The Heroine’s Journey: The Story Structure You Never Heard Of

The Heroine’s Journey: The Story Structure You Never Heard Of

The Hero’s Journey is the the story structure of the lone hero’s struggle to defeat a great evil and be changed by the adventure. In his classic book The Hero with a Thousand FacesJoseph Campbell noticed this pattern in ancient myths and legends. His premise is that the Hero’s Journey is repeated over and over in stories from Odysseus to our present day summer blockbusters. Many story analysts believe that every story is a Hero’s Journey, following the same basic beats. Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey, took the Hero’s Journey a step further, showing how it works in modern genres from the western to romance. But while the Hero’s Journey continues to be the bones of many stories, there are plenty of stories that do not quite fit the mold.

This is where Gail Carriger and her story structure of The Heroine’s Journey step in. Gail writes comedic steampunk fantasy and is one of my favorite authors. She is also a genius about writing structure, genre, and tropes. In her book, she explains how the Heroine’s Journey differs from the Hero’s Journey and why both perspectives are significant.

Before we get into how the journeys are different, it is important to explain that the Hero and Heroine’s Journeys have nothing to do with the gender of the protagonists. Instead, whether your story is a Hero or Heroine Journey has to do with how your protagonists approach their adventure. In other words, men can go on Heroines’ Journeys and women can go on Heroes’ Journeys.

From the book:

The Hero’s Journey in one pithy sentence:

Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory & honor

The Heroine’s Journey in one pithy sentence:

Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.

The Heroine’s Journey is different from the Hero’s Journey in five significant ways:

1. Purpose

The hero goes on his journey to defeat an enemy or find a treasure or both.

The heroine is concerned with networking with others and finding a family.

2. Approach

A hero is active in pursuit of his goal.

A heroine is a builder and a general. She sees skills and strengths in others and knows how to use them.

3. Strength

A hero must eventually go it alone. Asking for help is a sign of weakness.

A heroine is stronger the more companions she has.

4. Power

When a hero is at his most powerful in his adventure, usually fighting the bad guy, he is alone.

When a heroine has her most powerful moments in her adventure, she is with others.

5. Ending

A hero ends up alone. He has either grown too powerful or changed too much to fit back into the ordinary world.

The heroine gets a happy ending, surrounded by friends and family.

There is a lot to unpack here. In the book there is more detail including the mythic origins of the Heroine’s Journey, contemporary examples of both journeys, and tips on how to write the Heroine’s Journey. I am excited to have this new structure in my story toolbox and I hope you are too!

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Scooby Doo Forever!

Scooby Doo Forever!

Some of you know that I love cute and silly coffee cups. The highlight of this past weekend was finding this amazing Scooby Doo coffee cup in the shape of the Mystery Machine. In fact, I love it so much I decided not to drink out of it and it has a place of honor on my bookshelf. Now besides being a perpetual eight year-old fan girl, why did this find excitement so much? It’s because I love Scooby Doo and always will. It was a story and characters that I loved as a small child that feeling has never gone away. The idea of being a teenager driving a van all over the country solving mysteries without adult supervision was cool then and it is cool now.

We never stop loving our favorite stories. It can be things we read when we were little (Trixie Belden mysteries), discovered when we were teenagers (Doctor Who), stood in line for ten years ago (Skyfall), binged during the lockdown (every Marvel movie in order), or my current obsession (the Paranormal Museum Mysteries).

Stories, once they get in our blood never leave us. They have the power to inspire and excite. To make us feel better about ourselves and our fellow humans. We love watching the Avengers save the world because they make us feel like anything is possible, especially if we all work together. I like to think that stories can save the world. They expose us to new ideas, places, and people. Uncle Tom’s Cabin helped fan the flames of abolition and the Civil War. Sinclair Lewis’ muckraking novel The Jungle about poor conditions in a meatpacking plant led to the passage of the Pure Food & Drug Act, laying the groundwork for the the creation of the FDA. Did you know that reading and watching stories actually makes you a better person? According to one study, fiction readers are more emphatic.

Everyone is a storyteller. You may think you’re not a writer or that you have nothing to say. But everyone has a story to tell that can make their work standout or their introduction memorable. When my family gets together, we laugh and tell stories. I bet yours does to. What is your story? What did you overcome to get where you are today? What are you working through now? How can you take that story and use to inform your work, making it memorable and authentic? We all have our stories and they are powerful. Stories matter.

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