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The Practical Role Played by The Hero's Journey Structure in The Storytelling

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 When the ancestors first connected the dreams they had made last night with their daily life, and created the earliest myths, then used them in the religious rituals or just as bedtime stories for their children, they would not have expected that such stories would have strong vitality, and have even became one of the golden storytelling structures of the Hollywood plays today. Undoubtedly, it deserves to be preserved. From Propp and Campbell to Vogler, they gradually made the hero’s journey clear and easy to use. Campbell (2001) believed that those who made myths in ancient times are equivalent to artists today because the mission of artists is to express the environment and the world in a mythical way (p. 107). The writers who created masterpieces certainly would be included in the range of the artist. However, how to tell an attractive story is a question that every narrator is thinking about. It is not only a concern of the literary and film industry but also a proposition that needs to be discussed in all kinds of media fields. Stories give interaction, attract audiences, and bring the message that the organizer wants to convey. There is no doubt that no narrator will ignore the structure in the process of creation. In the film industry, The structure of the story is the core and key to the creation of a script. The most of the success or failure of a script depends on the structure of the story. Although it is not directly reflected on paper, a great movie must have an extraordinary story structure (Vogler, & McKenna, 2011, p. iii). Campell proposed that the collective unconscious (Jong, 1966, p. 14) which give a natural psychological identity with stories about myths and story created by mythological structure. And the American Film Institute has convened 1500 experts to vote for the 100 classic films that best represent American film culture. It has been found that more than 95% of the films have a distinct ‘hero’s journey’ story pattern (Contemporary Cinema, 2018). In this article, I will use a variety of literature to find out what is important for writers and their works, what must be put a high value in the process of storytelling, how the monomyth satisfy these requirements and then justify that the hero’s journey is a very creative writing tool. There are three specific aspects of the expressed with the monomyth will be proposed: complete a high-quality story character portrayal, the plot setting, and define the theme. At the same time, this time-honored creation structure based on countless myths and legends also allows the author to think about the act of writing itself. It also lists the doubts of this structure, which will be interpreted.

Firstly, The monomyth can help creators to create characters more detailed and vivid. Egri (1972), talking about the writing skills, mentioned that Henrik Ibsen asked himself to have a complete understanding of the characters in his writing work. The differences between characters should be significant. ‘…in characteristics, not in the course of the treatment’ (Egri, p. 33). The difference comes from the layered details of the character background. Field (2005) suggested building a character biography as an exercise (p. 49). Egri (1972) divided three dimensions of creating characters, which are physiology, sociology, and psychology (p. 33). The physiological difference is the most obvious, such as appearance and tone of speech. Second is his social situation. For example, family life, religion, and education. The two dimensions interact and produce the physiology, related to ambitions, quirks, and attitudes. Every component is not imaginary, which is refined by authors based on the environment in which the character is located and the things he has experienced.

The structure of the hero’s journey begins with the design of the character. It is necessary to set the protagonist’s conditions in all aspects of the ordinary world and find clues that can motivate him to answer the call from adventure. Moreover, The hero’s journey requires the writers to consider how to make the audience close and feel realistic to characters, especially heroes, such as having the common characteristic of human beings, or not being perfect. ‘A character who has a unique combination of contradictory impulses, such as trust and suspicion or hope and despair, seems more realistic and human than one who displays only one character trait. ‘ (Vogler, 2007, p. 31).

There are eight basic prototypes in the heroic journey, which is practical to help writers to understand the functions and characteristics of each archetype so that they can create more targeted characters. ‘If you grasp the function of the archetype which a particular character is expressing, it can help you determine if the character is pulling her full weight in the story’ (Vogler, 2007, p. 24). But not every archetype has to exist. Different archetypes can also be united as a single character. A person who initially has a certain identity can be transformed into another role with the development of plots. For example, in Harry Potter, Rubeus Hagrid as a herald announced the change and took Harry into the magical world, but he was also the partner of Harry. In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal has functions of both the shapeshifter, the shadow, and the mentor. In Avatar, Colonel Max initially was Jack’s mentor and later became Jack’s enemy. ‘Your characters can not be black and white, they can be light gray to dark gray’ (Egri, 1972, p. 117). And there are many categories of heroes. With the structure of monomyth, writers can have more comprehensive and flexible choices when creating characters.

Also, Successful works require characters to have motivation at all times. ‘it is not enough, in your study of a man, to know if: he is rude, polite, religious, atheistic, moral, degenerate. You must know why'(Egri, 1972, p. 33). ‘A pivotal character must not merely desire something. He must want it so badly that he will destroy or be destroyed in the effort to attain his goal’ (Egri, 1972, p. 106). It is the kind of hero that shaped by the Monomyth. This structure naturally motivates completing the character biography. The lost heroes have experienced in childhood or the frustration they have faced in society would lead them to desire: leave for the special world. Rookie writers often ignore the importance of motivation, which makes the role change suddenly and is illogical. If a person became an alien, which violated his will, He would not immediately stand on the opposite side of mankind and decide to fight against or dominate the earth. It not in line with human psychology.

The other advantage of the Monomyth for narrators is that it helps to understand the ‘character arc.’ This term often appears in the Hollywood drama manual, ‘A character is in constant change'(Egri, 1972, p. 46). The character arc is the process of your role to overcome his flaw(Chitlik, 2015, p. 98). The hero’s journey could be playing a role in writing works when the writer does not know how to let the character feel life and grow up. Because it is obvious that the structure describes the hero’s growth experience. It focuses on both the psychological and physical growth, which means the monomyth guides writers to provide a clear final goal and add the obstacles to the hero. Each time the problem is solved and the choice is made are the parts of the character arc. Finally, the hero can abstract the meaning of the journey and find the value of life. The hero’s journey can be used to describe not only the complete life of a character but also a storm in a short period. The process from Harry entering Hogwarts to destroying Voldemort, or the story of Triwizard Tournament, both could be seen as a journey. Besides, If we choose to compress the time of the journey or design the reward or elixir as the bet for this adventure, then the dramatic tension of the character arc will be stronger. Writers can get more writing methods as they continue learning from the monomyth.

When the construction of plot lines, The hero’s journey has the applied arrangement of the plots and conflicts, which matches the audience’s psychological expectations. They seek a sense of self-identity of the characters in the sensibility and check the structure of stories in the rationality through plot transitions and climaxes. The characters drive the plot, and they are so complex that the plot will change with unknowns. In the monomyth, the protagonist will refuse the call from the special world initially because of his fear. Also, he will fail and die in the middle of the journey due to immature thoughts, wrong choices or other factors. ‘Plot is the writer’s choice of events and their design in time’ (McKee, 1997, p. 43).

Hartman and Zimberoff (2009) summarized the major five steps of the hero journey (p. 7). Conflicts can be seen everywhere in these five steps. Superficially, conflicts represent obstacles that the protagonist encounters on the road. The creators follow the circle of the hero journey, using the guardians, enemies, shadow and other prototypes to set the hindrances. On the deeper phase, a story which in line with psychological expectations of the audience needs to have both external conflicts and internal conflicts (McKee,1997, p. 48). Ballon(2014) divided the conflict into three types: people with themselves, people with nature, and people with others (p. 50). People overcome their shortcomings in the journey. For example, in The Silence of the Lambs, Starling overcomes the childhood nightmare by catching the ‘Buffalo Bill’. And science fiction tends to explore the life and death of the smallest humans. Such as people resistance to unknown forces in alien invasions. The most common situation is the fight between protagonist and villain, whether it is the big devil in the adventure action film or the love rival in the romantic comedy.

Furthermore, The hero’s journey inspires the authors and helps them to define the main topic even the core grand narrative. Egri (1972) noted ‘premise’ in story works, it can be used as a keyword for the entire production and an emotional goal to convey to the audience. A common example of the premise is the ‘glory of the winner’, but specifically it can be the victory of winning the game, the joy of revenge success, the satisfaction of love, and the comfort of learning something new(p. 2). McKee (1997) argues that two concepts support the creative process, one is the premise, and the other is the controlling idea (p. 115). Since the hero’s journey is a structure that has a well-defined target, it requires the writer to constantly return to the original theme of the story at the process of creation, avoid deviation. McKee (1997) described that the ‘theme’, it is not a very clear word. Such as poverty, war, and love, they are not the themes. They are just words related to the background or genre (p. 114). This shows that it would be better for the writer to explain the theme with a single sentence or two. Therefore, when using the hero‘s journey structure to determine the theme, it can be more clear because it is related to what needs to achieved by the hero. ‘The more beautifully you shape your work around one clear idea, the more meanings audiences will discover in your film as they take your idea and follow its implications into every aspect of their lives.’ Just like some typical ideas in the monomyth, if the writer combines too many ideas in one piece, ‘it is saying nothing. ‘(p.115).

The monomyth plays a valuable role in the creation of grand narratives and the storyworld. Joseph Campbell (2008) gave an abundant case of mythological archetypes to summarize the foundation of the monomyth. In the long history, with the flux of different countries and regions, different periods of myths and legends have their setting, including geography, politics, art, religious beliefs, and the details of the hero’s journey will change accordingly. So if writers want to make every aspect of the grand narrative that happened reasonably, they need to understand and learn from the myriad myths and legends behind the hero’s journey. But the author should consider its realistic logic and cannot make unreasonable concessions the plot and the characters.

An instance compared ancient mythology between Greece and China. The former is a typical marine civilization, which is open, enterprising. The quality of daring to take risks and unrestrained romance is in Greek’s blood. In contrast, the ancient Chinese culture originated in the Yellow River Basin, which is about farming, fighting with nature, and tending to a lifestyle that is not exposed and unobtrusive, silent and tenacious, subtle and conservative. The god of ancient China is a model of the morality that people pursue (Birrell,1999). There is the political influence of the feudal system of ancient China for thousands of years. It was a kind of restraint for people, which was to better control their mind and manage state affairs. In Greece, the national character of the ocean and its city-state democracy have formed a concept of freedom and equality. They approve of human values and showed in myths that their gods also have human weaknesses. The gods on Mount Olympus are addicted to pleasure, dare to love and hate. They could be jealous, angry, selfish, arrogant, and all the shortcomings in human nature are also reflected in them. So as Karl Marx(2008), referring to the feature of the times, consider that Greece’s myth and the epic poem develop the most perfect human childhood product, has permanent charm.

Vogler (2007) observed that the critics suspected that the hero’s journey is too formulaic and will lead to a repetition of the stale plot. He pointed out that there are some professional writers instinctively reject all theories of drama, oppose principles, and advocate the freedom of creation. ‘But even that is a principle, and those who say they reject principles and theories cannot avoid subscribing to a few of them: avoid formula, distrust order and pattern, resist logic and tradition'(p. xvii). The indifference to the classic model has two drawbacks: the novice writer does not understand the conditions and criteria of the success story, and cannot rely on empiricism to avoid making mistakes. While the consequence of the rejection of the classic format for professional writers is that they might only have a limited audience. ‘No film can be made to work without an understanding of the reactions and anticipations of the audience’ (McKee, 1997, p. 8). ‘Because most people cannot relate to totally unconventional art’ (Vogler, 2007, p. xvii). In other words, the story based on the hero’s journey can provide a more conventional aesthetic experience. ‘Since screenplays that don’t organize their events in terms of causal connections will be seen as ‘uncommercial’ and so will have almost no chance of finding the funding to produce them or the means of distribution needed to reach an audience. ‘(Collin, 2019, p. 76). When they become minority works, which will lead to a commercial crisis. Film companies who focus on box office will reduce the possibility of purchasing. So as the words of Vogler(2007), ‘The Hero’s Journey was exciting, useful story technology which could help filmmakers and executives eliminate some of the guesswork and expense of developing stories for film.'(p. xxviii)

Vogler noted that there are also critics have proposed the hero’s journey model has made Hollywood-style movies suppress the development of film culture in other regions. However, the emergence of the type of films was mainly in a golden age of Hollywood, due to the end of the Second World War, with a peak of 1946 (Hall, 2010, p. 123). In the meantime, the type of film has already appeared its usual elements and forms, such as western films, gangsters and so on. And by 1948 the industry recession was rapid. The hero’s journey was proposed in 1949, so the cultural imperialism problem(Vogler, 2007, p. xix) in Hollywood cannot simply be attributed to a story structure that is more applicable to life than the drama.

At the same time, the word ‘hero’ caused discussion. Whether it’s advocating war or gender stereotype. Especially the moment, the ‘me too’ movement and the discussion about the right of female, has made the word ‘hero’ a masculine critique. Murdock (2016) argues that in her interview with Cambell, he responded that women don’t need to make the journey (p.24), which is annoyed her. So she discovered the journey of heroine, which begins with ‘Separation from the feminine’ and ends with ‘Integration of masculine and feminine'(p. 30). The heroine journey was discussed as a structural variant. This further reflects the flexibility of the hero’s journey structure itself. All of these show that the monomyth continues updating itself to capture the trends like global marketing and communication.

The value of the monomyth to a creator lies in the writing practice and the way of thinking. ‘The writer must master classical form'(McKee, 1997, p. 64). In the specific creative process, it helps narrators to deal with the details of the background, motivation and the pattern of the characters, provides reference for conflicts and plot arrangements, and at the same time trigger the creators to think about the macroscopic theme of the works. Sometimes we find that almost all existing stories can coincide with some parts structure of the hero’s journey. In other words, in the process of analyzing the story, authors can usually use the part of the hero journey as a theoretical basis. As Vogler (2007) said, it is a format, not a formula (p. xvi). It is flexible, make changes and insist on updating according to different environments and creators. More importantly, it allows authors to begin to consider the evolution and meaning of individuals or groups in the writing process, even including himself in real life. For the writer, if writing is regarded as an adventure, then completing a successful work is his hero’s journey.

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