an ordinary hero as a protagonist, like every other hobbit he values home, becoming the example of the ordinary man involved in an adventure. Bilbo is presented insecure and sometimes funny, nevertheless, the hobbit gets more experience with each adventure. Bilbo starts becoming more of a leader inside the group and his self-confidence increases too. The purpose of the journey of Bilbo consisted of allowing him to grow enough to realise how small he was in regards to the world around him. The most valuable attribute that he gets is humbleness.

Bilbo is a hero because of the virtues of his sensible character, and that is visible when he shows mercy on Gollum or when he resigns on his part of the treasure. Bilbos decisions are what makes him a hero, however, the rejection of heroes stereotypes is what makes him the ideal ordinary hero, honest and generous.

There is a division in the fantasy genre, there is the high fantasy and domestic fantasy, Farah Mendelsohn proposes this division on the relation between reality and fantasy. From high fantasy, she presents immersive fantasy, which is the one that takes place on a secondary world, and for that reason its part of high fantasy. Then she presents intrusive fantasy and “portal” fantasy, which come from domestic fantasy. Due to the contact produced between the reality of the main world and a fantastic element, either for travelling to another world o fantastic place or for the interference of beings or fantastic objects in our world.

Portal fantasy emphasizes from the beginning of any novel from this genre the fact that there has to be an entry to a fantastic world through a portal. This journey is often unique of those humans because they can always come back from that portal into their world once the adventure is over and the fantastic elements always remain on the other side of it, and never cross that line.

On the case of the Hobbit, we are talking about the race hobbits which do resemble humans but in a different form. ‘I picture a fairly human figure, not a kind of fairy rabbit as some of my British reviewers seem to fancy: fat in the stomach, shortish in the leg” JRR Tolkien.


  • Bullis, E.G. 2000, Bilbo Baggins as role model: Stage adaptations of “The Hobbit” for young audiences, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing.
  • Campbell, J. (2008), The hero with a thousand faces, 3rd edn, New World Library, Novato, Calif.
  • Campbell, Joseph and Moyers, Bill. The Power Of Myth, Turtleback Books, United States, 2012.
  • Cesereanu, R. 2014, ”The Fantasy Complex’. Close Reading: The Hobbit The Lord of the Rings’, Caietele Echinox, vol. 26, no. 26, pp. 83-98.
  • Gray, S. 2013, ‘An Unlikely Hero’, American Cinematographer, [Online], vol. 94, no. 1, pp. 50-65.
  • Mohammadi, F. 2013, ‘Mythic frodo and his predestinate call to adventure’, International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature, vol. 2, no. 5, pp. 117-126.
  • Robertson, D.L. & Lawrence, C. 2015, ‘Heroes and Mentors: A Consideration of Relational-Cultural Theory and ‘The Hero’s Journey”, Journal of Creativity in Mental Health, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 264-277.
  • Stanton, Michael.N. Hobbits, Elves, And Wizards: Exploring the Wonders and Worlds of J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. New York Martin’s Press,(December 2001)
  • Stevens, T.J. 2015, An Indepth Look at Heroic Fantasy: The Imaginary Realms of J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. THESIS
  • The Heroism in Tolkien’s The Hobbit Swetha Metla, Doctoral Research Scholar, English Language & literature, SSSIHL, undergraduate essay
  • TOLKIEN, J. R. R. (1937). The hobbit, or, There and back again. UK. George Allen & Unwin
  • Waito, D.M. 2010, ‘The Shire Quest: The ‘Scouring of the Shire’ as the Narrative and Thematic Focus of ‘The Lord of the Rings”, Mythlore, vol. 28, no. 3/4 (109/110), pp. 155-177.
  • Vogler, C. 2007, The writer’s journey: mythic structure for writers, 3rd edn, Michael Wiese Productions, Studio City, CA. pp 100
  • The Unlikeliest of Heroes : The Remarkable Evolution of Bilbo Baggins Through J.R.R.Tolkien’s The Hobbit , pp 52
  • Hobbits: Tolkien’s Unlikely Heroes, the artifice, helen parshal, October 2014, ONLINE MAGAZINE.
  • Clark, George. ”J.R.R Tolkien and the True Hero” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: J.R.R Tolkien, New Edition. (2008); Google Books. Web. May 2011. 43-58
  • David Stevens and Carol D. Stevens “The Hobbit” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views: J.R.R Tolkien, New Edition. (2008); Google Books. Web. May 2011 17-25

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Using Live Writing to Provide Instant Feedback

This technique allows teachers to read what their students are writing in the moment and provide timely and effective feedback.

Photo of high school students on laptops

Student feedback should be timely and effective. When teachers give students an assignment, collect it, spend a week grading and commenting, and then return it, the application of the feedback gets lost. With the advancements in technology and technological access, there is a better, more efficient way of providing instant writing feedback to all students. Teachers can give effective feedback at the moment when the students need it the most and when comments are most applicable to writing success. This is live writing , and here’s how it works.

Set aside time in class for writing—it’s the best time for students to write because in class, they have a calm, quiet environment, technology and Wi-Fi, and teacher support. Many students lack such space and support at home.

To get a live writing session started, I generate a document with the prompt at the top or simply create an MLA writing template with nothing more than a header at the top. I upload this document into Google Classroom so that students can make a copy, then have them share back with me so that I can toggle between student papers and see their progress as they write—live. You will need to adapt this to your various technologies and learning management system, but the end goal is to have quick access to your students’ writings.

After we explore the nuances of the prompt and clarify the goals and expectations, I let the students get into their own writing and engage in the process of crafting their response in the shared document. While students get started, I click between the students’ work and make sure they are all in and writing. Students work at different paces, so as the fast writers craft their initial responses, I can give some quick comments for encouragement, redirections, or minor constructive critique. Students will see these suggestions immediately and can either make changes or come back to them later. In the meantime, I move on to other students.

Essentially, I am still doing what teachers should be doing: walking around the class while they are working, reading over their shoulders, and giving appropriate feedback while they are working. Live writing is just more private, more personal, and more engaging, and it saves kids from smelling my coffee breath in the morning.

Providing timely writing feedback

As the students are drafting and the teacher is scanning the documents, the important goal is to focus on the skill being assessed. If the class is working on introducing evidence, then the teacher should focus on providing swift feedback for that, or if the analysis of the evidence is the focus, then the teacher can comment on that. The goal is to not get bogged down by other elements or the mechanics of the writing. Instead, steer students to rework the sections that the class is focusing on. 

In my experience, it should only take about 30 seconds to give some quick feedback. As with any feedback, it should be clear and concise. For example, if I am teaching thesis statements, I might write, “This is good, but be sure you make a defensible claim,” or “This is a nice summary of the controversy; can you take a clear position to defend?” I know specifically what the objective is and what the thesis should include, so I don’t bother commenting on anything else and only skim the surrounding material and assess the main skill with a quick comment. This allows me to move through the entire class of about 25 several times in a class period.  

You might notice that you are writing similar responses to various students. In this case, canned comments or copying and pasting from a list of comments becomes useful. You might also notice a need to workshop a skill or reteach a concept.

Providing Instant Examples

One of the many advantages of live writing is the opportunity to workshop in the moment. If I am working on thesis statements, then I will copy and paste a couple of good thesis statements into a separate document, as well as a couple that need some work, and project my collection onto the screen. I’ll have students pause in their writing and look at the samples from their class—I keep them anonymous. We can look at the quality thesis statements and discuss their strengths, and then workshop the ones that need to be developed. As a group, the class can assess their own thesis and make changes as they see fit. I can do this in three or four minutes, and then students can get back into their writing. 

By the end of the writing session, students will have crafted their own text, seen exemplary writing from their peers, potentially workshopped some of their own writing, and received some feedback from the instructor during the process in the moments they needed it most. 

Other Benefits

Beyond the beneficial outcomes for students, teachers can use this method to maximize their time. Before the class even lets out, the teacher has a snapshot of how well their students understand the skill, has the ability to reteach things that aren’t clicking immediately and catch students before they get too far off track, and has given feedback to all students without needing to take the work home. 

Additionally, because the writing is tracked on a Google Doc and is being completed live in the presence of the teacher, the space for plagiarism or AI-generated responses is limited. A teacher can quite easily see if a student’s document was blank a few minutes ago and is now fully populated with beautiful prose; also, the document history charts and tracks what was written and when. This is an essential component of seeing each student’s writing process, understanding their raw writing ability prior to revision, recognizing the written voice of each student, and tracking accountability for their work.  

In sum, live writing is a fast and effective tool to add to the teaching quiver. This method of writing maximizes class time for effective teaching with live feedback and commentary in the best possible moment: the present. 


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    Instead, steer students to rework the sections that the class is focusing on. In my experience, it should only take about 30 seconds to give some quick feedback. As with any feedback, it should be clear and concise. For example, if I am teaching thesis statements, I might write, "This is good, but be sure you make a defensible claim," or ...