Pep Talk - WHRN 2009 - Hero(ine) Goes on a Journey: how to make the Classical Hero Pattern work by eiie

The classical Hero Pattern can be found easily in the Odyssey, the Iliad and Star Wars. (Seriously.) It can be found less easily in Grease (but it’s still there). In fact, it can be found in almost any “epic” movie or story, and it can be found in more subdued forms in everything else. To employ the Hero Patter you could write an “epic” fantasy with a character that really does embark on a mystical quest, or you could write a fantasy that is less traditional and employs the hero pattern in a more subtle, figurative way. We’ll look at both through the course of this pep talk.

The hero pattern is well studied and simplified – I’ll recommend some books at the end of this pep talk if you’re interested – into nine major steps in three acts.

[for the sake of simplicity, I'm referring to the main character as the "hero" and "he," despite this, a female main character may also take this path]

Act I: The Reluctant Hero

1. The Perfect World All is well, life is good, things seem like they could only get better. But despite the fact that the world seems full of opportunities, the hero doesn’t know what he really wants. This often manifests as a protected childhood.

2. Friends and Enemies This is where you get to introduce the side kicks that will help the hero and the villains that will hold him back [cut to guy laughing evilly over a cauldron]. At the moment that they are introduced they may seem ineffectual, you wonder how that person could possibly help/hinder anyone? Step two is often intertwined with step one as both are revealed simultaneously. Sometimes the friends appear as enemies. Consider the Princess Bride. We meet Vizzini, Inigo Montoya and Fezzik the Giant all at once. Inigo and Fezzick eventually become the friends of the hero despite the fact that they originally appear as enemies.

3. The Call The hero receives a call to action. An offer is made that would let the hero leave the perfect world, that could end in glory or death. Think of Star Wars; this would be when Luke discovers his aunt and uncle burned to a crisp and decides to leave with Obi-Wan. The first time the call is received the hero (usually) refuses to answer it; he wants to stay in the perfect world because humans resist change. But the hero MUST answer the call shortly (or you’ll have no story). The harder the hero tries to resist the more the perfect world around him is destroyed until he has no choice but to leave (crispy home and family, for example).

Act II: Start the Action

4. Small Success The hero has to react to obstacles on his new path. These obstacles seem minor in many respects. In some cases this is the arrival at a new school, the hero finds his way around the grounds, gets to class, starts work on his new studies. The hero tastes success, and starts to want more of it (perhaps begins to think more of himself than he should) but he hasn’t really faced his fears yet. He may not even know his fears at this point. At this point it’s also important to consider how surrounding characters respond to him. Jealously, or that incredulous Han Solo smirk that says that’s just dumb luck kid, or someone may want him to give up

5. Invitations/ Resisting sexual temptation The hero is offered a chance to leave the journey. This invitation frequently takes the form of a romantic offer. Settle down and marry me, says the newly met woman. Odysseus is trapped by Circe on her island where he happily indulges in everything offered by the goddess. Odysseus remained on the island for almost six years, your hero may just consider the possibility of staying with the goddess. Whatever happens the “goddess” (aka the sexual/romantic temptation) must be resisted until after the end of the journey or the hero will never finish the journey. The other way this manifests is in a female companion that joins the quest. Consider when Luke firsts meets Leia, she’s beautiful, capable, and -- despite needing a rescue -- she refuses to remain in the “damsel in distress” role. The hero admires her and considers ending the quest to be with her or just getting her to end her quest so that he can carry on as he has before.

6. Trials The size and pressure of obstacles increases. In the school/learning story, we’ve gone from the original trials of navigating the grounds to now dealing with students and teachers and lessons on a day to day basis. Everything is unrelenting, the hero wonders if he should have taken the invitation to leave the path – but the only option is to go forward.

Act III: Edge of Your Seat Tension

7. Journey to the Underworld The hero has a brush with death. Sometimes this is a near death experience for the hero. Sometimes it takes place as a proxy death; someone close to the hero dies and makes the hero consider his own mortality. In the Iliad, Patrokles dies in Achilles place. Sometimes it manifest as an actual trip to the underworld like Odysseus makes. In Star Wars, Luke descends into that creepy cave behind Yoda’s house and faces his worst fears. Whatever way the hero faces death, it opens his eyes; he is no longer allowed to hide from his fears.

8. Awakening or Rebellion This confrontation with death opens the hero’s eyes and he remembers why he left home in the first place. He becomes even more determined to finish and takes further steps to do so. Or he rebells; he rages against death. In the Matrix, Morpheus sacrifices himself in Step 7, in Step 8, Neo realizes that he can go back in and save Morpheus. He comes up with a plan and goes back and gets more guns. Rearming and redirection are typical of this step.

9. Victory or Failure This is it. Do or die. Roll the dramatic music because there is no other big fight scene after this. Whatever you have made the stakes of this quest, they come to a head right now. This is the part of every Harry Potter novel where Harry and Ron start cutting class and breaking the rules and the consequences of their failure is so dire they even convince Hermione to cut class and break the rules.

The final step (which is more of a dénouement) is the return to the perfect world. In Greek mythology, the hero comes home, triumphant. But, depending on the story, there isn’t always a home to return to. Sometimes this means that the “perfect world” is the one the hero is left to build with the survivors and that goddess who’s gone on the journey with him. In the Princess Bride, Fezzik the Giant finds four white horses that the hero, Westley, and his companions and Buttercup ride off on before he and Buttercup share the most passionate kiss in the history of kisses.

45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, Victoria Lynn Schmidt
Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell