for writers: the beginning of the hero’s journey



The Hero’s Journey begins in the Common Day, veers off into the Magical Woods, and returns to the Common Day.

Simple, huh?

The first steps happen in the Hero’s day-to-day world.  This is where the writer draws the readers in, constructing a character we identify with.  This is also where the conflict starts.  Plant the seeds for your Hero’s growth deep.  There’s got to be a point to the suffering you’re about to inflict on your poor Hero.  Remember, a Hero’s Journey should assure readers that in the end, life makes sense, goodness is rewarded and there is order in the chaos.



Anyway, let’s create a cheesy Hero’s Journey. 


Shane from Maine owns a sandwich shop.  Unfortunately, Maine is provoloneless.  How can Shane make a good hero sandwich without provolone?  Sure, he’s got salami and bologna and peppers and onions and olives.  But Shane knows that without the right cheese, his hero sandwich is just a pale imitation of what it should be.   He offers his customers Swiss.  He offers them cheddar.  But Shane knows he’s just kidding himself.  His shop is close to closing.  (That’s right.  Close to closing.  I like the echo.  So sue me.)  His mother nags him.  And the Better Business Bureau is investigating whether a provolone-deficient hero sandwich is false advertising.  Stray dogs bite at his ankles. 


Bereft, Shane throws himself in a dumpster.  “Woe is me,”  he says.  “Stray dogs bite at my ankles.  I do not know how I can go on.”

But wait!  In the dumpster, underneath his left arm pit, Shane from Maine feels something poke him.

It’s the Travel Gnome.



“Italy, Shane,” he says. 

“It’s Shane Maine.” 

“No, you idiot.  Italy is where the provolone is.”

Just who does this so-called “Travel Gnome”  think he is?   Well, if he thinks he’s THE HERALD, he’s right.

THE HERALD makes the Call to Adventure.  He/she can also be an it.  It can be a letter, Harry Potter.  It can be a white rabbit, Alice. 

Now Shane’s horizons expand.  Does he take up the challenge?  Does he journey to Italy, to encounter obstacles in that strange and alien land that will prepare him to finally secure the provolone and bring it back to his beleaguered hero sandwich?     

Sure. Whatthehell.  (He might refuse.  We’ll talk about that in a later blog.)

Shane decides to skip town, but hasn’t got a clue as to how.

Enter THE WISE ONE or MENTOR.  This guy/gal/owl/ghost/etc. trains and inspires the Hero.  He builds the Hero’s confidence.

And maybe THE MAGICAL HELPER, to bestow a handy-dandy amulet of protection or shoe phone, depending on how you’re bent. 

There also may be AN ARMORER who outfits the Hero with weapons and shields.

Sometimes the Hero acquires A SIDEKICK.  This SIDEKICK has the attributes of the Hero, see here, but he’s not as gifted as the hero, nor is he wounded. 

So Shane from Maine hearkens to the Call to Adventure, leaps out of the dumpster and runs like a batouttahell down the road.  Leaving styrofoam peanuts and excelsior in his wake. 

He slows and then stops right in front of…

…a travel agent’s office.  The agent MENTORS Shane, giving him The Cheese Lover’s Guide to Lombardy  and See It and Say It, Don’t Spray It in Italian.   But wait!  There’s more!  In our story, the MENTOR and the MAGICAL HELPER are as one!  The travel agent gives Shane his airline ticket, the talisman that will get him to Italy!  (That’s right.  I combined two of the archetypes.  I can do that.  I’m a writer.)

Shane from Maine is a loner.  He doesn’t have a SIDEKICK, or even A LOVER to accompany him.

He packs an extra pair of briefs and a jar of peanut butter.  He clings to his LOVED ONE,  Piddles, and bravely bids him  adieu.   Isn’t Shane wonderful, foregoing the love of an incontinent poodle  to bring back the fabled provolone to make his hero sandwiches complete, and thereby feed his community?

Well, we’ll find out.


About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on September 25, 2008, in childrens' literature, hero's journey, writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on for writers: the beginning of the hero’s journey.

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