In the study of comparative mythology, a common pattern of storytelling has emerged known as the hero’s journey. Joseph’s Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces most famously documents this “monomyth” structure. The “mono” of course refers to “one,” meaning a single plot structure underlying a thousand stories.
During the hero’s journey, the hero deals with inner turmoil and outer struggles (much like the conflict and motivation we looked at yesterday), but in the end he emerges victorious and experiences a transformation of sorts.
This monomyth structure will serve as a framework for my YA adventure’s master outline.
I have been using The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, which breaks down the monomyth elements in a more digestible, writer-friendly way, to help me get organized. I’ve included this book on my resources page because I refer to it so often.
The steps on the hero’s journey can most broadly be categorized into three parts: Separation, Initiation, and Return.
The Separation is the beginning portion of the story leading up to when the Hero becomes separated from his everyday life. Some common scenes in the Separation include the hero receiving the call to adventure, someone warning him not to go, and a tearful parting with loved ones. We’ll identify the specific scenes that our YA heroes share in a future post. In the master outline, I’ve labeled this “Dreary Homeland” because Harry, Bella, and Katniss all live in really miserable places.
- Harry lives in his Dreary Homeland for Chapters 1-5: The Dursleys treat Harry Potter so badly that they often speak as if he is not in the room, or as if he is a “like a slug” who can’t understand them. (HP Ch.2).
- Bella’s Dreary Homeland lasts from Chapters 1-6, before she knows that Edward is a vampire: When Bella arrives in Forks, she describes the “omnipresent shade,” and other gloomy facts (like Forks being the rainiest place in the country). (TW Ch.1).
- Katniss lives in her Dreary Homeland from Chapters 1-3. Katniss introduces the reader to her home by describing District 12 as being filled with downtrodden, overworked coal miners. (HG Ch.1).
During the Initiation stage of the story, the Hero begins his journey and learns the new rules of the land as he enters the “Mythological Woods.” Once in the woods, he must endure a ton of obstacles (called the trail of trials) and confront the evil Villain, both of which we will discuss later. In the master outline I labeled this “Awful-Awesome Land,” and I highlighted some of the heroes’ moments of awe below:
- Harry’s time at Hogwarts lasts from Chapter 6 until nearly the end in Chapter 17: When Harry arrives at Hogwarts he introduces readers to the “strange and splendid place” that is Hogwarts by describing the bewitched ceiling, the floating candles, and the silver ghosts. (HP Ch.7).
- Bella’s spends Chapter 6-22 learning about vampire life: Bella is shocked to learn that vampires don’t die in the sunlight– they sparkle! She describes Edward’s skin looking like it is embedded with diamonds. (TW Ch.13)
- Katniss’s time in the Capitol and the Arena lasts from Chapter 4-25: When Katniss arrives in the Capitol, she describes the strange looking Capitol residents, including Venia, who has aqua hair and gold tattoos. Katniss also remarks on the residents’ silly accents. (HG Ch.5).
Finally, the Hero leaves the Awful-Awesome Land and returns back to his Dreary Homeland. All of our YA heroes are able to look at their home in a new light after their experiences. I labeled this “Homeward Bound” on the master outline.
- Harry Potter’s journey home lasts only for the end of Chapter 17: After the climax and end-of-year banquet, Harry gets a quick goodbye from Hermione in the train station. Then Harry is picked up by the Dursleys and the novel comes to a quick end. (HP. Ch.17).
- Bella’s journey home takes place from Chapter 23-25 (counting the Epilogue as a chapter): When Bella wakes up in the hospital back in Arizona, she tells her mom that she would prefer to live in Forks. Bella’s mom probably realizes that this is because Edward and Bella are a couple. In the Epilogue, the reader sees Bella back in Forks at the school dance. (TW Ch.24).
- Katniss’s journey home is in Chapters 26-27: The ending in The Hunger Games consists of the train ride home and the approach to the District 12 platform. The novel actually ends before Katniss reunites with her loved ones. (HG Ch.27).
So, this is a different angle but still a very broad overview of the similarities in the bestsellers. I am surprised at how Initiation-heavy the novels are– some with only a few pages devoted to the Return. This reinforces to me that the action scenes really must carry the story.
Now that we have the hero’s journey as a guide, we can begin filling in the gaps with smaller details, character types, and common symbolism.