for writers: the hero journeys through the magical woods and finds…motifs

Poor, poor Shane from Maine.  He’s been stuck on those Spanish steps for months.


Get up, Bucko, it’s time to journey.

First, our hero must become wise in the ways of the Magical Woods.  Like most of us, he’s got to learn through trial and error. (Better known as “ the hard way“.)  He will overcome these obstacles, these tests of his mettle to grow into the hero he must become.  The new skills he develops, the new depth of resolve he finds, will prepare him for his encounter with the Evil One.

After two months, Shane leaps to his feet and bellows,  “It is provolone I need, and provolone I shall have!”  He bolts willy-nilly into the streets.

And is immediately felled by a spider.


(What did you expect?  This isn’t Harry Potter, sister.)

Here is our first MOTIF: The hero is willing to die for a cause. Sometimes he actually dies, but Shane is lucky.  He is pushed out of the way at the last second by Luigi the Sewer Swimmer.  (Motif #2: The hero is rescued by an ally. Another possible Motif is #3: The hero is saved by Divine Intervention. You don’t want to use either of these more than once.  Readers want their heroes to get out of fixes by themselves, but being saved once proves that someone cares about them.)


“Ay!  What are you, a-crazy?”  yells Luigi.  “You can’t just-a-go runnin’ into traffic!  And what is that you’re a-wearin’?  Pajamas?”

“I will admit that this flannel shirt and these lumberjack boots are a little warm in this strange land.  And especially my Dickie’s.

“Lets-a get you some new clothes.”  (Motif #4: The hero changes costume, signaling growth.)

So Luigi decks Shane out in a white long-sleeved shirt, folded up to mid-forearm and black gabardine pants.

“Now you’re a-cookin’ with gas!” says Luigi.

“I’ve got to find some provolone.”

Why didn’t you a-say so?  I know where they have the best provolone in all of Italia!”  Luigi says, and he drags Shane through the back streets and underbelly of  Roma.


But Shane doesn’t know that he is being watched.  Benito Mousealini, leader of the Committee to Keep Provolone at Home has video-cams on every street corner in Rome.  (Motif#5: The hero has magic used against him. In this case, technology serves the same purpose.  If Shane was a more interesting guy, he could employ the corollary, Motif #6: The hero uses magic. But our little Shane has to rely on his brains and guts.  And his big toe.)

Mousealini knows Shane is on a quest for provolone, and he even has help.  So Mousealini sends a plague.

Of paparazzi.  (Can you say minions?  I knew you could.)


Luigi and Shane arrive in front of Casa a Formaggio.  “It’s-a cheese market, Bambino.  The best in all of Roma!”  says Luigi.

“Eureka!”  Shane yelps as he heads for the entrance to cheese nirvana.

But he is swarmed by dozens of paparazzi, bulbs flashing.

“What’s going on?”  says our bewildered hero.  He stumbles about, blind.

“Oh no!  Look out!”  Luigi cries.  He lunges for Shane, but the paparazzi keeps them apart.

“Save yourself!”  warns Shane.  “I’m going down!”  And he does.  Hard.  (Motif #7: The  hero faces natural fears…acrophobia, fire, combat, wild beasts…)

An hour later he wakes up in Luigi’s hairy arms, (Motif #8: The hero has a change of consciousness.) He has a bump above his left eye, shaped like a kazoo.  (Motif #9: The hero is marked. With a scar, brand, tattoo.  It signifies a change of character.)

“Who did this, Pilgrim?”  Shane asks Luigi.  He sounds like John Wayne.  (Motif #10: The hero undergoes a death and rebirth.)


Luigi is shaking and blubbering so hard he can barely answer.  He clutches Shane to his breast.  (Is this Motif #11, The hero falls in love?)  “It’s-a Mouselini.  He’s-a scourge on the whole nation of Italia.  He refuses the Free Exchange of Cheese.”

“How dastardly,”  says Shane.  He leaps to his feet and orates,  “Cheese is the foundation of every great sandwich, and I will bring it to the unwashed masses I left behind!”

He hitches his britches and makes his way to Mousealini’s headquarters.


About Lisha Cauthen

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

Posted on December 11, 2008, in hero's journey, writing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on for writers: the hero journeys through the magical woods and finds…motifs.

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