The Hero with A Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell tells the story of the hero’s journey, a narrative Campbell asserts is the basic structure of myths from all over the world. In the book, Campbell lays out the various stages of the hero’s journey, such as the Call to Adventure, the various Trials, the Initiations, Atonement and the Return. It’s not an unfamiliar narrative, especially when you look at the way most movies and books are structured.
Campbell’s book has been an inspiration for so many creatives, from Bob Dylan to Arthur C. Clarke, and most famously of all, George Lucas. It was used as a guide by Disney writers to pen some of their most famous classics, including Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Neil Gaiman refused to finish reading the book because though he had been told much of his work fits the pattern of the Hero’s Journey, he “really would rather not know this stuff. I’d rather do it because it’s true and because I accidentally wind up creating something that falls into this pattern than be told what the pattern is.”
When I was working on my last story before this one and struggling massively, I tried to apply the Hero’s Journey in order to make the plot work. Some parts fitted as neatly as a tailor-made glove, while others did not. Finally, I gave up, conceding I was simply not ready to write this story yet. I was disappointed, but knew it was the right thing to do. It is a story I have been thinking on for many years, but I suspect it will be some years yet before I finally know what to do with it.
I took a little time off from writing, then the sea of Life happened, sweeping me up in a particularly rough tide. When I finally returned to writing, it was as a form of solace as much as it was an outlet of pent-up creativity. I began to write a certain story I had been thinking about. It started out at first as a short story. I wasn’t thinking of it as a potential piece for publication or for any eyes other than my own. But slowly, gradually, the story grew, taking on a life of its own. Several months later, as I was looking over my story, I realised how neatly it fitted into the pattern of the Hero’s Journey, though I never intended it to. All I wanted was to write a story I’d enjoy, to follow the journey of the characters I’d come to love. Everyday they continue to surprise and delight me even more. More than ever, it’s become clear to me it’s the characters who are the plot. Sometimes it helps to follow a structure, other times not. But whatever the case, follow your characters and you’ll find their journey, their story right there in the people they are.