The Hero’s Journey is a story structure that tells how a hero starts in one place, goes on an adventure into an unknown world, and then returns to what they started with.
This blog post will explain the 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey and share how you can use this common plot structure to write your own story or novel.
What is the Hero’s Journey?
Joseph Campbell first introduced the Hero’s Journey in 1949. It is based on the idea that we can break down most stories into one basic story structure.
The plot structure of the Hero’s Journey is made up of 17 steps, all of which can be excellent guideposts for you when plotting your novel and planning your chapters.
To simplify the 17 steps of the Hero’s Journey, there are 3 main acts of the story: The Departure, The Initiation, and The Return.
Here’s an overview of all of the 17 steps of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey:
Act One: The Departure
- The Call to Adventure
- Refusal of the Call
- Supernatural Aid
- The Crossing of the First Threshold
- Belly of the Whale
Act 2: The Initiation:
- The Road of Trials
- The Meeting with the Goddess
- Woman as the Temptress
- Atonement with the Father/Abyss
- The Ultimate Boon
Act 3: The Return:
- Refusal of the Return
- The Magic Flight
- Rescue from Without
- The Crossing of the Return Threshold
- Master of the Two Worlds
- Freedom to Live
To understand the 17 steps of the hero’s journey, we will share with you exactly what happens in each step and what it should include. We’ve divided the 17 steps into the three main acts: The Departure, The Initiation, and the Return.
Let’s dive on in, shall we?
The Departure (Act 1) of the Hero’s Journey is all about your novel’s main characters and their ordinary lives. You want to show how they live before something happens that throws them into a world outside of what was normal for them.
In a nutshell, The Departure is when we see our heroes start in their current environment and set out on an adventure where they leave their comfort zone.
There are 5 steps of the Departure, each of which can help you base your chapters for your novel. Let’s look at these 5 steps in detail.
The Call to Adventure
In the first 1 or 2 chapters of our book, our character is introduced and is given the call to adventure. Of course, the call to adventure is what sets our character on their journey. There is a moment when our hero realizes something isn’t right, and it’s time for them to become the hero of their own story.
The Call to Adventure should introduce your main characters and what part of life they are living before things start changing for them. You want this to be a scene that you can use to give your reader an idea of who they are and what their life is like.
The call to adventure is sometimes also called the inciting incident because it often comes from another character or situation in which our hero feels compelled to do something. This could come in the form of a problem or something that they’ve always wanted to accomplish.
Once we understand the character’s life and why they must go on their journey, we move onto the next crucial element: Refusal of the Call.
Refusal of the Call
The Refusal of the Call sounds like it’s a bad thing, but in reality, it can help the hero grow and become more self-sufficient. In this step of the Departure, we see that our character isn’t sure if they are ready for such an adventure.
The refusal of the call is often used as a way for your reader to get more insight into some of your character’s weaknesses. It can also open up the character to seeing what they are missing in their life and get them a little more excited about going after it.
When writing your story, you will show your readers why your hero is reluctant to go on the journey. Why don’t they want to change? What are their fears? This step helps build your character arc, as well as builds some suspense in the story.
You also want to make sure in this step that the refusal of the call is resolved in some way. This can be through another character encouraging your hero or by realizing what they are missing out on if they don’t go on the journey.
Either way, you need to ensure this scene or chapter ends with the hero deciding to accept the challenge.
After your main character decides whether or not they want to go on this journey, we move onto Supernatural Aid.
Supernatural aid is the hero’s first experience with a mentor or teacher. While we use the term supernatural here, it does not necessarily have to be some mystical being.
It could be a random stranger giving our hero advice or someone who has been to this magical place before and knows the path. The important thing is this character is someone who will help your protagonist in their journey.
Supernatural aid helps your audience understand there will be obstacles along the way. The hero will need help. You will need a strong supporting character willing to give our main character advice on how they should proceed through their journey.
In this scene, you want to show us why you chose these characters for mentors. What qualities do they possess? Do they have experience with adventures like this? Why can they help the hero, and more importantly, why do they want to help the hero?
Once this person is introduced, we are ready for the next stage of the Hero’s Journey: Crossing the First Threshold.
Crossing the First Threshold
Crossing the first threshold is where your hero commits to going on the journey. They may have made some attempts at it before, but now they are fully committed and ready to go, even if that means leaving their comfort zone behind.
Your character will be doing something different than what they’ve done in the past, or perhaps this act will lead them into a dark and dangerous place.
For example, your hero may leave their home for the first time to go on this journey, or they are finally ready to go and confront someone who has been standing in their way of happiness.
In this 4th step of the Hero’s Journey, you want to show your reader why this is such a big change for the character.
You want to show your character scared and uncertain of what lies ahead for them while still being brave enough to continue on their journey! You don’t need to make this scene too long or spend time explaining every little detail; just put us in the headspace of your hero so we can understand what unknown dangers and fears are ahead.
Once our hero takes their first steps towards danger, we find ourselves in the Belly of the Whale.
Belly of the Whale
The Belly of the Whale is the last step before the hero breaks away from their normal existence and sense of self. When someone enters this stage, they are showing that they want to change.
A typical element of the Belly of the Whale Scene is displaying a small problem or threat. These problems aren’t the major conflict of the story, but it is enough of an obstacle that we see the hero absolutely cannot go back to where they used to be and must change.
In this scene, it’s common to show a “dark night of the soul.” This is where they feel like everything in their life has been turned upside down, and things seem hopeless. Yet, they must commit to making a change and continuing on their journey in this final step of the Departure stage.
Now that we’ve covered all the steps of the Departure state let’s move onto Act 2: The Initiation.
The second act of our story, the Initiation, is the part where things get interesting. The character is now deeper into their journey and facing new challenges that they must overcome.
Not only are we focusing on our hero’s personal development, but our protagonist’s character traits start to change. They will be showing how they’ve become different from who they were in Act One and developing the traits needed for a successful journey.
The Road of Trials
The first scene or chapter of the Initiation stage of the Hero’s Journey is The Road of Trials. The Road of Trials is where the protagonist faces a series of tests that your hero must pass to move onto the next stage.
These trials will continue until our hero has shown they are ready for whatever is waiting ahead on their journey and have discovered what lessons they needed to learn along the way.
Usually, there is a series of 3 tests, and your hero will not ace all of them immediately. Sometimes, we will revisit the person introduced as a mentor or guiding force from Act One in these scenes, as the hero will certainly need some support in going through these trials.
In this scene, you want to make sure your reader sees how the hero experiences growth and changes. You want your reader to appreciate how far our hero has come along their journey, but there are still more experiences ahead for them!
The Meeting with the Goddess
The next step of the Initiation stage is The Meeting with the Goddess/Saviour. This is where we are introduced to someone who will give our protagonist a sense of love, peace, safety, and unity.
This character is essential because they offer our protagonist something he didn’t have before and will be the support that helps them through whatever journey lies ahead. Sometimes they appear as a love interest, but not always.
The Goddess figure is often human but could also be an animal or nature spirit. They are someone who will help your hero become whole again. They are an equal opposite of your hero.
In this scene, we want our hero to feel everything is going to be okay now. They will learn that they don’t need to face their problems alone; someone here with them understands what they are going through.
Of course, this doesn’t last forever as we move into the next chapter: Woman as the Temptress.
Woman as the Temptress
In this next step, the hero faces physical temptations that might cause them to be distracted from their quest. Again, it’s important to understand this does not mean you need to introduce a female character in this scene – the woman is only a metaphorical symbol.
Many things can tempt our heroes to stray from their path. It might be money, power, or fame. It could even be something as simple as food and drink. But, of course, these temptations are not meant actually to distract the protagonist from their path. Our hero must resist them to gain a greater reward at the end of this stage.
Throughout this scene, they may face several such temptations until our hero learns how to resist them and stay focused on what they really want.
Atonement with the Father/Abyss
The word Atonement means “reparations for a wrong or injury,” and the Father is a symbol for an authority figure in the hero’s life. Finally, the Abyss represents death or darkness.
In this scene, the hero must confront whatever it is that holds the most power over them. This could be another character or it could even be internal conflict where the hero must come face-to-face with the dark side of their personality and be willing to embrace it.
The goal of this step in the Hero’s Journey is to make your protagonist question their entire being. Only when they confront the most powerful obstacle in their path and reconcile with it can they move forward on their journey.
As with most characters, the father does not have to be an actual father or even a male figure. The important thing is this figure is a person of power and authority over the hero.
There are many ways the hero can reconcile with the father figure – they can defeat this person, win this person’s approval, or reconcile with a part of themselves that is related to the father.
This step is important because it forces your protagonist to face their biggest fears and insecurities. It gives them the opportunity and confidence boost to overcome these obstacles once and for all.
Apotheosis is another word for “the highest point of a person’s spiritual, moral or intellectual development.” It is when the protagonist transcends their humanity and becomes something more than they were before.
In this step of The Hero’s Journey, your protagonist will undergo an important change that brings them closer to being the ideal self they set out to be at the beginning.
In this stage of the Hero’s Journey, our hero learns something new about themselves that prepares them for the hardest part of their journey. This revelation gives them the necessary knowledge to complete their quest.
This step is often referred to as “the answer.” The protagonist will usually gain this new insight from a character who embodies wisdom or spiritual power, such as their mentor figure.
Now that our character has finally grown to where they need to be to accomplish their quest, they are ready for The Ultimate Boon’s next step.
The Ultimate Boon
The ultimate boon is the fulfillment of the purpose of the journey. This is when the hero finally achieves what they set out to accomplish.
All of the previous steps of the journey worked to this point to help the hero finally reach their goal.
In mythology, the “boon” is often something otherworldly. It could be the fountain of youth, an ancient scroll with sacred information, or a magical potion.
There are many ways to play out this step of The Hero’s Journey, so your character’s end goal will determine what the boon is.
This step of The Hero’s Journey often includes a battle with something that opposes your protagonist, such as an enemy or villain.
Our heroes might have to face their own dark side to achieve this final prize and complete their journey successfully. This could cause them to question whether or not they even want what the boon is.
When your protagonist achieves this final goal, it marks a major change in their life. Now we are ready to proceed to Act 3: The Return.
Act 3: The Return
Act Three of the Hero’s Journey often moves faster than the other acts of our story. In The Return, we see how the protagonist’s newfound knowledge and achievement of their goal affect their life and world.
This step of The Hero’s Journey is crucial because it gives us a glimpse as to what our character has learned from this journey, which is the ultimate test of whether they have truly successfully achieved their quest or not.
Let’s dive into the remaining scenes of our story.
Refusal of the Return
The Refusal of the Return is when our protagonist does not want to return home after achieving their goal. They may be too frightened of what awaits them, or they may not want to give up the new life and world they have found themselves in.
Just as they were hesitant to go on the adventure in the beginning, they are also hesitant to go back.
They may be concerned with how their “boon” might affect the world – such as a magic potion or secret power that could get into the wrong hands. They may worry about what consequences they may face when they go back, or they may be afraid nothing is left for them to return to.
In some cases, our hero doesn’t want to leave because they have become comfortable with their new world and who they have become.
However, to truly finish the quest, our hero must return home. This refusal of return helps build up the tension to the final resolution of the story. This is when the reader questions whether the hero will return home – and wonders with great anticipation of what might happen when it happens.
The Magic Flight
The Magic Flight is the final conflict to the story where our protagonist must escape danger, sometimes using their newfound knowledge or boon. This is a way of symbolically proving that they have truly learned from this journey and are ready to bring it back home with them.
This part of The Hero’s Journey often involves a chase scene or battle against an opposing force. However, this is the final push necessary push they need to realize they must make the journey home because it becomes apparent they cannot stay where they are.
Rescue from Without
The Rescue From Without step of the Hero’s Journey is when the protagonist is rescued from danger by an outside source.
This outside source may be an ordinary person, or it might resemble deus ex machina, or god-like intervention, where something rescues our hero from an impossible situation, such as lightning striking that saves the day for our hero.
When you are writing the rescue scene, the circumstances of the rescue must be believable. Most people do not like the deus ex machina in writing simply because it’s too easy.
Those of us who have lived life long enough all know that a magic fairy godmother isn’t going to swoop us in, wave her wand and make all our problems disappear.
After being rescued, the hero truly has no other choice except to return home.
The Crossing of the Return Threshold
The Crossing of the Return Threshold is when our protagonist finally returns home after completing their adventure and achieving their goal.
This is the part of The Hero’s Journey where we see what they have learned from this journey and how it affects them.
In this story scene, you will want to answer the following questions: How has the hero changed from their journey? How is their old world different from when they left? How do they acclimate to being back home? Finally, how do others react to their return?
Master of the Two Worlds
This is the part of The Hero’s Journey where our protagonist has reached their full potential. They have overcome their fears and grown in ways they could never have imagined.
They are a new person and have been forever changed by what they’ve experienced. Yet, it allows them to go back into society with heightened wisdom, power, skills, or resources that will help others in need when called upon again.
In this scene, we see the hero apply their knowledge and share it with the world.
Freedom to Live
After our hero has conquered all of their fears and has put their wisdom to good use, the hero finally has the freedom to do anything they want.
This is the resolution of our story – we see our heroes accomplish their “happily ever after.” Their fears or concerns no longer control them, and nothing exists between them and what they want.
More often than not, this closing chapter of the story gives the reader some closure. We want some type of affirmation that the story is truly complete. We get a glimpse of what our protagonist will do with their life now that they are free to live it.
If you’re looking for a story structure that is proven and effective, the Hero’s Journey might be perfect for you. With 17 stages of development, it will help you create an engaging plot with your readers and develop strong characters.
And of course, while the Hero’s Journey is the classic beat sheet for writers, remember you don’t always have to dedicate one chapter to each step. Sometimes you can combine 2-3 steps in one scene, while other steps might take several chapters to cover.
The important thing is you now know the Hero’s Journey! We hope this is helpful for you – whether you are writing your own novel or studying the Hero’s Journey arc in literature. Most of all, we hope that by breaking down each step of the Hero’s Journey, you can better understand all of it.
Do you have any thoughts or questions on the Hero’s Journey? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below!