Time for a walk.
Today I am writing to you to discuss the Hero’s journey.
The Hero’s journey is a well-known story structure, usually used for adventure-ish style stories, though it can easily be adapted to fit any kind of story. The Hero’s Journey comes from the monomyth developed by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces and later turned into the Twelve Stage Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
Today I want to explore the hero’s journey in a horror context so as to demonstrate how this structure can be adapted to fit any genre.
Stage One: The Ordinary World
This is effectively the beginning of the story when we demonstrate what the Hero’s current situation is. This is their starting point, they can be happy here or not, but this is their general day-to-day life before anything goes down.
Horror Story Stage One: A group of friends and their families are going camping as they do every year.
Stage Two: The Call to Adventure
This doesn’t actually have to be a literal call, no phones needed lol. Instead, this is the start of the story that kicks off the action. This can be a direct threat to our main character’s (or their family’s) safety, a disruption to the day to day normality.
Horror Story Stage Two: The camping group are attacked by a monster.
Stage Three: The Refusal of the Call
This is the stage can be demonstrated in one or two ways, either the hero can openly refuse the call to action, or they can be eager to accept it but have fears that are weighing them down, making them hesitant. There are usually unpleasant consequences to the refusal.
Horror Story Stage Three: The camping group try to escape, but ultimately find themselves lost in the woods, unable to find their way back to the cars. Our main character is angry at the attack and wants to bash heads but fears for the safety of his family. They run on foot, someone is killed as a result of running.
Stage Four: Meeting The Mentor
This is the point in the story where the Hero needs guidance. Usually, they will meet a mentor in some form or another. The mentor will provide something the hero needs, possibly an item or knowledge. This should give the hero courage to start the quest.
Horror Story Stage Four: The family meet a hermit in the woods, he tells them the woods are self-aware and are keeping them, prisoner, he also tells them about the monster chasing them and gives them a weapon.
Stage Five: Crossing the Threshold
In this stage, the hero acts on the call to adventure. He doesn’t have to go willingly, the adventure doesn’t have to be physical but this is the point where the hero actually goes and starts. He crosses the threshold between his previous life and his adventure.
Horror Story Stage Five: Our main character takes action to get his friends and family out of the woods. He starts to lead them out and is ready to fight the monster.
Stage Six: Tests, Allies, Enemies
This is probably going to be the biggest section of the story, as this is the stage where the hero is getting on with the adventure and is confronted by challenges and obstacles. These can be physical, mental or emotional. The Hero must overcome these challenges. This is usually done by meeting allies who will help him hone his skills so that he is prepared down the line to face the final challenge.
Horror Story Stage Six: on the way out of the woods the main character fights and defeats a minion of the monster and rescues another potential victim. The monster continues to stalk them from the shadows.
Stage Seven: The Cave
Think Star Wars Return of the Jedi, Luke in the cave. This is the point in the story when the hero must face either an external danger or an inner conflict, usually something the Hero has been avoiding but that has been lingering in the background. Often the Hero will take a moment to reflect allowing tension to build.
Horror Story Stage Seven: The family reach a clearing that they have to cross, but the monster is waiting in the centre. The main character takes time to consider alternatives before realising there are none and he has to cross the clearing.
Stage Eight: The Ordeal
While this is not quite the climax of your story it can easily be mistaken as such. This is the part of the story where the hero has to draw upon everything, he has built so far to either defeat a physical threat or overcome the main challenge be that emotional, mental or physical. This ordeal should cause the hero to suffer a ‘death’ be it of a preconceived notion, a belief, or perhaps one of the companions. This death will grant your hero greater insight so he can reach the end of the journey.
Horror Story Stage Eight: the main character leads the group into the clearing and faces the monster. One of the family/friends is killed and the main character defeats the monster.
Stage Nine: Reward (Seizing The Sword)
With the enemy/challenge defeated/completed your hero should take a moment to establish that they have transformed because of this. They are stronger, wiser, more emotionally developed etc. In some instances, they will be offered a prise, be it physical or more metaphorical. Sometimes this reward will allow the hero to travel back to his ordinary world.
Horror Story Stage Nine: with the monster defeated the trees part and the main character is able to leave the forest with friends and family.
Stage Ten: The Road Back
So like the Call to Adventure but backwards, heading home feeling validated and safe. In some stories there may be a choice at this point, to stay in the new world or go back to the old.
Horror Story Stage Ten: the car ride back home.
Stage Eleven: Resurrection
SURPRISE FINAL BATTLE TIME. Ha, you thought you were done but no! This is the actual climax where your Hero will have their most dangerous encounter with death. If your hero falls then not only will he fail but others will suffer as a result. This adds a big layer of tension, but not to worry your hero will succeed and move to the next and final stage of the journey.
Horror Story Stage Eleven: as they pull into the driveway the main character and friends discover that they are still somehow in the woods, the monster lied to them, they are still trapped. The main character fights the monster again, this time it is much harder but ultimately he wins. Yay.
Stage Twelve: Return with the Elixir
This is the real final stage of the Hero’s journey where they return home changed. Like before the reward received can be physical or metaphorical but must connect with the change, success and proof of the journey. You should also address the stories of the other people in the hero’s group, supporters and doubters alike.
Horror Story Stage Twelve: the main character is home, he and his family are safe.
I’d love to hear your take on the hero’s journey and how it applies to horror.