In my last posting, I wrote about the power
of storytelling as viewed through the book, The Storytelling Animal
by Jonathan Gottschall. Gottschall's basic point is that we
live in a world of storytelling from the tales we tell ourselves, to the ones
that occur in our dreams to those we read in great books and see in immersive
It occurred to me that, perhaps, many of us
lack sufficient skills in detecting which movies, books and comics are going to become
great licenses simply because we lack the skills in spotting a great story. In order to come up with a template, I turned
to Joseph Campbell’s book, The Hero with
a Thousand Faces.
Campbell noted that in virtually all cultures
from Babylonian (Gilgamesh) to American (Star Wars) there is a common pattern
he called “The Hero’s Journey.” He described
it this way: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a
region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a
decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure
with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
Sound familiar, you bet it does? You find it in myths like Jason and the Argonauts, comic books
like The Green Lantern (no, no the comic book not the movie, NOT the movie) and
books like Harry Potter.
1.THE ORDINARY WORLD. The hero, uneasy, uncomfortable or
unaware, is introduced sympathetically so the audience can identify with the
situation or dilemma. The hero is shown against a background of environment,
heredity, and personal history. Some kind of polarity in the hero’s life is
pulling in different directions and causing stress.
2. THE CALL TO ADVENTURE. Something shakes up the situation,
either from external pressures or from something rising up from deep within, so
the hero must face the beginnings of change.
3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL. The hero feels the fear of the
unknown and tries to turn away from the adventure, however briefly.
Alternately, another character may express the uncertainty and danger ahead.
4. MEETING WITH THE MENTOR. The hero comes across a seasoned
traveler of the worlds who gives him or her training, equipment, or advice that
will help on the journey. Or the hero reaches within to a source of courage and
5. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD. At the end of Act One, the hero
commits to leaving the Ordinary World and entering a new region or condition
with unfamiliar rules and values.
6. TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES. The hero is tested and sorts
out allegiances in the Special World.
7. APPROACH. The hero and newfound allies prepare for the
major challenge in the Special world.
8. THE ORDEAL. Near the middle of the story, the hero enters
a central space in the Special World and confronts death or faces his or her
greatest fear. Out of the moment of death comes a new life.
9. THE REWARD. The hero takes possession of the treasure won
by facing death. There may be celebration, but there is also danger of losing
the treasure again.
10. THE ROAD BACK. About three-fourths of the way through
the story, the hero is driven to complete the adventure, leaving the Special World
to be sure the treasure is brought home. Often a chase scene signals the
urgency and danger of the mission.
11. THE RESURRECTION. At the climax, the hero is severely
tested once more on the threshold of home. He or she is purified by a last
sacrifice, another moment of death and rebirth, but on a higher and more
complete level. By the hero’s action, the polarities that were in conflict at
the beginning are finally resolved.
12. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR. The hero returns home or
continues the journey, bearing some element of the treasure that has the power
to transform the world as the hero has been transformed.
No, the story does not need to have
all of these elements but I think it would be wise to make sure that many are
present. It could make the difference
in a good bet and a bad one.