Today's Guest is my youngest client Nicole Izmaylov. I now represent Nicole and her sister Michelle, who will be our guest tomorrow. These sisters are not just incredible writers, but have a incredible talent for story telling and a better understanding of language than most authors I come across. Their amazing accomplishments are detailed in their respective bios, and their words speak for themselves. These are two young ladies to keep an eye out for!
Seen Star Wars? Read Harry Potter? Enjoyed any kind of fictional work lately? Congratulations! You’ve run into the Hero’s Journey, also known as the monomyth. Most of you are likely already familiar with the hero’s journey: From introducing an “Ordinary Hero” to showing the audience the consequences of refusing the Call to Adventure, from crossing the First Threshold into the Special World of the adventure to the climactic Ordeal, the Hero’s Journey is all around us.
Have you ever heard of the most common three or five-act structure, originally designed for plays but since utilized by novels, films, and even video games? Its components are derived from the Hero’s Journey. In fact, subconsciously or not, you’ve probably placed aspects of the Hero’s Journey into your own works.
So why are we talking about it? Most of us recognise it even if we don’t know the exact steps. The first part of taking advantage of the Journey is to research it. I suggest looking at the Vogner model to begin your own journey into the Hero’s Journey (the Vogner model is famous for its use in Disney films, but it’s one of the easiest to put in action due to its simplicity and ability to be altered).
Well, metaphorically speaking, anyway. Or sometimes not.
Either way, when the hero awakens, he must undergo a final set of preparations for the last stretch of the Journey. The Ordeal is the climax and is usually the place where the hero is given an Elixir—that is, the object of his quest, although it might not be what he originally set out to find—but it’s not over quite yet. Now he must return with the Elixir. It might be short and easy, or it might be a fight even greater than the Ordeal wherein the evil is at last vanquished. By the time it’s over, the hero has grown from the kid we saw early on in the story to a powerful force for good. And so when the hero returns triumphantly to the Ordinary World with the Elixir, it is a time of celebration. And maybe new beginnings.
O frabjous day! Callooh, callay! Our hero’s back, and the day is saved. Right? Right.
Trouble is, there’s a major issue with the Vogner model, or with any version of the Hero’s Journey. We’ve all seen it done. You know those stories that are terribly predictable. You know how one of the draws of Star Wars or Harry Potter was that even though we knew it would end happily for the heroes, we didn’t know how we’d get there or what we’d have to sacrifice along the way. But following the Hero’s Journey to the T is boring.
Oh, the old guy who’s helping the hero? Yeah, that’s the Mentor, and whatever thing he gives the hero is going to be the thing that saves him in the final fight. Oh, see the pretty girl (or guy) at the start of the film? The hero’s going to go through the journey and emerge just in time to capture the love interest’s heart. Oh, wow, look, a metaphor for death and rebirth! How edgy. It’s not like every single story has the hero “die” at some point or anything.
So that’s the point of the Hero’s Journey if it’s boring?
Because it doesn’t have to be.
Harry Potter and Star Wars both follow the Hero’s Journey, but they subvert it, too. The gift Dumbledore gives Harry in the seventh book ends up lost in the forest, and Harry doesn’t use it to defeat Lord Voldemort after all. Yoda, another Mentor, isn’t initially introduced as such: It takes the audience a while to realise that Yoda’s a Mentor after all. String Hero’s Journeys together, some uncompleted and some fully formed. Switch up the character that goes through said Journey without altering the protagonist. Eliminate steps from the Journey entirely, or have the hero fail them the first time around. Or don’t follow the Journey at all.
My advice: Learn the Hero’s Journey. Know how to apply it.
Then twist it and turn it on its head.
Your readers will thank you for it.
Born in Atlanta, Georgia, Nicole Izmaylov won the Reflections contest several years in a row in the categories of literature and musical composition, including multiple first places at the state level. She also received national recognition for her poetry, won the Georgia Author of the Year Award for her children’s book, Ronnie and BB (2009), and the Forward National Literature Award for her YA fantasy novel, The Draçian Dance (2010). Nicole's interests include playing violin and piano and participating in science, drama, and academic clubs at her high school.