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Updated by Frontrunner Magazine on Nov 19, 2017
Headline for Screenwriting: A Guide to the Hero's Journey by Liam Carroll
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Screenwriting: A Guide to the Hero's Journey by Liam Carroll

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” This is how Joseph Campbell described the narrative pattern he called the monomyth in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Today, the monomyth is more commonly known as the hero’s journey, and in film, this entails a 12-step cycle that was developed by Christoper Vogler, based on Campbell’s ideas. While not every narrative film includes all of these steps, or in the order Vogler presents, they are useful tools for a screenwriter looking to create a powerful and effective story nonetheless.

1

The Ordinary World

The Ordinary World

The hero’s background and personal history is established, and often the hero is suffering from some sort of malaise, or need to escape their own routine. A perfect example of this is the opening scene of The Wizard of Oz.

2

The Call to Adventure

The Call to Adventure

The hero’s situation changes, and they are unexpectedly presented with a task that will shake up their world permanently. Think Clarice Starling being assigned to interview Hannibal Lecter by Special Agent Jack Crawford at the beginning of The Silence of the Lambs.

3

Refusal of the Call

Refusal of the Call

The hero fears the unknown consequences of embarking on the adventure and hesitates, often out of some sort of obligation or uncertainty, like when Luke Skywalker initially balks at joining Obi-Wan Kenobi in his mission to save Alderaan in Star Wars.

4

Meeting with the Mentor

Meeting with the Mentor

The hero meets a wiser, more seasoned traveler who will impart knowledge, training, or special items that will assist them on their journey, and help the hero find their inner courage. This is what happens, for example, when Freddie Quell meets Lancaster Dodd for the first time in The Master.

5

Crossing the Threshold to the Special World

Crossing the Threshold to the Special World

The hero finally leaves their ordinary world, and ventures to an unfamiliar place, embodied perfectly by the moment when Neo takes the red pill in The Matrix.

6

Tests, Allies and Enemies

Tests, Allies and Enemies

The hero endures a series of tests, and figures out who in this new world can and cannot be trusted. This is practically every scene in the Kill Bill films.

7

Approach to the Inmost Cave

Approach to the Inmost Cave

The hero, having figured out the rules and alliances of the new world, prepares for the ultimate test of their character. Think of when Ripley dons the mech suit to fight the queen in Aliens.

8

The Ordeal

The Ordeal

The hero, upon entering a central space in the new world, is forced to face their greatest fear, or confront their own mortality, like when Indiana Jones must brave the snake-infested Well of the Souls to retrieve the ark of the covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

9

Reward

Reward

The hero accomplishes their goal, but an uneasiness remains due to the sacrifices it took to get there, or there is danger of their work being undone, such as when Simba finally ascends to the throne at the end of The Lion King.

10

The Road Back

The Road Back

The hero leaves the new world and ensures that their mission was not in vain. This is often presented in the form of a chase scene, with the perfect example being the climactic bike race to the forest in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.

11

The Resurrection

The Resurrection

The hero is severely tested one more time upon returning home, and is often subjected to an ultimate sacrifice, or a moment of clarity. Think when Jules Winfield atones for his sins by defusing the robbery at the coffee shop in Pulp Fiction.

12

Return With the Elixir

Return With the Elixir

The hero either returns home permanently or continues their journey, having gained some sort of valuable knowlege that could make the world a better place, like when Therese realizes she can allow herself to be happy and returns to Cate Blanchett’s titular character in the final moment of Carol.