An Aspiring Writer's Blog Site

Yes, Virginia, There Really is a Monomyth

monomythA long time ago, in a video game school far, far away . . . one of my teachers gave a lecture about story. He talked about the Hero’s Journey and recommended it’s structure for story creation. His presentation impressed quite a few of my friends and though I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, I filed the Hero’s Journey to the back of my mind to be studied later.

The Hero’s Journey goes a little something like this:

In the late 1940s, Joseph Campbell, a mythologist and writer, wrote a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This book argued that all ancient myths followed some type of form or pattern. Campbell called it the monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. His work greatly influenced George Lucas when he wrote Star Wars.

Over the years, I have tried to understand Campbell’s work, but I just didn’t get it. He used jargon that I wasn’t familiar with and his descriptions of the patterns seemed vague. Overall, it just seemed too academic and I kept putting it to the side.

Fast forward to my writing ‘career’ in the last year or so. One of the things I have struggled with is plot and story structure, particularly middles and endings. I read a few books on the subject, but nothing seemed to help. I decided to look at the Hero’s Journey again.

This time, things clicked. And it’s because of Christopher Vogler.

Vogler is a writing consultant for the movie industry. He has a solid grasp of the monomyth and he knew its concepts could be used to help writers. However, he found that a lot of people he worked with had the same problem I had—they just didn’t understand Campbell’s work. So, he broke it down for them into everyday lingo. He later wrote a book about it–The Writer’s Journey.

A synopsis of the structure outlined in Vogler’s book is here. It finally helped me understand the concepts of the Hero’s Journey. Soon, I was watching movies and dissecting them based upon Vogler’s structure. There really is a monomyth!

For those of you that would like to have a better understanding of story structure, I highly recommend Vogler’s work. He is NOT pushing for a formula as some people suggest, he is arguing that all good stories have a form that the human consciousness seems to understand and expect. It was a life changing book for me—pure and simple.

WIP Update: I’m neck deep in the Gideon Plan. I have decided to focus on the main character’s story first, using the Hero’s Journey as a guide. I’m writing a lot of ‘bursts’ and expect to be done at the end of the month. At this rate, I should be finished with the novel in oh . . . about five years . . .

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8 responses

  1. Hey Dan, Glad to see you back at the Gideon Plan. The five year mark is a good goal right? Good luck, I can’t imagine I’ll ever be done any of my stories. This stuff takes a lot of time and effort, so don’t be too hard on yourself; we’re all in the same boat.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:59 am

    • Hey, Nate. I’m glad I picked the Gideon Plan back up too. I’m moving forward well . The main problem I have is that I wish I just had more time to write! I’m working out ways to expand my time. My comment about five years was mostly tongue in cheek. I’m not really sure how long it will take me to get there. Five years may not be too far off the mark. It is a long book.

      December 5, 2012 at 9:38 am

  2. I’m going to have to check out Christopher Vogler because I’m curious about this monomyth!
    For me, once I decided (with the help of a post by Larry Brooks) to center my story on a single protagonist and relegate the rest to subplot status a lot of stuff fell into place.

    BTW, I’m on my third year writing this book of mine (with a few ‘breaks’ for NaNoWriMo) and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Keep at it!

    December 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    • Hi, Kirsten. Thanks for stopping by.

      Larry Brooks’s advice is good. I’m glad I’m doing it this way. It really helps me focus on getting the main story right, which is important.

      Yes, check out Vogler. He is simply amazing. The link I provided is very good. You can get a good grasp of his main ideas.

      Thanks for stopping by!

      December 6, 2012 at 8:11 am

  3. I’m happy to hear you’re back at work on your big novel, Dan. Things were easier for genre writers back in the days before SF, fantasy, and so on became so “literary.” The rules were simple then: start with an original idea, have only one viewpoint character, keep the number of characters small, make plot and setting your primary concerns, and write in a straightforward style. I think this still works for many readers, especially the younger ones who are the backbone of the SF / fantasy market.

    December 5, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    • Heh. Maybe so. Maybe so. Ah, the good old days. So, far, though, I’ve yet to see a good story that doesn’t follow the monomyth.

      Thanks for swinging by, Thomas!

      December 6, 2012 at 8:16 am

  4. Google Kal Bashir’s Hero’s Journey. A great, very, very detailed analysis of the hero’s journey steps. Videos too.

    January 20, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    • Cool. Thanks for swinging by Rachel. I’ll have to check these out.

      January 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

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