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When it comes to common writing advice, the Hero's Journey and Show, don't Tell, are the most common ones.

The second one is not only very wrong but also misleading. You can only tell, after all. Telling the right details to evoke the intended feelings in people is an entirely different approach. Also, remember that people do speak their minds on how they feel sometimes.

As for the Hero's Journey, nailing down its core problem has been difficult. I know there has to be something, but most of Campbell's criticism was that his structure was too vague, but that is not a problem for writing advice. I can feel I'm missing a big part of why it's secretly a trap, but I can't pinpoint it.

What is the important thing to keep in mind when using the Hero's Journey in drafting a story?

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The important thing is to remember that you are telling the story you are telling, not some abstract Hero's Journey. If you think that you have to put in, or leave out, something because otherwise it would not fit the Hero's Journey, leave out the Hero's Journey.

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They need to start out vulnerable. They need to have some sort of humongous flaw that makes them stop in they’re tracks when mentioned. For example, my MC struggles with enormous amounts of guilt. Whenever the antagonist reminds her of what she did, and how she is a horrible person (she isn’t) my MC freezes and gets stuck in horribly vivid flash backs of her family’s death, and how she thinks it’s her fault.

Later in the story, the protagonist/MC must learn to deal with their flaw and weakness. The flaw your character has can be many many things, but it often involves their backstory. Sometimes not, however. In the Percy Jackson And The Olympians series, Percy’s weakness is that he is to loyal to his friends, he would chose saving them over saving the world. That makes for a very interesting flaw, as most of the time flaws are BAD things. Not good things. This is another approach to choosing your MC’s weakness.

During the story, the heroes flaw must be provoked many times. It also is a good idea to make your antagonist and protagonist have a similar flaw. In my story, the antagonist kills out of revenge for the loved ones she lost. While my MC still is struggling with coming to terms for her loved ones. My MC can easily see how she could have been the antagonist.

Another fun way to go about this is making your protagonist and antagonist opposites. Another example from Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy is to loyal to his friends, and Lord Kronos doesn’t care at all about his allies.

Your character needs to go from being vulnerable, to being invincible (personality wise)

The second thing you want to tackle in a hero’s journey is their friends, love interests, mentors, enemies, frenemies, allies, family members, and any other side characters you can think of. Without interacting with other characters, your MC will never change. They don’t have a reason to.

They may change to save their friends. They may change to land a date. They may change because their friends helped them through it. Many many options.

I hope this helps you!

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Any writing tool can be helpful or harmful. Campbell's original work was descriptive, not prescriptive. He noted similarities in many of the world's most popular stories --it's only later that people began writing in conscious imitation of that. But imitating something --even something good --isn't always the best way to create something vital and new.

In my own writing, there was a time when I was heavily influenced by the Hero's Journey and its derivatives, such as Vogler's The Writer's Journey. But ultimately I found it too constricting, and not that helpful as a writing tool.

My best advice with using the Hero's Journey is to write without it, and then go back and see if there are places where something from the model would be helpful --"Hey, I could use a Night Sea Journey" or "My character needs a mentor."

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I suspect that the danger of following the Hero's Journey template is that you might take the name for one of its elements too literally. All of them are abstractions, named after something they have in common, or after the form that a prominent example takes. If you take the name too literally you'll be putting a whale into your story just so that the Hero can ride in its belly.

Since they are metaphors, you first identify what each of these elements does for the abstract form of the Hero's Journey, and then you identify the element in your setting that accomplishes the same purpose for your story.

There are times when you will put something into your story and then later realize that it perfectly fits the template. In one book I have out, the MC at one point is deciding whether to cross the border into enemy territory, alone, or go back to base and get better prepared. (This is all rationalization on his part; he is as ready as he will ever be.) As he temporizes, he thinks about how glad his girlfriend will be to see him safely returned. I had only thrown this in because it is something a young man in his situation would naturally think about. Later on I see that Woman as Temptress has made its way into the story without any deliberate intent on my part. This is why Campbell was able to discern the Monomyth in the first place; its elements naturally fit together to make a story which will "accomplish something and arrive somewhere", as Mark Twain put it. (Reference to Mark Twain's essay. Read it; it's a hoot.)

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After looking into your oblique reference to "Campbell," I see that you are actually referencing a specific type of "Hero's Journey." That's a particular definition with specific points.

Campbell's definition (as given on the Wikipedia page) is rather specific to fantasy and mythology, and is a rather specific formula that tries to be an all encompassing description of the content of myths and fantasy. It isn't a blueprint for writing a story so much as a distillation into one plot line of common elements across all of mythology and fantasy.

If you try to follow it as a blueprint, you'll go nuts.

It's not telling you how to write a story, it is telling you of all the things a story may be composed of.

You don't want to follow it to the letter. That'd be like ordering a pizza with everything on it - you'll choke trying to eat it.

Campbell's definition is saying that existing mythology is composed of elements from that huge list - and that if you write fantasy or myths then your story will contain elements from that huge list.


Original answer:

Keep in mind that the "Hero's Journey" doesn't have to be heroic.

The title "Hero's Journey" is one of many ways to say that your character grows or overcomes obstacles.

A short summary of the "Hero's Journey" plot is like this:

  • Introduce character
  • Character encounters problem
  • Character struggles
  • Character overcomes problem
  • Character learns or improves for having struggled and won
  • End of arc

That looks like the plot of pretty much any story or story arc.

What makes the "Hero's Journey" that most people think of is that the problem is enormous, the struggle titanic, and the character heroic. The "Hero's Journey" is really just a big name for a mundane thing.

Any obstacle the character meets is a "Hero's Journey" in small format.

Even if the character doesn't win (overcome) the problem, then it is still a "Hero's Journey" as long as the character grows or improves because of the struggle.

If your character(s) confront the obstacles they face and win (or at least learn from the struggle) then you've ticked the "Hero's Journey" box on your checklist - if you feel the need to use a checklist and do all the things people will tell you that you must do to write a good story.


A good story starts with a point to make. You as the author must have something to express. A story or novel without that goal is a series of pointless anecdotes.

If that goal isn't there then I, as a reader, will wonder why you bothered to write the story at all and why I should bother to read it.

Your characters don't have to know what the point is, but you as author must know. Without that, your story will wander aimlessly and you'll have trouble deciding what to do from scene to scene.

If you (as the author) have a point to make or a goal to achieve, then you can see how to warp your story and characters as you go along.

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