I’m Not Dead Yet

I’m Not Dead Yet

The belly of the whale in Campbell’s journey is an important step. Your hero is going to change during their journey. The person who leaves behind their home isn’t going to come back the same. It’s why the “belly of the whale” part of the story often comes immediately after the hero crosses the first threshold.

Symbolism, symbolism, symbolism

Remember, Campbell’s journey is all about symbolism and motifs. If your hero is going to change, their old self “dies”. Who they were before is gone, and someone new will be the one to make the journey home. The “belly of the whale” symbolizes this “death” and their “resurrection”.

Campbell uses words like “born again” and “metamorphosis” to represent the change that occurs in the hero. While the hero is not fully transformed until their journey is over, their old self has already “died” simply by crossing the barrier into uncharted territory.

To make things simple, I’ll continue to use the examples from my previous post to give some examples of how you can use this imagery in your story.

  • Romance: I’d won Julia’s mother over for now, but in doing so, I’d also realized something. No matter my talk, I wasn’t the person Julia needed. Not yet. From this moment forward, I would strive to be worthy of her…to be the man she needed me to be.
  • Fantasy: At last the golumn fell, beaten and bloody. I stepped to the edge of the cavern to watch his descent. A wicked smile formed on his lips, chilling me to my core. With the last of his strength, he threw one dripping tendril at me, wrapping it around my ankle. Before I could react, I was drawn after him. As the cavern closed above us, I reached desperately for the sky, but it was too late.

In both of these examples, the hero appears to have died. In the romantic example, the hero’s death is more symbolic as he leaves behind his old self. In the second, he is swallowed up by the earth and the reader (and anyone nearby watching) may believe he is actually dead. Of course, this isn’t the end. It’s just the beginning and soon the hero will have to prove himself worthy of rebirth.

Want to continue along with this series on writing your own hero’s journey? Use the form below to subscribe and get email notifications when I post. As always, happy writing!

The Gods at Play

The Gods at Play

Gods and Goddesses play a large role in most myths and legends. While they don’t always show up, there are always greater forces at work (for good and ill) that direct the path of the hero. While you may be an Atheist or simply may not like the idea of incorporating religion into your story, it’s still important to consider the greater forces at play, whatever they may be.

Who Are the Gods?

I’m not suggesting that your hero needs Zeus or Hades to show up in your story, it’s still important to note that there are always forces at play that are beyond the realm of your hero. These forces may help your hero or tempt them off their path. Named or not, they are a big part of the story.

Consider the movie “Free Guy”. The “gods” in this story are the programmers, the evil creator of Free City, and of course the players in the game. While they are actually human, they are the forces beyond Guy’s realm that set the story into action. In fact, it’s actually very significant that he becomes like “the gods” by putting on the sunglasses. According to Campbell, it’s this transendence above the “normal” world that makes a hero truly heroic. By putting on the glasses, Guy has now left the mortal realm and has now, symbolically, become like them.

How do they impact the story?

How these forces impact your story is entirely up to you. Perhaps they guide your hero making sure they are in the right place at the right time. For a bit more fun, perhaps they are the ones making sure that everything goes wrong whenever it possibly can.

Of course, most stories have a mix of both. According to Campbell, the gods don’t hold the same idea of “good” and “bad” as we do. While a god may think they are helping you by making your life more interesting, a nasty bout of stomach flu may not be your idea of a fun Saturday night.

Use the force(s)

As you write your story, consider what you can add to your story to spice it up. Where can you add more conflict? Where can you provide a “god out of the machine” to save the hero in a pinch? While you don’t need to specifically identify the forces that drive the plot, they are there. Be aware of them and use them wisely. In a sense, the writer of a story is always the god to their characters. You decide what good and ill befalls them. Just try to play nice.

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Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown

At this point in the story, your heroic journey is finally starting. Your hero is now ready, willing, and equipped to face what comes next. Of course, what comes next isn’t easy.

Stranger Danger

One of the key points of the hero’s journey is leaving the known and familiar and diving into worlds unknown. This can be figurative or literal. For example, in a romantic hero’s journey, the unknown may be navigating a relationship for the first time. Contrastly, if you’re writing a fantasy story, your hero may be actually going to another land or world.

In order to actually journey into this unknown territory, your hero will need to cross the “first threshold”. Beyond this is the unknown and behind them lies the familiar. Consider the following examples:

  • Romance: I wiped my sweating palms onto my pants. This was it. Our first date. I stood before the door, ready to knock. Here goes nothing, I thought to myself.
  • Fantasy: I stood at the border of my land, drinking in the moment. One more step and I’d officially be in enemy territory. The landscape before me looked no different from that behind me, but I knew that this step would change everything.

Barriers

To make that step into the unknown the hero often has to face a “guardian”. This person tries to prevent the hero from crossing that barrier. The hero approaches this guardian unafraid and ready to use their entire skillset (both mental and physical skills) to defeat this foe and continue this journey. I’ll continue the above examples to help flesh out how this might look:

  • Romance: My knock sounded hollow against the hard wood. As the door creaked open, it wasn’t Julia’s beautiful face there to greet me. Of course not. It was her mom, arms crossed, eyebrows pulled close together. “You must be Julia’s mom, it’s so nice to meet you.”
  • Fantasy: Before I could even take that step, the ground began to tremble and opened up before me. At first I thought it would swallow me whole, but no, this pit wasn’t for devouring. Instead it spat out a golumn, oozing putrid mud from his pores.

The hero must defeat this foe in order to proceed. Of course, defeating doesn’t always mean “killing”. In the romantic example this means winning over the mother. The second may involve killing the golumn or outwitting him in some way. You’re the author. You get to decide.

Want to continue along with this series on writing your own hero’s journey? Use the form below to subscribe and get email notifications when I post. As always, happy writing!

There Are Only Two Genres

There Are Only Two Genres

Campbell’s world is one of black and white. There are no shades of grey. As such, heroic journeys can only be one of two genres: tragedy and comedy. These of course may not fit into your understanding of what a “tragedy” or “comedy” is, so of course, I’m here to help you out.

Comedy

When considering “tragedy” we need to keep the “hero’s journey” in mind. We aren’t talking about humor here. A “comedy” in this sense isn’t something that will make you laugh. Rather, it’s something that will make you “feel good”. As we’ve already learned, a hero is someone who takes the journey. In a comedy, their journey is successful and everyone lives “happily ever after” (more on that below).

Tragedy

So what is a tragedy then? Well, what could be sadder than a hero who fails on their heroic quest? Imagine someone who seeks to save the world and fails. That’s a tragedy. However, I would also argue that a tragedy is a hero who refuses the call and never changes their mind. This is a hero who sees the world on fire and says “Nah” and puts on Netflix. While this is perhaps even more tragic than failing their quest, it doesn’t quite meet the requirements for the Heroic Writer’s Contest as you need at least the first three steps of the journey.

Happily Ever After?

While a comedy technically has a happy ending, Campbell leaves us with this not so “feel good” thought. In life, happy endings don’t exist. Cinderella marries the prince, but eventually he dies and she’s alone. Or worse, maybe she discovers that the prince isn’t so princely after all and they have a complicated marriage ripe with strife. The only true ending of a story ends in death according to Campbell.

However, there are exceptions to this rule of course. For example, if you believe in heaven, death is sad for those left behind, but is not really a tragedy when you know the person is going somewhere better. According to Campbell, a true comedy involves those who transcend the inevitable misery of this life. With this in mind, it’s totally possible for a “comedy” to end with the death of a main character provided their death is meaningful and the journey is still complete.

So are you writing a tragedy or a comedy? Perhaps you will offer your readers choices that can sway your story in either direction. Let me know what your plan is by leaving a comment. Also, to continue following along with this series be sure to subscribe using the form below. As always, happy writing!

Supernatural Aid

Supernatural Aid

Everyone needs help sometimes. Why do you think “Lean on Me” was such a popular song in the ’90s? We all need somebody to lean on. Heroes who accept the call to adventure are rewarded handsomely with an ally who has everything they need.

Cinderella

Almost everyone knows the story of Cinderella in some form or another. When you think of the “protective figure” Campbell talks about think fairy godmother. This is someone who gives the hero the advice, tools, and support they need to complete their journey. As the hero goes through their trials this person will be the one to guide them. This person may be the one who ultimately causes the hero to accept the adventure. Cinderella was ready to give up, but the fairy godmother shows up and gives her everything she needs to go to the ball, and therefore Cinderella goes. Without the fairy godmother, the journey would never have happened and Cinderella’s life would have continued to be miserable.

Examples

Of course, if you are writing realistic fiction, you don’t want some magical being to show up so here are some examples (magical and non-magical) who can be the “protective figure” the hero needs.

  • A wedding planner
  • A karate sensai
  • A wizard
  • A teacher

Sorry, this post is so short, but there’s just not a lot to say. If you want more information about this there’s no one better than Campbell himself to explain it.

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Am I a Hero?

Am I a Hero?

As I dive into “The Hero Within” by Carol S. Pearson, I find myself asking this question. According to Pearson, heroes are those who notice the crappy parts of society and do something about it instead of complaining.

This doesn’t need to be a big action (although it can be), but it does need to be an action taken to make a change for the better. Imagine the coffee station at work. Is it always messy? A hero is someone who says I am going to clean it, not someone who complains that no one ever cleans it.

Or maybe you’re a student and there’s a kid everyone picks on. Are you the person who stands up and says, “HEY, leave them alone!” or do you just walk away thinking about how messed up the whole situation is.

Pearson says there are always people who will try to maintain the status-quo, or avoid change. These are people who have denied their own heroic journeys. They don’t want to see you change things, not because they are evil, but because they weren’t brave enough to do what you are doing.

Consider the hero in your story. Are they someone who always complains? Does this change as they begin to take steps on their journey? Your hero shouldn’t just complain about the world, they should be someone who takes action to change it.

Over the next few weeks, I will continue to unpack “The Hero Within” by Carol S. Pearson to help you develop the hero in your story. If you would like to follow this journey be sure to subscribe using the form below.

The Refusal

Hero’s are always ready for an adventure, right? When we think of heroes we think of people who race into the fire without a moment’s hesitation. Sorry to disappoint you, but Campbell’s hero is just as flawed as the rest of us and when the call to action comes they usually don’t accept right away.

Why Real Heroes Avoid Adventure

Campbell explains that leaving the familiar is hard. We don’t want to give up our comfortable surroundings. Sometimes these surroundings aren’t all that comfortable, but seem that way. For example, The Hero Within opens with the story of “The Drunkard”. The Drunkard is just that…someone who drinks too much. His whole life is falling apart because of his drinking, but does he want to stop? No.

Sometimes heroes feel too responsible for their hometown or loved ones to adventure. Of course I’m thinking about Encanto again (seriously what’s not to love about that movie??). Louisa needs to learn to relax. That’s her adventure. Maribel calls her to this adventure when she tells her she’s “carrying too much”. Nonetheless, Louisa feels too responsible for everyone to take it easy.

Consequences

Of course despite the hero feeling like they aren’t ready, the arrival of The Herald means that they have been “called by destiny” (Campbell, 2008). Refusing the call always results in trouble of some sort of the hero. Think of that time you put off homework you didn’t want to do. Weren’t there consequences? Maybe you got a bad grade or you had to rush at the last minute. You were called to finish your homework and putting it off stung in one way or another. Some more examples of trouble caused by refusing the call include:

  • Boredom
  • Depression
  • Loss of sense of self
  • Disaster
  • Loss of relationships
  • Loss of all that is comfortable

The Tipping Point

In the end, the hero must answer the call to change. They have to leave home. Consequences will continue to pile up until they finally do what they are called to do. Whether that’s quitting drinking, taking a chill pill, or throwing a ring in the pits of Mount Doom, all hero’s must answer the call or risk losing everything.

Enjoying this series? Please subscribe to continue to learn more about the Hero’s Journey using the form below. I’d also love to hear from you on Instagram. I’m happy to answer any questions or clarify anything you didn’t understand. As always, happy writing!

Psychology and the Hero

Psychology and the Hero

As we continue to unpack Campbell’s “Hero with a Thousand Faces”, I feel it is important to not only go through the Hero’s Journey, but also dive into the symbolism involved in the journey. To do this you need to have a basic understanding of psychology.

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Freud and Jung

Much of Campbell’s book is based on the prevailing psychological theories at the time of his writing. Essentially, Freud and Jung both held the role of the “unconscious mind” as key to understanding psychological problems. Freud often sexualized everything. He viewed the mother as the first person a child wanted to have sex with. Yes. He believed this. He believed that people who were unwell still wanted to have sex with their mothers on some level.

Jung on the other hand believed a lot more in the power of dreams. He believed that the symbols that appear in dreams are fairly universal and can help you understand psychological struggles.

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What does this have to do with Campbell?

Campbell took what Freud and Jung had to offer and applied it to mythology. He noticed patterns in stories and universal symbols across cultures. He believed that these symbols came from the “unconscious” mind and the realm of dreams.

Dreaming that you are naked in front of the whole school is a common dream. Other common dreams include losing your teeth, falling, and flying. These dream symbols have universal meaning across cultures. Therefore, in writing a hero’s tale, taking note of these symbols is essential!

Key to the journey is also the overcoming of issues with both mother and father. Essentially, the hero either loves their mother and hates their father or they hate their mother and their father is the hero. Consider Hamlet and Oedipus. Of course, a hero can hate both their parents or love both their parents, but according to Freud at some point we all idealized one parent over the other. Therefore, there still needs to be the symbolism of overcoming these childhood issues in the story. I will be diving into the whole mother/father issue later in this series.

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Applying These Concepts to Your Story

  1. Consider what symbols you want to have in your story. What is going to represent the mother? What is going to represent the father? How can you symbolically represent real world problems with fantastical elements?
  2. How does your character respond to these symbols? How they respond to them says a lot about your hero and their journey.
  3. Think about your own nightmares and dreams. What might they say about you? How can you include these symbols in your story, perhaps with a different perspective than your own.
  4. Do some research on common symbols. A good place to start is by picking up a copy of Power of Archetypes. This is seriously interesting read and will not only help your writing, but help you understand yourself.

Examples

Fear of success: A hero who is afraid of success may find that they can fly, but find the whole experience terrifying.

Fear of Exposure: Does someone throw your character naked out into the street? This can represent a fear of being exposed in some way.

Apathy: Maybe your character loses their teeth and they don’t care. This is a good way to represent not caring about life anymore or accepting things as they are.

If you’re interested in learning more about symbols in writing or need some help interpreting a dream feel free to message me on Instagram. You can also subscribe to this blog using the form below to get updates on when I post. If there is enough interest this is definitely a topic I’d like to share about in greater detail.