The Hero’s Arc, or The Hero’s Journey, is a story telling vehicle used by some of the most popular stories we know today. It’s a narrative type which appears often in literature. Commonly seen in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and other types of stories as well as myth and even religious rituals, the Hero’s Arc has given writers a structure to follow which has led to some of the most well-known tales in literature and film.
The story of King Arthur represents one classic version of this arc, and it’s seen yet again in more recent tales such as Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Eragon to name but a few. So what is the Hero’s Arc, and how do authors use it to tell a story? The basic rules are listed here below.
- The Ordinary World- Here we see the hero in their native environment. Doing what they normally do- work on a farm, or maybe as cook, or some other role. This usually shows something of the hero’s heredity, their environment, and a bit of their personal history. Also, there’s something in their life causing them stress, maybe pulling them in different directions.
- The Call to Adventure- Something happens to shake up the situation, which can be from either an internal or external source. It’s here the hero starts to face those things that will change him later.
- Refusal of the Call- The hero will initially refuse the call to adventure/action. Maybe they’re scared, in denial, or have some other reason, and it doesn’t always last long.
- Meeting the Mentor- At this time, the mentor is introduced as such. Usually, it’s someone who becomes something of a father figure to the hero, but not always. It’s the mentor who trains them, gives them their equipment or advice that helps them on their adventure.
- Crossing the Threshold- this is the end of Act One. The Hero makes the choice to leave their ordinary world for something unfamiliar to them. The rules and values are often different, and the hero realizes they have to learn them to survive.
- Tests, Allies, and the Enemy- During this part of the story, the hero is tested, but they don’t always win the test. Maybe they learn some new skills, or realize some part of their character they were unfamiliar with before. It’s also during this time when alliances are often formed, and sometimes enemies too.
- The Approach- During this phase of the story, the hero and their allies prepare for some major challenge in their new world.
- The Ordeal- This takes place usually in the middle of the story. Here, the hero faces his or her greatest fears, or even faces death.
- The Reward- Now, the hero gets their reward, won by facing death or those greatest of fears. Maybe there’s a celebration of some kind, but there’s also the danger of losing the hard won reward again.
- The Road to Return- About two thirds to three quarters of the way through the tale now, the hero feels the drive to finish what they’ve started, completing the adventure and leaving their new world behind them to make sure their reward/treasure is brought home. This is often shown by way of a chase of some kind, which gives a sense of danger and even urgency to the hero’s accomplishing their task.
- The Resurrection- At the climax of the story, it’s here the biggest, or most severe tests are given to the hero, often while at the cusp of reaching home. They’re purified by a last sacrifice with another moment of death and rebirth, but on a more complete level. These actions are what resolve the things polarizing the hero at the story’s beginning.
- Return Home- The hero returns home, even if only for a short time, before continuing their journey, maybe bearing some element of their treasure or what they’ve fought so hard to win, which has the ability to change or transform the world as the hero themselves has been changed or transformed.
Now that we’ve described the Hero’s Arc, and how it’s used in telling stories, can you think of any favorite stories where this type of storytelling was used? How did the author use to their success? Did it work, or was there maybe another way they could have gone that might have worked better?
Your thoughts, comments, and discussions on this are appreciated.
© 2016, Tim Hillebrant. All rights reserved.
The author has granted WritersCarnival.ca, its affiliates and syndicates non-exclusive rights to display this work.