Why The Hero’s Journey model of storytelling is universal

How storytelling is universal – Every good story has key elements that make it a success. A hero who is on a journey, some conflict and obstacles, a reward and the hero returning a different person.

The hero’s myth model of storytelling is universal and powerful. These stories spring from a common source and reflect everyday concerns.

The questions we all ponder: Who am I? Why am I here? What happens if I continue on this path? What is good or bad? I wonder what will tomorrow be like?

Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

In 1949, scholar Joseph Campbell wrote The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and in his work, he outlined 17 stages of the mythological hero’s journey.

Christopher Vogler condensed the Hero’s Journey into 12 stages

Several decades later, Christopher Vogler wanted to show Hollywood scriptwriters how every movie can, and should, follow Cambell’s pattern; and in doing so, Vogler condensed the stages of the Hero’s Journey into 12 steps. In 1985 he wrote “A practical guide to Joseph Cambell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces” which further demonstrates how storytelling is universal.

12 stages of the Hero’s Journey (adapted from Christopher Vogler)

#1 Ordinary World

The hero is introduced to the audience. The hero is usually uneasy or uncomfortable, and the ordinary world is often dull and gray. There is often some polarity or push/pull in the hero’s life which may be causing stress.

#2 The call to adventure

The hero is about to undergo significant change. From deep within, or an external pressure will spark this strong calling. The hero is presented with a challenge, a problem or an adventure.

#3 Refusal of the call

Initially, the hero is unsure and reluctant to cross the threshold to the adventure on offer; this is usually because the hero is afraid of the unknown. Sometimes another character in the story may point out the uncertainty and danger that may lie ahead.

#4 Meeting with the mentor

The hero crosses paths with a mentor who has experience and wisdom, usually a seasoned traveler in the path that the hero is about to take. The mentor will offer wise words, some training or piece of equipment that will help the reluctant hero.

The mentor goes so far with the hero and then encourages the hero to face the unknown by themselves. It may be a helping hand or some words of comfort, but equally, as important, the mentor give a kick in the butt to push the hero along.

In some cases, the courage and wisdom can come from deep within.

#5 Crossing the threshold

This is the end of Act One, and the hero is now ready to leave the ordinary world and go forth to the next step of the adventure. This is the point where the story sets off in a new direction. The hero is now committed, and there is no turning back.

#6 Tests, allies, and enemies

In the special world, there will be tests and challenges the hero is forced to make. There will be friends met along the way, as well as one or more enemies.

#7 Approach to the innermost cave

This is the most dangerous part of the journey. This can also be the hero going into the darkest place of fear in their mind or dream world.

#8 Ordeal

This is the central part of the story where the hero confronts the innermost fear, is on the brink of death or is forced to fight with a mythical beast. Out of this event comes a significant change.

All along, the audience has identified with the hero; we will feel that ‘near death’ experience, and we feel so relieved when the hero returns from death. This is a great example of how we feel that this stage of storytelling is universal.

#9 The reward

Having survived the ordeal, the hero now takes possession of the treasure they have been seeking. It could be a special weapon or power; it could be a new wave of courage and confidence. There may also be a reconciliation here as the ordeal has changed the hero and they may be more understanding.

#10 The road back

Just as we think the ordeal is over for the hero there comes another challenge. This is usually around 3/4 of the way through the journey. The ordeal back is never straightforward, but how the hero approaches the new challenges will be different with their new found skills and powers.

#11 Resurrection

Almost home, the hero is tested once again, and then there is the final act of death and rebirth; the hero is ultimately transformed by this experience.

#12 Return with the Elixir

The hero comes back into the ordinary world and brings the elixir or treasure or a particular lesson. Perhaps, this could be a treasure won from a quest, love or purely a lesson learned to pass on to benefit others.

Adapt The Hero’s Journey to suit your storytelling style

A word of warning. Treat the hero’s myth as a skeleton. While this model of storytelling is universal, if you follow the structure too rigidly, you will be calling attention to the fact, and the story may seem stiff and inauthentic. There are many variations to the Hero’s Journey. Come up with your tweaks to make it work for you. You can leave a stage out, add another, or shuffle the order of the stages. You can do this without any loss of power in the story. Unless you are a Hollywood scriptwriter, feel free to make your interpretation of the stages of the journey for your hero. How to check if your storytelling is universal and not too rigid:

The hero’s myth is fun, flexible and can be easily adapted so that you can weave the magic into your storytelling.

If you are keen to study mythological story structures and archetypes, then Cambell’s and Vogler’s work are a great place to start. However, if you want to start with a really simple storytelling framework, then read on.

For the past five years, I have been living and breathing storytelling. As a Certified Speaking and Storytelling Coach, I help people to create and deliver compelling stories.  You don’t have to have a rags to riches story to entertain and inspire others. As a business owner, learning to tell several stories really well will help your customers understand how you can help them.

In this article on Business Storytelling, I share tips on how to tell better stories

5 C’s of Compelling Storytelling™

You don’t have to have your sights set on Hollywood storytelling to want to use a tried and tested framework for your narrative.

I have developed a very simple 5 C’s of Compelling Storytelling™ framework that has all the elements of a good story that I mentioned in the beginning; A hero who is on a journey, some conflict and obstacles, a reward and the hero returning a different person.

Here are my 5 C’s of Compelling Storytelling™:

Carry out

Here is a short video ‘Ignite’ style in which I explain more about the storytelling model.

Would you like me to help make your next event a success? I am able to come to your next conference or event to deliver a fun and engaging keynote or TED-style talk on storytelling.

Lisa Evans, MBA is a Certified World Class Speaking and Storytelling Coach, Keynote Speaker and TEDx Speaker Coach. Based Australia, Lisa works with leaders globally to help them craft and deliver powerful presentations and compelling business stories.

Lisa Evans The Story Midwife - storytelling is universal

I’m Lisa Evans ‘The Story Midwife’ I love hearing and sharing stories. If you would like to chat about how I can help you create a compelling story for your business, brand or presentation you may contact me here.