Alice’s Restaurant

December 14, 2006

The FanLit Journey

Filed under: FanLit — aliceaudrey @ 9:44 pm

There are some who consider The Hero’s Journey to be a formula.  At least, I have seen it referred to as such.  Could they be the same people who think Romance is a formula?   Poor, ignorant fools.

Really, the hero’s journey is a way that Joseph Campbell worked out for drawing together the common threads in all the world’s greatest stories.  Campbell was a professor in Mythology who picked and gleaned and analyzed until he came up with twelve basic elements that appeared over and over in myths and stories from all over the world.

Most stories did not contain all twelve elements.  All the stories had their own take on the individual elements.  You could not possibly say any of these stories were built to formula considering the man who came up with the “formula” didn’t exist when most of them were created.  We’re talking about oral tradition as much as written.  Instead, consider what Campbell came up with a set of “rules” much like the rules of physics.

BTW, if you ever get a chance to see the interviews Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell, do it.  Campbell had a spark – a kind of gleeful, passionate liveliness- that is very charismatic.

Campbell was an academic.  He did not gear his work toward writers.  Christopher Vogler did.  He applied Campbell’s principles to the film industry, and came up with something that works for short story and novel writers as well as script writers.

Now I’m trying to apply the principles to FanLit Forever.  Challenge 3 is proving to be a significant challenge for me already.  *grin*
The Hero’s Journey basically condenses down to this:

1.Ordinary World – The hero’s normal world before the story begins

2.Call to Adventure – The hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure

3.Refusal of the Call – The hero refuses the challenge or journey, usually because he’s scared

4. Meeting with the Mentor – The hero meets a mentor to gain advice or training for the adventure

5. Crossing the First Threshold – The hero crosses leaves the ordinary world and goes into the special world

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – The hero faces tests, meets allies, confronts enemies & learn the rules of the Special World.

7. Approach – The hero has hit setbacks during tests & may need to try a new idea

8. Ordeal – The biggest life or death crisis

9. Reward – The hero has survived death, overcomes his fear and now earns the reward

10. The Road Back – The hero must return to the Ordinary World.

11. Resurrection Hero – another test where the hero faces death – he has to use everything he’s learned.

12. Return with Elixir – The hero returns from the journey with the “elixir”, and uses it to help everyone in the Ordinary World

Turning this into something that will work in a six-chapter challenge means condensing even further.  This is what I came up with:

Chapter  1  Call to Adventure.  May include ordinary world, refusal of the call, and the point of no return.

Note that it’s fairly easy to combine steps 1,2,and 3 of The Hero’s Journey and quite possible to throw in step 5 in a single scene.  Admittedly including all four in something only 15,000 characters long might be a challenge.  But then, shouldn’t FanLit be a challenge?

Chapter  2  Road of Trials, including point of no return.

If you haven’t already hit the point where the main character can’t back out and go back to living his or her ordinary life by the end of the first chapter in a 6 chapter story, you’d better hit it by the end of the second chapter.  Anyone who takes longer risks boring readers.

If you’ll notice, I skipped step 4 -meeting with a mentor – entirely.  Yet it is possible to have the hero/heroine meet a mentor in the course of the Road of Trials.  I don’t think a mentor is always needed.  Bye-bye Yoda.

Frankly, here we are already into 6. – tests, allies, and enemies.

Chapter  3  Approach of Inmost Cave.

Where the hero/heroine has to re-examine the way he/she has dealt with the problem to this point, and possibly make a painful change.

Chapter  4  Ordeal.

This is where everything goes wrong.  The changes the hero/heroine have made aren’t cutting it.  It looks like he/she is going to fail.  Step 8 off the Hero’s Journey is too big a thing to combine with others.

Chapter  5  Reward and Road Back.

I combined steps 9 and 10 here, thought really I could have combined 9 through 12.  Still, I thought we could take a little extra time basking in the hero/heroine’s accomplishments and adjusting to/hinting at what their lives are going to be like from now on.

Chapter  6  Resurrection and Return with the Elixir

Steps 11 and 12.  This is the last big hurrah for the story.  The worst thing that could happen does.  The hero/heroine are seriously put to the test in a final do-or-die moment which leads directly to their happily ever after.

This is what I posted to the board for how it would play in the game itself:

Lets assume the over-all premise we chose through a premise poll is “a traveler finds a home.”

In the first round all of us would try to include “the call to adventure” in our story.  Author A might start with a time traveler who is on assignment, in his ordinary world of history manipulation, when he realizes the fulfillment of his assignment will mean the destruction of a unique and valuable family.  He is tempted to leave his assignment unfulfilled.  The call to adventure is the desire to go against his training.  I exercise my option of “refusal of the call” by having him start the process that will destroy the family, arranging for the death of the head of the household.

Let’s say someone else, Author B, sets her first chapter in Hoboken, NJ in a soup kitchen where the heroine regularly volunteers.  Her Call to Adventure comes when a big, tough biker in line at the soup kitchen invites her to ride with him to her home town in New Mexico.  She needs to go home to see her dying father and has no other means, so he only hesitates a moment.

In round two lets say Author B’s story won the first round.  We are now working on Road of Trials, including point of no return.

Author A continues her original story.  The time traveler changes his mind about killing the patriarch.  He hits the point of no return when the time-cops send him a “partner” who goes ahead and kills the patriarch, then goes after the partner’s daughter, who convinced the time traveler not to fulfill his mission in the first place.  The time traveler hides her.

Author B continues her story with the biker and soup server getting half way to New Mexico when the motorcycle breaks down.  He offers to put her on a bus back to Hoboken, but she refuses.  She’s committed to going on.

Author C comes into the game for the first time with a chapter in which the biker and soup server run out of gas and money in downtown Chicago.

Meanwhile a premise poll for extras is running.  The winner of the premise poll is a feather.  In round three the entries have to include a feather.  (or maybe only get bonus points for including a feather)

Round three – Approach of the Inmost Cave  The time traveler won 2nd round

Author A has the time traveler learning from the “partner” that the reasons for destroying the heroine’s family involve the rulers of the future maintaining their power.  He also learns the “partner” is supposed to kill him if he doesn’t help.  The hero uses a feather to jam the “partner”s time displacement device.

Author B has the hero and heroine talk about his lack of family and her reasons for moving so far away from hers.  They come to see one another as kindred souls.  The heroine finds a feather boa in the hero’s bags.

Author C has the time traveler deciding that the heroine is too beautiful when dressed in feathers to risk loosing but unable to defeat the partner.  He brings the heroine forward to his own time where he quickly learns she can’t adjust.

If you want to see how I would finish these stories, let me know.  I only did this much to show how the submissions would address the Hero’s Journey.
I think using The Hero’s Journey as the chapter-by-chapter premise would not only provide a quick and easy guide by which to judge the entries, but would also be a valuable learning tool.

But I’m also thinking it might be something we should take on further down the road when we have a bit more confidence in what we are doing with FanLit Forever.

Bibliography, in no particular order:,M1



  1. I’m just a tad confused on how the contest would work with so many different story lines —

    Comment by Pam — December 15, 2006 @ 11:34 pm

  2. Remember how in Avon there were a bunch of people who did parodies and alternate stories? In FF they aren’t automatically rejected.

    The criteria for judgement would be how well they show a hero and or heroine encountering each step of the journey. So in Chapter 1 the writer has to show the H/h tempted to leave behind whatever is normal for their life. If we get to the end of Chapter 1 and the H/h have/has not been tempted to change anything, then the premise was not met.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — December 16, 2006 @ 5:42 am

  3. Wow, AA, thanks for explaining all that. I have been hearing about C.V and this Hero’s Journey idea, but never really understood what it meant. I’m all for the power of mythic structure in creating stories. But I also don’t think a good storyteller should be overly concerned with checking off all 12 elements. Humans are hard-wired for story – it’s how we accept and integrate all sorts of information. We know a good story when we hear it or read it because it resonates with us. The harder part is knowing a good story when you *tell* it. I suppose that’s where the Hero’s Journey comes in.

    Comment by TessaD — December 17, 2006 @ 5:06 am

  4. Exactly, Tessa. It’s only one of many systems to help people write. Or in Joseph C’s case, to help people understand something about life.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — December 17, 2006 @ 8:05 am

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