No one can escape the Hero’s Journey. If it’s not in the books we read, it’s in the movies we watch. It’s lived out by people in real life, for Pete’s sake. As a narrative pattern, it’s universal.
Or is it?
I’ll be the first to admit that the novel I’m preparing to query is straight up Hero’s Journey. Call to adventure, mentors, total despair, atonement…I could tell you exactly how each of these features is represented by plot and/or characters in my book. The funny part is that my approach to writing – pantsing in the beginning that leads to plotting in the end – meant I didn’t realize I was writing a Hero’s Journey story until I was almost done with it.
So, why say “Kill the Hero, Forget the Journey”? Honestly, I think many writers focus too much on what their writing is “supposed” to be. Oh, yes, I’m including myself in this statement. There’s a huge group of writing snobs who believe the Hero’s Journey is the only way to plot out a book. In contrast to them, however, are more writing snobs who think the use of myths in storytelling is like teaching PhD students with a flannelgraph.
No matter what you write or how you write it, someone will be ready to tell you it’s wrong. Did your male hero rescue a female in distress? Wrong. Did your female hero rescue a male in distress? Wrong. Young, beardless mentor? Wrong. A character that doesn’t change? Wrong!
The time we have to write and be creative is too short to worry about how to please everyone. Just because everyone else jumps on the trendy bandwagon doesn’t mean you need to. Case in point: My new work-in-progress doesn’t follow the Hero’s Journey (*gasp*). I worried for a while about having a flat instead of circular character arc*. Does this even exist? Won’t everyone expect an actual hero on this journey? The answer was a resounding, “Eh, who cares?” I killed off the idea of my great, changing hero and set to work creating an adventure instead of a quest.
If someone tries to tell you that the only arc is the Hero’s Journey, feel free to get snobby right back and inform them of their error. Maybe you could even diagram it for them on a flannelgraph.
Michelle is currently trying to figure out how to describe [(X-Men: Origins * #squadgoals) + (Mad Max - monster trucks + teenagers) + snark] in a query letter. It’s harder than it sounds.
*I only say “circular” because in most diagrams, the HJ is portrayed as a circle. It’s drawn like this because the start and end point of a character’s development is always some kind of “comfort zone”. However, for the plot and character development to be a true Hero’s Journey, these beginning and end points cannot and should not be the same. In reality, the circle should be a spiral or some kind of 180° voyage. A “flat” character development diagram, in my mind, is more of an arrow moving at a small angle – an indication of little to no major change. YES, I KNOW I’m overthinking it.