Many types of stories in the cinema repeat themselves as patterns, which remains done because they have remained proven to work. A script reader, whose job it is to sift through so that the producer can then choose from among the selected ones which script he likes, generally tends to be guided by these patterns. For this reason, a story whose structure follows the so-called “hero’s journey” may have a chance to pass the screen.
Now, I know that you think that why stories in the cinema have to follow specific patterns, that if it remains done like this, all films are the same and do not have a soul. Let me tell you that stories that follow “novel” structures remain made because they don’t have to pass a script reader’s screen. After all, a producer falls in love with a story for whatever reason. However, an account with a conventional structure, say “the hero’s journey,” can win that soul with the embellishments or the small details. But the skeleton itself works through a pattern.
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What is ‘The Hero’s Journey’?
It is a scheme first explained by the mythographer Joseph Campbell in 1949 in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
It is a simple and extremely effective structure if your story responds to the epic, science fiction, or fantasy genre, but it can remain applied to any film if you think about it.
And, it is true, it connects very well with the classic Aristotelian structure of approach-middle-end.
The Basic Outline of the Hero’s Journey
Approach: everything begins with the departure of the hero or protagonist. It is where the characters remain introduced, and the “ordinary world” is established, in which, as you can imagine, things remain seen in their normal state. But, at a given moment, the call to adventure occurs the so-called disruptor element. That is to say. Your protagonist is calm but, suddenly, something happens that forces him to start his mission, which can be an investigation, a fight, a conquest, anything that responds to what can be called “the adventures.”
Knot: the hero goes through the “door” and enters the extraordinary world. He is meeting new characters who help him in his mission or try to prevent him.
In the classical scheme, the hero returns to the ordinary world, to his normal state. It is not that it is the same situation as initially because the trip has not left him indifferent but, at least, it remains established in a state of balance and tranquility. At this moment, whether or not he has achieved his goal, you should notice an evolution in character. It is no longer the same as at the beginning.
What are the twelve stages of the hero’s journey?
The protagonist goes through several phases, exactly twelve, that take action to the end, completing what is called the character’s arc, his evolution.
The Ordinary World
The state of things remains presented before the conflict arises that is going to change everything. You have to give the protagonist in his day today. In this way, the viewer will know everything that the character leaves behind, everything that he loses when the trigger occurs.
The Call to Adventure
At 10-15 minutes into the story, the disruptive element occurs, which turns everything upside down. The protagonist remains presented with a conflict or the urgent need to achieve a goal. It does not have to be a matter of life or death, but it can be something tiny, subtle, perhaps meeting the girl or the boy who will change your life. Nothing will ever be the same again.
At first, the protagonist does not want to take on the adventure of the mission. Of course, it is difficult for everyone to leave his comfort zone, his state of balance, the place where he feels safe and believes that no one can harm him. He has fear. So he rejects the call of adventure.
Meeting with the Teacher
The protagonist meets someone who acts as a catalyst on behalf of the story. Who convinces the hero to accept the call of adventure, of that conflict that has arisen. He encourages you. Sometimes, this teacher gives you a series of tips, tools, or keys to carry out the mission. In this way, the protagonist is prepared to cross the border from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world.
Crossing the First Threshold
The protagonist has to face the first obstacle that the extraordinary world poses. The fact of fighting against that first obstacle, which he will most certainly not overcome, makes him fully embark on the adventure. There is no turning back. The development begins with the numerous obstacles from him. He has walked through the door.
Trials, Allies, and Enemies
The protagonist will have to face different tests and obstacles throughout the development. Some of these obstacles may be other characters, the enemies. But, to overcome them, he will also have the help of allies, friends.
Each of these obstacles, generally in crescendo, some overcome and others not, prepare you for the decisive challenge. You will have to face it. Each time it advances or fails, the protagonist is learning and evolving. He gets to know his enemies or himself better. All of this will help you at the decisive moment.
It is climax time, when the protagonist faces the greatest challenge of all, for which, perhaps without knowing it, he has been preparing the entire film. He uses everything he has learned, all the resources, and plays it all or nothing. It is almost as if he crossed the threshold again.
After the decisive challenge, the protagonist remains rewarded, whether or not he has overcome the decisive challenge. This reward can be immaterial, like having gained a friend, feeling stronger, or having a new skill.
The Way Back
After the supreme test and the reward, the hero starts his way back, but there remains one last problem. The protagonist faces a fight not to lose what he has won.
This last fight to maintain the reward is a life and death fight (it can be figuratively). When the protagonist’s old self “dies,” the one he was before the film began, the character completely detaches himself from him. He leaves this last test purified and prepared to undertake the return journey.
The protagonist again goes through the door that leads him to the ordinary world. But, of course, he now has his reward and, also, the experience. He is not the same anymore. He knows aspects of himself that he ignored; he feels more secure and robust. That is, he is not in the same ordinary world as in the beginning.
Does this Structure Sound Familiar to You?
Indeed as you have been reading it, you have related it to many films that you have seen, both fantasy genres and any other.
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