What are the hero journey stages?

Picture yourself gathered around a campfire, listening intently as a seasoned storyteller weaves a tale of adventure, bravery, and personal growth. Whether it’s an ancient myth, a classic novel, or a modern blockbuster movie, the stories that captivate our hearts and minds often share a secret: they follow the timeless structure of the Hero Journey Stages. First identified by the remarkable Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey has transcended cultural and historical boundaries to become a blueprint for powerful storytelling.

So, grab your metaphorical backpack and join us as we embark on an adventure to discover the magic behind the stories that have shaped our world!

Origins of the Hero’s Journey

Once upon a time, a curious and insightful man named Joseph Campbell embarked on a scholarly quest to understand the deeper meaning behind our most beloved stories. His journey led him to write the groundbreaking book, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” which unveiled the intriguing concept of the monomyth—a single, universal narrative that resonates across cultures and time periods. Campbell’s work not only revolutionized the study of mythology but also illuminated the common threads that unite us all through the power of storytelling.

The monomyth concept

The idea of the monomyth, or the “one story,” suggests that beneath the surface of our diverse tales lies a shared narrative structure that captures the essence of the human experience. Campbell recognized that stories from vastly different cultures often followed a similar pattern, featuring a hero who embarks on a transformative journey, overcomes adversity, and ultimately returns home, forever changed. This underlying structure, which has since become known as the Hero Journey Stages, serves as the scaffolding upon which countless stories have been built, transcending boundaries and connecting us through the universal language of myth.

Universal patterns in myths and stories

As you delve deeper into the world of myths, legends, and folklore, you might be amazed to discover just how often the Hero’s Journey emerges as a common narrative thread. From the epic adventures of Odysseus and Gilgamesh to the fantastical exploits of Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker, the Hero’s Journey is a tried-and-true template that has withstood the test of time. Its enduring appeal lies in its ability to evoke our innate human desire for growth, transformation, and the pursuit of a greater purpose. Through the knowledge of what this popular writing structure is and how it works, we can not only appreciate its remarkable impact on the stories that have shaped our world but also harness its power to create our own unforgettable tales.

The 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey

Here are the 12 hero journey stages that can give you a head start on your writing:

The Ordinary World

Imagine our hero, nestled in the comfort of their familiar surroundings, blissfully unaware of the grand adventure that awaits them. The Ordinary World is where our hero’s story begins, and it’s essential to establish this setting to highlight the contrast between their everyday life and the extraordinary journey that lies ahead.

The Call to Adventure

Suddenly, the hero’s world is disrupted by an event, a message, or an encounter that sparks the flame of adventure. This pivotal moment is known as the Call to Adventure, and it’s the catalyst that propels our heroes from their mundane existence into a world of possibility and uncertainty.

Refusal of the Call

Change can be scary, and our hero might not readily accept the challenge before them. In the Refusal of the Call, the hero hesitates or resists the call to action, revealing their vulnerabilities, fears, or insecurities. This stage helps us relate to the hero on a deeper level, as we too have experienced moments of self-doubt and trepidation.

Meeting with the Mentor

Thankfully, our hero doesn’t have to face their journey alone. Enter the Mentor, a wise and experienced guide who offers the hero knowledge, encouragement, and the tools they need to face the challenges ahead. The mentor’s influence is crucial in helping the hero find the courage to accept their destiny.

Crossing the First Threshold

Armed with newfound wisdom and determination, our heroes finally takes the plunge and crosses the First Threshold, leaving their ordinary world behind. This significant step marks the point of no return, as the hero fully commits to their adventure and enters the unfamiliar and often dangerous realm of the unknown.

Tests, Allies, and Enemies

In the new world, our hero encounters a series of tests that challenge their skills, resilience, and character. Along the way, they forge alliances with supportive companions and face off against formidable foes. These trials and relationships help the hero grow, learn, and prepare for the greater ordeals that await them.

Approach to the Inmost Cave

As the hero nears the heart of their adventure, they must confront their deepest fears and darkest secrets in the Approach to the Inmost Cave. This stage represents the hero’s inner journey, as they come face-to-face with the emotional and psychological obstacles standing in the way of their ultimate goal.

The Ordeal

The moment of truth arrives as our hero confronts their greatest challenge in the Ordeal. This intense, often life-threatening crisis pushes the hero to their limits, forcing them to draw upon their newfound strength, courage, and wisdom to overcome the odds and achieve a personal transformation.

Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Having triumphed over the Ordeal, our hero is rewarded with a valuable prize, often referred to as Seizing the Sword. This can be a physical object, new knowledge, or even a deeper sense of self-awareness. The reward signifies the hero’s growth and marks the beginning of their journey home.

The Road Back

With the reward in hand, our hero must now navigate the treacherous Road Back. This stage often includes a reversal of fortune, as the hero faces new challenges and dangers while retracing their steps to return to the Ordinary World.


Just when we thought the adventure was over, the hero undergoes a final test known as the Resurrection. This climactic confrontation often echoes the hero’s earlier Ordeal, but now they must demonstrate their growth and newfound abilities to overcome the last remaining obstacle before returning home.

Return with the Elixir

last, our hero completes their journey and returns to the Ordinary World, forever changed by their experiences. This stage, known as the Return with the Elixir, sees the hero bring back newfound wisdom, knowledge, or a literal or metaphorical treasure that benefits their community. In the end, the hero’s transformation not only renews their own spirit but also enriches the lives of those around them, demonstrating the lasting impact of their incredible adventure.

Through these 12 hero journey stages, this structure serves as a powerful narrative framework that resonates with our deepest emotions and desires. As we follow our heroes on their transformative quests, we too embark on our own inner journeys, discovering valuable lessons about courage, resilience, and the indomitable human spirit.

The Hero’s Journey and Modern Storytelling

Examples in literature, movies, and television

The hero journey stages have been a powerful storytelling structure in modern literature, movies, and television. Here are some notable examples from each medium:


  1. “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien – The journey of Frodo Baggins, as he leaves his idyllic Shire to destroy the One Ring and save Middle-earth.
  2. “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins – Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the deadly Hunger Games, ultimately leading a rebellion against a tyrannical government.
  3. “Harry Potter” series by J.K. Rowling – The coming-of-age story of Harry Potter, who discovers his magical heritage and embarks on a quest to defeat the dark wizard Voldemort.


  1. “Star Wars” saga – The iconic adventures of Luke Skywalker, who leaves his desert home, learns the ways of the Force, and faces the evil Empire.
  2. “The Matrix” – Neo, a hacker, learns about the true nature of reality and his role in a rebellion against oppressive machines.
  3. “The Lion King” – Simba, a young lion, overcomes his past and returns to his homeland to reclaim his rightful place as king.


  1. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – Buffy Summers, a high school student, accepts her destiny as the Chosen One, protecting her town from vampires, demons, and other supernatural threats.
  2. “Avatar: The Last Airbender” – Aang, the last surviving Airbender, must master all four elements to defeat the Fire Nation and bring balance to the world.
  3. “Doctor Who” – The Doctor, a time-traveling alien, embarks on countless adventures throughout time and space, protecting the universe from various threats.

These examples demonstrate the versatility of the hero journey stages, as it can be adapted to various genres, settings, and protagonists. The structure continues to resonate with audiences, capturing the imagination and providing a framework for powerful storytelling.

Variations and adaptations of the structure

While the hero journey stages have proven its enduring appeal, contemporary storytellers have also taken creative liberties to adapt and reinvent the classic structure. These variations can include merging or rearranging stages, crafting unconventional heroes, or even presenting the journey from multiple perspectives. The beauty of the Hero’s Journey lies in its versatility, allowing writers to explore new and innovative ways of storytelling while still remaining grounded in the universal themes that resonate with audiences around the world.

The Heroine’s Journey: Maureen Murdock’s work and its significance

As we celebrate the rich stories inspired by the Hero’s Journey, it’s essential to acknowledge the voices and perspectives that have historically been underrepresented in traditional narratives. Maureen Murdock’s work on the Heroine’s Journey is a vital contribution in this regard, exploring the unique experiences and challenges faced by female protagonists. By embracing the Heroine’s Journey and other alternative narrative structures, we can empower a more diverse and inclusive array of heroes, enriching our collective imagination and fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience.

In the ever-evolving landscape of modern storytelling, the hero journey stages continue to offer a solid foundation for crafting compelling narratives that stand the test of time.

How to Implement the Hero Journey Stages in Your Writing

Identifying the stages in your story

So, you’re ready to embark on your own storytelling adventure and weave the magic of the Hero’s Journey into your writing. The first step is to familiarize yourself with the 12 hero journey stages and pinpoint where they fit within your narrative. Don’t worry if your story doesn’t follow the structure precisely, as the Hero’s Journey is meant to serve as a guide rather than a rigid template. Remember, you have the creative freedom to adapt and modify the stages to suit your unique vision, so let your imagination run wild!

Character development through the journey

The heart and soul of any great story lie in its characters, and the Hero’s Journey is no exception. As you map out your hero’s path, be sure to consider how each hero journey stage will impact their growth and transformation. Ask yourself: What lessons will they learn? How will their relationships evolve? What inner demons must they confront? By delving deep into your hero’s psyche, you’ll create a multi-dimensional character that your readers can truly connect with, bringing your story to life.

Balancing plot and character arcs

While the hero journey stages provide a solid foundation for your narrative, it’s essential to strike a balance between the external events of the plot and the internal journey of your hero. Keep in mind that the hero journey stages are not just about the physical challenges your hero faces; it’s also about their emotional and psychological growth. As you weave together your story’s action and character development, strive to create a seamless interplay between the two, ensuring that each twist and turn of the plot drives your hero’s transformation and propels them closer to their ultimate goal.

If you decide to integrate the hero journey stages into your writing, you’ll not only create a compelling narrative structure that resonates with readers, but also breathe life into your characters and their emotional journeys. However, keep in mind that the hero journey stages are just the beginning – it’s up to you to put your own unique spin on this timeless tale and share your story with the world.

Criticisms and Limitations of the Hero’s Journey

Oversimplification of storytelling

While the Hero’s Journey has become a beloved narrative framework, it’s essential to acknowledge that it doesn’t encompass the full spectrum of storytelling possibilities. Some critics argue that the Hero’s Journey oversimplifies the complex and diverse nature of stories, reducing them to a single formula. As a writer, it’s important to recognize that not all stories will fit neatly into the Hero’s Journey mold, and that’s perfectly okay. Embrace the opportunity to explore alternative narrative structures and techniques to bring your unique vision to life.

Lack of diversity in traditional heroes

Another criticism of the hero journey stages is its portrayal of traditional heroes, which has often been dominated by male, Western-centric characters. This limited representation can perpetuate stereotypes and exclude the diverse voices and perspectives that enrich our collective imagination. As storytellers, we have the power to challenge these norms by creating heroes that reflect a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and identities, ensuring that our stories resonate with a broader audience.

Rigid structure and predictability

While the Hero’s Journey provides a clear and cohesive narrative structure, it can also lead to predictability if followed too closely. As a writer, it’s crucial to find the right balance between adhering to the familiar beats of the Hero’s Journey and surprising your readers with unexpected twists and turns. Don’t be afraid to break the rules and subvert expectations, as doing so can breathe fresh life into your story and keep your readers on the edge of their seats.

Despite its criticisms and limitations, the Hero’s Journey remains a valuable tool for writers seeking to create engaging and emotionally resonant stories. By acknowledging these concerns and using the hero journey stages as a starting point rather than a rigid formula, you can create stories that captivate your readers and leave a lasting impact. After all, the true power of storytelling lies in its ability to inspire, challenge, and transform both the heroes within our tales and the readers who embark on the journey with them.


After this article, it’s clear that this enduring narrative structure has captivated the hearts and minds of storytellers and audiences alike. From ancient myths to modern literature, movies, and television, the Hero’s Journey offers a powerful framework for crafting tales of transformation, resilience, and self-discovery.

While it’s important to recognize the criticisms and limitations of the hero journey stages, we must also appreciate the versatility and adaptability of this timeless structure. As writers and creators, we have the opportunity to build upon the foundation of the hero journey stages, exploring new and innovative ways of storytelling that challenge conventions and celebrate the diversity of the human experience.

Ultimately, the true magic of the Hero’s Journey lies in its ability to inspire, uplift, and connect us through the shared language of the story. As you embark on your own creative journey, may you harness the power of the hero journey stages to bring your unique visions to life and leave an indelible mark on the hearts of your readers. Good luck with your writing!

As an individual with a penchant for the written word, interactive games, and vinyl records, I find joy in exploring the rich tapestry of human creativity. With each turn of a page, press of a button, or spin of a record, I dive into a world of boundless imagination. As an avid bookworm, I find solace in the pages of captivating stories, while gaming enables me to navigate exhilarating challenges and immersive experiences. Together, these passions shape my identity, allowing me to connect with like-minded individuals and celebrate the richness of human expression.

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