The Hero’s Journey Part 11 – Resurrection

Our hero is running back to his ordinary world.  Before he returns, there is one last threshold that must be crossed.

If you recall, back when our hero crossed into this mysterious world, he was another person.  Perhaps he was more naive, or weak, or egotistical.  Through the trials he has endured in the other world, he has learned valuable lessons and been transformed.  This penultimate stage is the final test of what our hero has learned.  It can be considered a form of purification, or a final shedding of what he was before.  By facing this final moment of death and rebirth, the hero transcends who he was before and can finally return to his old world.

Another consideration in regards to resurrection is what role it plays in the character arc.  In researching plot, the statement “your plot is your characters” or some version thereof, will often be encountered.  Most plot, including those based on the hero’s journey, are about a character moving from ignorance to enlightenment.  Think of the number of romantic comedies that start with a main character who is self-absorbed and a terror in relationships.  By story’s end, this character realises their faults and is “reborn” as a new man/woman who is capable of having a meaningful relationship.  The resurrection point is where the character becomes self-aware.  As an audience, we have watched the hero change.  We know who the hero has become, but for them to truly make that new persona last, the hero must become aware of it themselves.  This moment of self-awareness, where the character realises their own transformation, gives birth to the new persona that will become the hero’s truth.

Remember, there was a reason the hero set out to begin with.  In that time, the hero was not capable of achieving his goals.  He had to train, defeat threshold guardians, face ordeals and in general, transform himself to accomplish his quest.  Now that the quest has essentially been complete, the hero needs to truly realise who he has become so that he can live in the world as this new person.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow put Self-Actualisation as the highest point in his heirarchy of needs.  Resurrection is the moment of your hero’s self-actualisation.

The Hero’s Journey Part 3 – Refusing the Call

In the last of these series, I talked about The Call to Adventure.  We had established our Hero’s Ordinary World and the call was going to start shaking him loose from it.  Before our hero commits entirely to his quest, he gets reluctant and often refuses the call.

Why would your hero do that?  The most simple answer is it’s because it is the human thing to do.  The refusal of the call is mainly about fear.  Not only fear of change and the unknown, but also fear of failure.  By showing fear, the hero becomes more relatable to your reader.  Why they refuse the call, and also what will lead them back to it, can tell the reader so much about your character.

Harry Potter initially is in disbelief that he would be a wizard.  It tells us about his character that he doesn’t immediately accept his fate and instead doubts himself.

Hiccup, in How To Train Your Dragon, folds under the pressure of his father and joins the training course to kill dragons.  It tells us that he wants to please his father, even at the risk of his own life.

Luke Skywalker initially turns down Obi-Wan’s invitation to fight the empire, believing himself nothing but a simple farm boy.  This gives us a true vision of Luke.  Initially, he complains to his uncle that he wants to get away, join the academy, etc.  When the opportunity comes to flee, he refuses because of all the obligations he has previously complained about.  It is a character trait we all recognise and it shows that despite complaint, Luke is reliable and trustworthy.

The simple fact is, a hero who can do no wrong, never shows fear or doubt and overcomes all odds with ease, is boring.  A hero like this only belongs in the realm of caricature.  Your audience is made of real people.  By allowing your hero some weakness, you bring him closer to your audience and increase their sympathy to his plight.

This refusal, while integral to the development of a believable and sympathetic hero, creates a problem; how do you get your hero to accept their quest?  There can be a number of ways, but one of the most common is due to the intervention of the next step I’ll discuss, The Mentor.

The Hero’s Journey Part 1 – The Ordinary World

In keeping with my fascination with the story template originating with Joseph Campbell’s The Hero Has a Thousand faces, I’ve decided to do a multiple post series focusing on each of the steps in the Hero’s Journey.

The steps are;

Today I will be focusing on the first step in the journey, the Ordinary World.

Of all the steps, this one should be the straightest forward.

The Ordinary world is our hero’s starting point.  Since the point of the Hero’s Journey is to show growth and development, we need a point of reference.  Who is your hero?  What is his life like before the journey begins?

In Star Wars, we meet Luke Skywalker as a whiny farm boy who dreams of bigger things.

In Harry Potter, we meet a mistreated boy who is awkward and has no apparent powers.

In How to Train Your Dragon, the main character Hiccup is introduced as the village joke who just wants to fit in.

While this may be the straightest ahead, it is fraught with disaster.

  1. This is the introduction to your hero.  The reader needs to learn who he is.  It is especially important to show those qualities that will change over the course of the story so your reader will see his growth.   On top of all that, you need to make him interesting and worthy of your readers’ sympathy.
  2. You need the opening to be engaging enough that it captures the reader and carries them forward.  How do you make the hero’s ordinary world interesting?  It’s easy to focus on what amazing adventures await, but your reader will never get there if the ordinary world is too boring.
  3. If you intend for your hero to return, it means you need to know how the hero’s journey will ultimately affect the ordinary world.  Will things improve?  Will it cause the world’s destruction, or just destroy the world’s way of life?

In short, the ordinary world is the foundation of your story. Everything that comes after is dependent upon the ground rules established there.

The next step in the Hero’s Journey is The Call to Adventure.