Photo by Rene Asmussen

Chris Cochrane’s story about immortal Demon Shadows, Castle Forks, is a brilliant example of how the Hero’s Journey elevates narratives and helps make them resonant. 

Since the dawn of humanity, we have told each other stories to keep the night away, to teach those who would follow us, to find freedom, and many more. As such, many archetypes and patterns have been developed and refined. This is why particular stories resonate with us more than others. One pattern that we consistently see everywhere, whether it is in writing, on the screen, or wherever else, is the Hero’s Journey.

Noted down by mythologist Joseph Cambell, the Hero’s Journey is a narrative sequence that is often found in many myths, legends, and more. It is a cyclical narrative pattern that portrays the protagonist’s transformation through challenges and triumphs. By understanding and applying this framework, you are able to elevate your writing. The Hero’s Journey, though reiterated a thousand times, is a valuable roadmap for creating compelling characters, engaging plots, and stories that leave a lasting impact.

The Phases of The Hero’s Journey 

The Hero’s Journey can be divided into three acts: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each act is further punctuated by key stages that mark the hero’s evolution.

Although the Hero’s Journey is commonly visualized as a cycle, it is also divided into three phases: Departure, Initiation, and Return. Each of these phases punctuates key stages that mark the hero’s evolution from a simple individual to an entity of great renown. 

Act I: Departure

The story opens in the hero’s familiar world, introducing their daily life, relationships, and desires. A catalyst then appears to disrupt the hero’s ordinary world, presenting either a challenge, threat, or opportunity that compels them to step outside their comfort zone. This could be an external event, an internal yearning, or a combination. Fear, self-doubt, or a lack of preparedness then make the hero hesitant to embrace the challenge. This creates tension and highlights the hero’s internal struggle.

Then, to help the hero gain confidence in themself, a wise figure enters the story. They offer either guidance or training–sometimes they bring a magical tool–to help the hero prepare for their journey. The mentor can be a physical character or a symbol of the hero’s inner strength.

Act II: Initiation

After the hero commits themself to the adventure, they leave the ordinary world behind and venture into the unknown. This marks the point of no return. As they push forward into their journey, the hero faces challenges that test their physical, emotional, and moral strength. These encounters help the hero forge alliances and reveal enemies. Some even force the hero to adapt and grow. Then, at some point, the hero arrives at a crucial step in their adventure. This is when they confront their deepest fears or face the ultimate villain guarding their objective. By experiencing this ordeal, the hero undergoes a transformative experience, a physical or psychological trial that pushes them to their limits. This is the story’s heart, where the hero confronts their greatest weakness and emerges forever changed.

Act III: Return

After the villain has been defeated or the threat extinguished, the hero claims their reward after facing the ordeal. This could either be a physical object, newfound knowledge, or a deeper understanding of themselves. Then comes the journey back home, where the hero returns to the ordinary world, changed and enlightened. Upon crossing back into the normal world, the hero typically faces their final challenge, which is often related to the forces they left behind in the ordinary world. This final test demonstrates the hero’s growth and newfound mastery. When everything has settled, the hero achieves peace, and often, they share the knowledge and skills gained from their journey, leaving a lasting and positive impact on their world.

An Adventure Done a Thousand Times 

The Hero’s Journey isn’t a fixed formula; it’s much freer than that. It’s a very old pattern, and so it’s been rewritten a thousand times or more. The brilliance of the Hero’s Journey isn’t in its rigidity or anything but in the way, it helps you develop characters with depth and a clear arc of transformation. You create a more relatable and engaging protagonist by outlining the challenges your hero faces and how they overcome them. It also provides a clear roadmap for structuring your plot. Each stage functions as a plot point, guiding you in creating a natural flow of events and escalating tension. The Hero’s Journey also shows us that narratives aren’t just about external battles. They should also explore the hero’s internal struggles. You create a more layered and believable narrative by weaving these elements together.

For a good example of the Hero’s Journey, Castle Forks by Chris Cochrane, a story about immortal Demon Shadows and the individuals fighting against them, is available here.

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