Does it speak well for women, or badly, that while the classic Hero’s Journey involves 12 steps, the innovative Heroine’s Journey involves 13?
Is that because women take longer to reach their happily ever after? Or does it mean they have more fascinating avenues to explore than men?
Actually, either gender could follow either journey. It started with mythologist Joseph Campbell…
…discovering that all the world's great legends tell a similarly-structured story. This hero’s tale:
(1) begins in the Ordinary World. He receives some kind of
(2) Call To Adventure and at first he
(3) Refuses The Call. But then after
(4) Meeting With The Mentor, he decides to embark and
(5) Crosses The Threshold into a special world. There he meets up with
(6) Tests-Allies-Enemies, and this prepares him to
(7) Approach The Innermost Cave where he faces an enormous challenge, the
(8) Ordeal. He prevails and earns his
(9) Reward, then starts traveling
(10) The Road Back home -- except along the way, he comes up against his
(11) Final Challenge-Resurrection, at which point he ultimately triumphs so now he can
(12) Return With The Elixir.
All perfectly good stuff that's beloved and used by thousands, or maybe even millions, of novelists and screenwriters who've read Christopher Vogler's summary of this lineup called The Hero's Journey.
But one screenwriter, Kim Hudson, kept wondering why that system didn't quite work for feminine archetypes…so she created The Virgin's Promise (a fabulous book, by the way).
Recognizing that every character who embarks on a journey of emotional growth isn't necessarily a virgin, nor a woman, she also calls it The Prince's Promise. But with either name, you get the impression that this protagonist is someone who hasn't had — at least not yet — a whole lot of room to explore the world.
And Chris Vogler loved Kim Hudson's premise. He wrote that the two systems, The Hero's Journey and The Virgin's Promise, work nicely for characters in the same story because the ideas are complementary rather than conflicting.
Which means if you already love the 12 steps followed by the hero, that won't interfere with using the 13 steps followed by the heroine. (Or the prince; whatever works for you.)
This character’s story opens in the:
(1) Dependent World, where she's busy paying the
(2) Price Of Conformity. But then along comes an
(3) Opportunity to Shine, and as she tries this new behavior she even
(4) Dresses The Part. It gets tricky balancing her
(5) Secret World with the dependent one, which soon
(6) No Longer Fits. Only after she gets
(7) Caught Shining and can no longer be her old repressed self does she finally
(8) Give Up What Gets Her Stuck, which results in such upheaval that she sees her
(9) Kingdom In Chaos. No longer able to live her former life, she
(10) Wanders In The Wilderness until at last she commits to
(11) Choosing Her Light and becomes her true self, which means
(12) Re-Ordering her world. So now, at last, the entire
Looking at just the labels for each step, it sounds a bit woo-woo. But when put into practice, it outlines a genuinely plausible path for a heroine whose greatest challenge isn’t related to desperate criminals and evil sorcerers and ferocious dragons, but rather to her children.
There’s sure nothing wrong with books where all the excitement comes from criminals and dragons. That’s why The Heroine’s Journey will probably never be essential to writers whose books focus solely on hard-core mystery and physical danger.
But for novelists who care about what’s going on inside the characters as well as outside…these 13 steps are gold. Because such a heroine is usually involved with other people who (often with the best and most loving intentions in the world) want her to stay where THEY think she belongs, rather than where she discovers she can truly become her best self.
We'll get into more detail on that next month at my WriterUniv.com class on "The Hero's Journey, For Heroines," but meanwhile I'd love to hear about ANY of the 13 steps above you’ve already seen a character taking. You might’ve included some in your own books without ever using those labels, or you might’ve noticed them in a movie or other story.
What do you think, faithful WITS followers? Have you used the Hero's Journey, or The Virgin's Promise in your stories? (wittingly or unwittingly). Tell us what you think!
* * * * *
One person chosen from today's commenters, who describes any such step, will win free registration to the September class, and I’ll look forward to walking through whatever heroine’s journey you’d like to explore!
After winning Romantic Times' "Best Special Edition of the Year" over Nora Roberts, Laurie Schnebly Campbell discovered she loved teaching every bit as much as writing…if not more. Since then she's taught online and live workshops for writers from London and Los Angeles to New Zealand and New York, and keeps a special section of her bookshelves for people who've developed that particular novel in her classes. With 42 titles there so far, she's always hoping for more.