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The Structure of a Great Story: The Hero's Journey

The great universal legend that George Lucas has used in his work is referred to as the Hero's Journey. When you read the structure outlined below, think about Luke Skywalker's adventures in the first three Star Wars movies. The heroes' journey and variations of it can be found in Star Wars and many other movies you have seen and admired:

  • The Ordinary World—The hero is an ordinary person, living in the midst of his ordinary world.

  • The Call to Adventure—The hero receives the call to go on the adventure.

  • The Hero Refuses to Go—At first the hero refuses to go or is reluctant to heed the call, held back by fear or external forces.

  • A Mentor Appears—The hero is aided by a mentor who gives him a token of power and helps the hero to respond to the call.

  • The Hero Responds to the Call—The hero, with the mentor's help, takes the first step, passes beyond the point of no return, and enters the adventure.

  • The Hero Descends into the Non-ordinary World—The hero and the mentor move deeper into the adventure, leaving the ordinary world behind. This is also called the Descent, in which they are tested and find themselves in the midst of enemies and allies.

  • The Ordeal—The hero is taken deeper into the darkest recesses of the adventure to face alone the thing he most fears. The hero endures an ordeal of life-threatening proportions. Part of the hero is killed so that another part can live.

  • Transformation—The hero is transformed by the ordeal, takes possession of the reward, and begins the return out of the darkness. The hero is pursued by his enemies back to the ordinary world.

  • The Gift—The hero returns to ordinary life, endowed with a boon or a gift of power to benefit the Ordinary World.

NOTE

The structure outlined in the Hero's Journey can be seen in the plots of most adventure stories. If you are interested in reading more about this classic story structure and how it can empower your work as an artist and storyteller, read the following books: Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell, and The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler.

Every culture and time in history produces its own versions of the Hero's Journey. Star Wars is the latest of a long line of myths that continue to affect the three distinct generations that will grow up knowing the legends of Luke Skywalker. When Obi-Wan Kenobi taught Luke to "Listen to your feelings" and "Use the Force," he brought the ancient wisdom of the Jedi into our cultural consciousness. There is a Jedi Knight, or perhaps even a Darth Vader, in every one of us who has enjoyed the movie and its sequels.

The question is, how do myths, like Star Wars or the Hero's Journey, become universal? The answer can be found in some current thinking about how ideas and concepts are shared locally and globally.

This short expose´ of one kind of story structure will not make you a master storyteller. It's meant to raise your awareness about some fundamental factors you'll want to consider in your work as a max artist.

Your storytelling education will be a lifelong pursuit if you choose to follow that Hero's Journey. You might never have guessed that creating digital imagery and storytelling was such a psychological endeavor. It is! And to quote a famous meme, "A picture is worth a thousand words."

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