Everyone seems to have their own take on the Hero’s Journey.
Drawing from sources I’ve encountered, I tried to get a clear picture of what an “ideal” Hero’s Journey should be. A couple of the parts can be cut if it serves the story better. Act II is always the bulk of the story. Sometimes Act III is shorter than Act I instead of both being equal length (steadily rising action to climax, then sharply falling action to conclusion of story).
Act I – Separation
The Ordinary World (beginning: 25%). Establishing the world, the characters, the conflict, the plot. Establish the needs and what the hero’s quest is.
- Ordinary world
- The known, the set-up, the status quo, limited awareness
- Begin with the main character (in action – in a characteristic moment), show their normal world where they’re reasonably comfortable. Only include necessary information, and create a reason to care about the main character. May add some inkling about the character’s goals and desires.
- Call to adventure
- Inciting incident, the call to action, the catalyst, life in collapse, hook
- Early plot point. Events begin to spin out of control, goals are forced out of reach, etc.
- Refusal of the call
- Meeting the mentor
- Meeting the white spirit, supernatural aid,
- Meeting hero/heroine may also/instead happen (or, more likely, at the start of Act II)
- Crossing the first threshold
- Energetic marker 1: end of the beginning
- The point of no return, committing to the goal, break into two, turning point 1, awakening, possible minor sacrifice. New goals and desires may be established for the main character.
- Threshold guardians, down the rabbit hole
- Plot point 1, act 1 climax
Act II – Supreme Ordeal
The Special World (middle: 50% of the story). Characters react to situations and flaws are revealed. They may retreat from obstacles. Characters learn how to overcome their flaws and their problems, and to attack their obstacles with success. Before the midpoint: “Descent: The Abyss” and after the midpoint: “Ascent: Magic Flight”
Optional: Somewhere between “approach to the inmost cave” and the midpoint, there can be a section referred to as Meeting the Shadow Self (or “heiros gamos”/sacred marriage). Plot points: the wild bride/bridegroom, meeting the goddess/god, at-one moment with father/mother, finding love in the underworld.
- Tests, allies, enemies
- The fun and games, resistance and struggle, rising action and obstacles, belly of the whale, push to the breaking point, the special world, the land of adventure
- Road of trials is the path out of the Belly of the Whale, involving tests and/or temptations
- Main character responds to the inciting incident / main conflict, usually by trying and failing to overcome obstacles. Character tends to be mourning, running, hiding, analyzing, observing, and/or planning. May have a symbolic/metaphorical death. New goals and desires may be established for the main character, if they haven’t already been.
- Opposing forces are defined
- The Big Event
- Pinch point 1: 1st battle
- Midpoint (sometimes this is after “approach to the inmost cave” if it can be arranged, but not often)
- Energetic marker 2: halfway point
- Mid-act climax, moment of grace, mindfuck moment, moment of enlightenment, commitment to the journey, progress, revelation, intermission, new rules/information
- Characters retreat and regroup after a doomed fight back, deciding on a course of action (sometimes a “night sea voyage” of infiltrating the enemy’s base)
- True nature of characters revealed, shifting from victim to warrior. Character(s) begin to understand more about themselves, and how they need to change and become better to defeat/achieve/etc a person/thing.
- Crossing the 2nd threshold
- Approaching inmost cave
- Challenges and temptations, grace and fall, resistance and struggle, complications and higher stakes, the bad guys close in, intensification, preparation, rising action, obstacles, elixir theft
- Preparations, courtship, reconnaissance, shamanic territory, impossible test/obstacle ahead
- Hero is proactive and shows initiative, having learned from their trials in the first half of the story, and is ready to attack. Hero fights back, hatches a plan, enlists assistance, demostrates courage
- Hero confronts antagonist(s) in a “David vs Goliath” fashion
- Pinch point 2: 2nd battle
- Inmost cave (The Ordeal)
- Energetic marker 3: Crisis
- Dark night of the soul, abyss and revelation, the major assault, death of the ego, death experience, death of dreams, rock bottom, the ordeal, the crisis, big change, epiphany
- The antagonists hit hard and ALL HOPE SEEMS LOST – doubt, fear, etc.
- Generally the hero is called upon to sacrifice something (themselves, a friend, an item, etc) and doesn’t have to actually do it. It may be just a test of character to show that the hero is mentally willing to make the sacrifice
- Crossing the 3rd threshold
- Plot point 2, act 2 climax
Act III – Unification
The Ordinary World (end: 25%). The characters risk all and conquer their inner demons. They return to the familiar world triumphant, with perhaps one last problem to solve.
- Final Push
- The descent, the sprint, declaration, love takes a stand
- New insights for characters, internal growth, main character now has all information necessary to become the primary catalyst in the story’s conlusion, main character will respond to the main challenge in a unique way.
- Intermission before showdown
- Seizing the Sword (Climax)
- Energetic marker 4: Climax (more drama/action than marker 2)
- Transformation, finale, break into three, the final incident, final battle, ultimate sacrifice, conflict solved
- Main character can’t simply observe/narrate – has to step up and take the lead, conquering inner demons, to attain the Ultimate Boon they’ve been seeking. They’ve been stretched to the breaking point and have bounced back, transforming into a hero.
- May be the conclusion of a chase (Magic Flight). The hero has the boon and runs, opposing forces in hot pursuit, as they engage in a dramatic final battle. Requires all skills and allies.
- The Reward
- Winners and losers are made clear
- Seizing the prize, resurrection, triumph and knowledge, incorporation, master of two worlds
- The hero may refuse to return to the ordinary world at first, having earned a place in the Special World through their deeds.
- The road back & return with the elixir
- Transformation and return
- Loose ends tied up, crossing the fourth threshold
- There may be a post-climax confrontation – opposing forces could follow into the ordinary world, or there’s something wrong in the ordinary world that requires dealing with. Or may be a boring return and time of reflection.
- Rapidly falling action, denouement, new life, resolution, aftermath, a new status quo, freedom to live
- Normality is created/restored for the characters, there’s a sense of catharsis, tension and anxiety are released
- End Scene, celebration, and/or Epilogue
The short version:
Act 1 – Separation (Set-up: Orphan)
- Set-up (ordinary world)
- Challenge/catalyst (call/refusal)
- Conflict made known
- Threshold 1
Act 2 – Ordeal (Response & Attack: Wanderer into Warrior)
- Road of trials
- Big Event
- Pinch point 1
- Midpoint: Revelation & Threshold 2
- Pinch point 2
- Crisis & Threshold 3
Act 3 – Unification (Resolution: Martyr & Master)
- Resolution, reward
- Road back & Threshold 4