When George Lucas sought out Joseph Campbell, it was to help craft a storyline that could literally go on and on. George had the initial Star Wars trilogy on his mind, but he also needed to set the foundations of a franchise that could last for decades. He succeeded, thanks to the advice of Joseph Campbell.
The hero quest Joseph Campbell explores in The Hero with a Thousand Faces has three equal movements: Separation (from the community); Transformation (physical and psychological); and Return (once again part of the community, but in a new role):
You don't have a complete adventure unless you do get back . . . It's not easy to know how to handle that return threshold; it's even more complicated than the departure threshold. But it is the same threshold.
It's the threshold where that which has been missing is reintroduced to that which didn't know it was missed.
I have included below the 12 stages of the hero's journey, although I think you can craft your hero from much fewer stages.
Here's my short story version of The Hero's Journey.
"Our hero's village is a scene of serenity. It's secured by a high wall complete with guard towers. Residents feel safe, and their comradery is a recipe for mutual comfort.
Inside the walls is everything the village needs to be self-sufficient. Life is good.
Then one day, out of the setting sun comes something the villagers could never have imagined.
An immense dragon swoops down, breathing fire that sets the wall alight and kills a family of three concentrating on their work in the garden.
Before anyone understood what was happening, the beast flew higher and disappeared into the rays of the setting sun.
There was shock and despair that their world could be so easily disrupted. Village elders called everyone to the central square. The elders knew they needed to demonstrate leadership to calm the frightened villagers.
The elders spoke of their embryonic plan to ensure they could defend their home from the demonic dragon. The goal became focused during the next few days, and the villagers felt they could protect their homes.
In the home of the Smith family, there was great sadness that their cousins had been killed by the dragon's fiery breath. Daughter Marie in particular felt intense hatred for the dragon and secretly hoped she would have a chance to send her sword into the beast's chest.
Marie went to bed and dreamed of how she'd bravely stand before the dragon and position herself to plunge the sword into the beast's heart.
Over the next few days, life in the village began to return to normal. There was great sadness about the family killed by the dragon. Still, it was rationalized that the dragon may have been assuaged by taking only a few and that the village would be spared from further attacks.
The next day the villagers were cautiously performing their usual chores. The day was hot, and the sun began to sink towards the western horizon. Everyone working in the fields thought of fresh water and a shady tree. Then they lifted their heads.
The unmistakable sound of fiercely flapping wings was close, and a deep growl confirmed their worst fears. The dragon was back, and everyone began running toward safety.
The dragon's perspective was of a scene of panic. Precisely what it knew would happen.
Just to the left of the main field of corn, a family had decided to hide under an old wagon used for collecting corn cobs.
The dragon flew high to the east so the villagers would see it returning. It flew in low over the walls and released an intense burst of flame directed at the old wagon. The result was like an explosion as the flame's heat hit the wagon like a modern-day missile.
The dragon flew high and to the west. The villagers could see the charred remains of the wagon and the family that had sheltered there.
Everyone held their breath. Nobody made a sound.
One of the village leaders walked toward the wagon with one eye on the western sky. When he got to the wagon, he began to sob. The family that had been burned were his cousins, nieces, and nephews.
He stood sobbing, and slowly other villagers walked to stand next to him. A village elder ordered two men to climb to the western watchtower and watch for the dragon.
At this moment of tragedy and sadness, Marie knew she was the one to defend her village. She'd have to venture outside the walls to find the dragon's lair and remove its head.
Marie imagined the villagers' reaction as she rode to the village gates with the dragon's dust-covered head securely tied behind her horse's saddle."
I didn't fully flesh out Marie's story, but there was enough for you to sense Marie's heroism.
The Hero's Journey is as simple as my example or as complex as the complete twelve stages outlined below and used by George Lucas.
A short heroic story can be based on three stages and just as engaging as a much longer and more complex Hero's Journey.
The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey
The Twelve Stage Hero's Journey is a popular form of structure derived from Joseph Campbell's Monomyth from his book The Hero With A Thousand Faces and adapted by Christopher Vogler. This is essentially a more detailed Character Arc for your story's hero which is overlayed onto the more traditional three-act structure that many successful Hollywood movies such as Star Wars and The Wizard of Oz when analyzed appear to follow.
Hero's Journey - Mythic Structure - Monomyth
1. Ordinary World
This is where the Hero's exists before his present story begins, oblivious of the adventures to come. It's his safe place. His everyday life where we learn crucial details about our Hero, his true nature, capabilities and outlook on life. This anchors the Hero as a human, just like you and me, and makes it easier for us to identify with him and hence later, empathize with his plight.
2. Call To Adventure
The Hero's adventure begins when he receives a call to action, such as a direct threat to his safety, his family, his way of life or to the peace of the community in which he lives. It may not be as dramatic as a gunshot, but simply a phone call or conversation but whatever the call is, and however it manifests itself, it ultimately disrupts the comfort of the Hero's Ordinary World and presents a challenge or quest that must be undertaken.
3. Refusal Of The Call
Although the Hero may be eager to accept the quest, at this stage he will have fears that need overcoming. Second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether or not he is up to the challenge. When this happens, the Hero will refuse the call and as a result may suffer somehow. The problem he faces may seem to much to handle and the comfort of home far more attractive than the perilous road ahead. This would also be our own response and once again helps us bond further with the reluctant Hero.
4. Meeting The Mentor
At this crucial turning point where the Hero desperately needs guidance he meets a mentor figure who gives him something he needs. He could be given an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma he faces, wise advice, practical training or even self-confidence. Whatever the mentor provides the Hero with it serves to dispel his doubts and fears and give him the strength and courage to begin his quest.
5. Crossing The Threshold
The Hero is now ready to act upon his call to adventure and truly begin his quest, whether it be physical, spiritual or emotional. He may go willingly or he may be pushed, but either way he finally crosses the threshold between the world he is familiar with and that which he is not. It may be leaving home for the first time in his life or just doing something he has always been scared to do. However the threshold presents itself, this action signifies the Hero's commitment to his journey an whatever it may have in store for him.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
Now finally out of his comfort zone the Hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that test him in a variety of ways. Obstacles are thrown across his path; whether they be physical hurdles or people bent on thwarting his progress, the Hero must overcome each challenge he is presented with on the journey towards his ultimate goal.
The Hero needs to find out who can be trusted and who can't. He may earn allies and meet enemies who will, each in their own way, help prepare him for the greater ordeals yet to come. This is the stage where his skills and/or powers are tested and every obstacle that he faces helps us gain a deeper insight into his character and ultimately identify with him even more.
7. Approach To The Inmost Cave
The inmost cave may represent many things in the Hero's story such as an actual location in which lies a terrible danger or an inner conflict which up until now the Hero has not had to face. As the Hero approaches the cave he must make final preparations before taking that final leap into the great unknown.
At the threshold to the inmost cave the Hero may once again face some of the doubts and fears that first surfaced upon his call to adventure. He may need some time to reflect upon his journey and the treacherous road ahead in order to find the courage to continue. This brief respite helps the audience understand the magnitude of the ordeal that awaits the Hero and escalates the tension in anticipation of his ultimate test.
The Supreme Ordeal may be a dangerous physical test or a deep inner crisis that the Hero must face in order to survive or for the world in which the Hero lives to continue to exist. Whether it be facing his greatest fear or most deadly foe, the Hero must draw upon all of his skills and his experiences gathered upon the path to the inmost cave in order to overcome his most difficulty challenge.
Only through some form of "death" can the Hero be reborn, experiencing a metaphorical resurrection that somehow grants him greater power or insight necessary in order to fulfill his destiny or reach his journey's end. This is the high-point of the Hero's story and where everything he holds dear is put on the line. If he fails, he will either die or life as he knows it will never be the same again.
9. Reward (Seizing The Sword)
After defeating the enemy, surviving death and finally overcoming his greatest personal challenge, the Hero is ultimately transformed into a new state, emerging from battle as a stronger person and often with a prize.
The Reward may come in many forms: an object of great importance or power, a secret, greater knowledge or insight, or even reconciliation with a loved one or ally. Whatever the treasure, which may well facilitate his return to the Ordinary World, the Hero must quickly put celebrations aside and prepare for the last leg of his journey.
10. The Road Back
This stage in the Hero's journey represents a reverse echo of the Call to Adventure in which the Hero had to cross the first threshold. Now he must return home with his reward but this time the anticipation of danger is replaced with that of acclaim and perhaps vindication, absolution or even exoneration.
But the Hero's journey is not yet over and he may still need one last push back into the Ordinary World. The moment before the Hero finally commits to the last stage of his journey may be a moment in which he must choose between his own personal objective and that of a Higher Cause.
This is the climax in which the Hero must have his final and most dangerous encounter with death. The final battle also represents something far greater than the Hero's own existence with its outcome having far-reaching consequences to his Ordinary World and the lives of those he left behind.
If he fails, others will suffer and this not only places more weight upon his shoulders but in a movie, grips the audience so that they too feel part of the conflict and share the Hero's hopes, fears and trepidation. Ultimately the Hero will succeed, destroy his enemy and emerge from battle cleansed and reborn.
This is the final stage of the Hero's journey in which he returns home to his Ordinary World a changed man. He will have grown as a person, learned many things, faced many terrible dangers and even death but now looks forward to the start of a new life. His return may bring fresh hope to those he left behind, a direct solution to their problems or perhaps a new perspective for everyone to consider.
The final reward that he obtains may be literal or metaphoric. It could be a cause for celebration, self-realization or an end to strife, but whatever it is it represents three things: change, success and proof of his journey. The return home also signals the need for resolution for the story's other key players. The Hero's doubters will be ostracized, his enemies punished and his allies rewarded. Ultimately the Hero will return to where he started but things will clearly never be the same again.