On The Hero's Journey and The Call To Action by Gregory Gonzalez
by Writing Workshops Staff
A year ago
“A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” -Joseph Campbell
The plotline in any given story acts as a spider’s web rather than a series of fated events that the main character must follow to complete their quest. Depending on a given character and the abilities they have, the course of action they might take is always going to be different than the characters who come before and after them.
As writers, what matters as we look for the seams in any piece of writing is how the character gets to the center of this web using a series of intersecting plot points. No matter if the plot is designed to rigorously mirror the three-act structure or if it is crafted religiously around Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces and its seventeen different steps for getting the hero through their adventure, there are multiple ways for writing a story, allowing for multiple points to be traced along a single time frame.
In a 2021 Los Angeles Review of Books essay, Sarah E. Bond and Joel Christensen write:
In the wake of World War II, Campbell’s Monomyth, a theory about myth and folktales, presented an attractive, simplified narrative pattern as a prescriptive tool to the public — with a global spin born in part from Campbell’s early interest in Native American mythology. Unlike many of his predecessors, he engaged with numerous non-Western sources, shifting some focus from Greece and Rome. Patrice Rankine, a Classicist at the University of Chicago, tells us that Campbell’s book emerged “in the context of the American and British Great Books movement. So, it’s right in the sweet spot of a ‘Western canon.’ In this context I actually like Campbell because he elevated non-Western myth. Ralph Ellison, Toni Morrison, and others gained an entry point or foothold through such flattening."
For those who are not familiar with Joseph Campbell, it is easy to see his seventeen plot points at work in Star Wars, Harry Potter, Iron Man, The Lion King, The Wizard of Oz, The Lord of the Rings, and even The Goonies.
You can see a great infographic here outlining The Hero's Journey in six popular movies, and in general the steps in the Hero’s Journey are:
Act I: The Departure
- The Call to Adventure.
- The Refusal of the Call.
- The Supernatural Aid.
- The Crossing of the first Threshold.
- In the Belly of the Beast.
Act II: The Initiation
- The Road of Trials.
- Meeting with the goddess.
- Atonement with the father.
- The Ultimate Boon.
Act III: The Return
- Refusal of the Return.
- The Magic Flight.
- Rescue from Without.
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold.
- Master of the Two Worlds.
- Freedom to live.
The Call to Adventure is the first step any character must encounter. It is what pulls or pushes the character forward, much like Harry Potter receiving his acceptance letter from Hogwarts in The Sorcerer’s Stone.
The Crossing of the First Threshold gets the character past the point of no return. It's the very moment Harry is selected into Gryffindor. He has had multiple chances to turn around and return home to the Dursleys, and to forget about Hogwarts and all the scary things that might happen.
The Road of Trials is where the fun begins, the collection of events the main character must go through before they reach The Help from Without and The Mater of Two Worlds. It's the final phase each character must face, for they have learned enough of the new world and lived through the old one to understand the workings of both, and now the main character has the Freedom to Live through the unknown because they've acquired the skills necessary to survive any situation
For Harry Potter, The Road of Trials begins when he boards the train. Making new friends is no easy task, and it is Ronald and Hermione who become the Help from Without and get Harry to become the Master of two Worlds. When Harry tells Hagrid, ‘I am not going home, not really’ is the point at which Harry knows he can survive the Dursleys simply because he has learned enough about his passion for wizardry to survive their punishment. For Harry's character in the first book, when you break them down according to the infographic, you see a clear sensibility to both the plot points and the hero's journey:
- Harry Potter lives in the cupboard under the stairs at 4 Privet Drive.
- Harry receives a letter to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
- Harry doesn't believe that he could be a real wizard.
- Hagrid takes Harry to Diagon Alley, where Harry purchases his school equipment.
- Harry learns about his parents' death at the hands of Lord Voldemort.
- Harry Adjusts to life at Hogwarts.
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione plan to get the Philosopher's Stone before Snape.
- Harry, Ron, and Hermione overcome the obstacles set up to protect the Philosopher's Stone.
- Harry enters the room where the Philosopher's Stone is hidden.
- Harry faces professor Quirrel, who has been hosting Voldemort in his body.
- Harry wakes up in the hospital; Dumbledore explains that Harry is protected by his mother's love.
- Harry returns to 4 Privet Drive for the summer, happy to belong at Hogwarts.
Some could argue that without Campbell's plot points, the narrative strands found in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone can get lost in the mess of characters, which is one reason why it can be hard to hook a reader without a specific call to adventure, which is immediately followed by the refusal. This is where the readers learn to care for the main character by learning what is at stake. In any given story, a character must have something at stake. It is what forces them through the Crossing of the First Threshold and into the world of the unknown, yearning for the Help from Without, just so they can become the Master of Two Worlds.
For emerging writers, the only way out of the slush pile is to have a commanding knowledge of how these plot points work and intersect with each other. After all, this very idea is like a personal call to adventure in itself, you just need to find the story inside you.
About the Author:
Gregory Gonzalez is a graduate from Sierra Nevada University, where he earned both a BFA and an MFA in Creative Writing. He studied under Brian Turner, Patricia Smith, Sunil Yapa, and many other wonderful artists. His works can be seen in the San Joaquin Review Online, Hive Avenue: A Literary Journal, the Dillydoun Review, Wingless Dreamer Publishing, Bridge Eight: Film & TV, Drunk Monkeys: Literature and Film, Causeway Literature, and Nat 1, LLC.