Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Using the Hero Story Structure

Kristal Lee: Writerly Wisdom from Walt Whitman

Have you ever heard of the Hero Story Structure?  No?  I hadn't either until about two weeks ago.  Since then I have found it in two books on writing and three blog posts.  Apparently this structure was used in such great films as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, and many others.  It has also been used in books.  What I found incredible about this is after I read through the whole thing I realized I've used this several times without even trying.  What???  Can a person do that?  Obviously, they can.  I did.  Did you?

Read through the points and think about your books.  Have you used it without even knowing it?  I will be using a few of my books to show how this works.  If you've already read my books, YAY.  If not, don't worry about me spoiling them for you... unless you plan to read them.  Then you should skim over my examples quickly.

1.  Ordinary World:  This is the beginning of your story, the hero in his element before things turn upside-down.
               a.  Star Wars: Luke is living on the crappy, boring planet with his aunt and uncle as he dreams of a more exciting life.
               b. Vampires Rule (my book): Jack is a vampire wishing he could return home.
               c.  Dragon's Breath (my book): A sick boy dreams of being a superhero.
               d.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo is happy in the Shire.

2.  Inciting Incident (also known as Call to Adventure):  This is when things change for the hero and he learns of his destiny.
               a.  Star Wars: Luke meets Obi-One and hears the princess is in trouble.
               b.  Vampires Rule:  Jack becomes a mortal.
               c.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo gets his hands on the ring.

3.  Argument (or Refusal of the Call):  The hero never just jumps in with both feet.  He has to think about it.  There's a lot at stake.  It's dangerous.  Maybe he doesn't think he's strong enough, or maybe he has other reasons not to go.  And the more your hero fights the call, the bigger the thing has to be that changes his mind.  For example, Luke's aunt and uncle are killed.
               a.  Star Wars:  Luke is needed by his aunt and uncle on the farm.
               b.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo wants someone else to take the ring. He's just a hobbit.
               c.  Vampires Rule:  Jack just wants to live a normal life.
               d.  Dragon's Breath:  Kevin is only ten.

4.  Meeting the Mentor:  Think about it.  There is always a mentor.  Luke had Obi-one.  Frodo had Gandolph.  Harry had Dumbledore (also Hagrid).  You can have more than one mentor.

5.  The Door (or Crossing the Threshold):  This is the all important step after the hero has decided to do the deed, whatever it is.  How do they get into this other world?  Let's see how others have handled it.
              a.  Star Wars:  They take the Millenium Falcon.
              b.  Lord of the Rings:  They walk.
              c.  Dragon's Breath:  Kevin is yanked out of this world by an invisible string.
              d.  Harry Potter:  He took the train at platform 9 and 3/4.

6.  Tests, Allies, Enemies:  The above parts are your beginning.  This is your middle.  The hero has to perform tests to prove he can handle the big monster at the end of the book.  He will also meet friends and enemies along the way. 

7.  The Inmost Cave:  This is the huge task, time for him to show he's grown and can handle the antagonist or whatever lies ahead.

8.  Crazy Plan:  This is self-explanatory.  The hero, probably along with his friends develops a plan that just might work.  Or might get them all killed.
                 a.  Star Wars:  They come with a plan to destroy the Death Star.
                 b.  Vampires Rule:  Jack thinks he knows how to kill Jersey Clifford.
                 c.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo is going to throw the ring into lava while the others try to hold back an army.

9.  End Battle:  Finally, the protagonist begins to battle the antagonist.

10.  Darkest Moment:  It looks like all is lost.  The hero is losing.
                 a.  Star Wars:  Darth Vadar is about to blow Luke away.
                 b.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo decides he wants to keep the ring.
                 c.  Vampires Rule:  Jersey uses Silver to get Jack to give up the fight.

11.  Help from Outside Source:  This is the cool part when someone or something unexpected happens to give the hero just enough help so he can defeat the enemy.  He still needs to do it, but he gets help.
                  a.  Star Wars:  Han Solo blasts Vadar's ship.
                  b.  Lord of the Rings:  Frodo is knocked over the side by (Damn!  I can't remember that thing's name.  What was it?  The thing that kept saying, "My precious?"  This is going to drive me nuts now).  Anyway, we see by this that the helper does not have to 'mean' to be helpful.
                  c.  Vampires Rule:  An unexpected person gave Jack back the magic rock.
12.  Climax:  It's over.  The hero wins.
                  a.  Star Wars:  Luke blows up the Death Star.
                  b.  Vampires Rule:  Jack defeats the bad guy.
                  c.  Lord of the Rings:  The ring is destroyed and Frodo is safe.

13.  The Resolution:  Time to wrap it up and show how the hero will go on after this mess has ended.  If you ask me, Lord of the Rings had too many of these.  It ended about eleven times.
                 a.  Star Wars:  Everyone is awarded a medal by the princess.
                 b.  Vampires Rule:  Jack wakes up to discover life is different than he thought it would be.

Anyway, there are other things added to this list when you see it and some taken away depending on where you read it.  Hope you enjoyed this lesson in structure as much as I did when I learned about it.  :)

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