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Screenwriting Structure Series Part 6: The Monomyth & Hero's Journey

By The Unknown Screenwriter

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Previous Article in series.

Screenwriting structure REALLY is where the rubber meets the road... Why? Because sometimes, a very well structured screenplay can SELL. Sure, they might end up changin' the hell out of it but if your structure is really, really outstanding, IT very likely WILL NOT CHANGE.

The Monomyth, The Hero's Journey, The Hero Myth, Mythic Journey - doesn't matter what you call it - is, in my opinion, where the rubber meets the road in screenwriting structure. Now before I move on, I've heard it all before...

The hero's journey is formulaic!

I don't want to write movies the way Hollywood does!

I don't believe in the hero's journey!

To me, just like knowing basic screenplay formatting, a screenwriter really should know the hero's journey as a basic foundation on which to base his or her screenwriting structure.

Why?

Because in using some form of the hero's journey in your own screenwriting structure, you will go a hell of a long way in communicating both the EXTERNAL and the INTERNAL story of your story.

The internal story?

Yup. Otherwise known as your Protagonist's transformational character arc.

One of the reasons stories told with some version of the monomyth do so well at the boxoffice is because they hit us very hard. Especially on the INSIDE - our psyche.

The monomyth is very likely the oldest form of storytelling there is. The Hero's Journey, or monomyth, speaks to just about everyone on an archetypal level or in other words, a structure that is strategically put together in response to the collective wishes of a group - for our use, the group being the eventual audience of our film.

Through strategic use of metaphor and symbolism, the very best stories live on in perpetuity. This is why we're still learning about myths today. This is why we pass these same myths down. Myths started out as sacred tales worthy of a tribe's admiration, respect, and even fear. They often touched upon a tribe's Gods and the mysteries of how life came to be so of course, tribespeople were mesmerized and passed these stories down to current day, especially when these stories revolved around a central character...

The Hero.

Stories and movies are no different. If a story or movie connects DEEP INSIDE of us, we will certainly turn right around and tell others about it. And no, not all our modern stories require a hero anymore... A protagonist fits quite well these days.

In other words, we keep evolving the monomyth... We push it - tweak it - as we and our audiences evolve - books and movies being OUR myths of today.

No longer does the hero of a story have to be an outright hero. We are obviously more sophisticated than the audiences that used to sit around the campfire and listen to the tales of how the world came to be so we can now HANDLE a hero with flaws. We can now handle a hero that isn't all good yet using the monomyth in some form for your story will still HIT your audience on a deep level because these are events that should be so powerful that we are eager to swallow them whole. We are eager to jump on the Protagonist's train and ride along with him or her to the very end.

The mythic journey structure, or some form of it, takes into account your Protagonist's transformational arc and if you strategically place your story events and obstacles in certain places for maximum impact on your audience - and DO IT WELL - you will be handsomely rewarded as a screenwriter.

That's the very reason it's called a JOURNEY. The journey of your Protagonist is two-fold:
  1. External - where and how you PHYSICALLY take your Protagonist through your story.
  2. Internal - where and how you INTERNALLY take your Protagonist through your story.
If done correctly, the events themselves will put your Protagonist into motion so that by the time he or she reaches the end of your story, he or she is internally transformed as well as having achieved his or her external goal (or not). The hero's journey helps us to convey universal truths about one's personal self-discovery and self-transcendence, one's role in society, and the relationship between the two.

In fact, I don't think I've ever seen a movie or read a book that did NOT contain some aspect of the hero's journey. No, the author or screenwriter may not have purposely written their story from the perspective of the hero's journey but because this kind of storytelling is intrinsic in all of us in one way or another i.e., we all tend to touch upon specific aspects of STORY.

And not to discount Joseph Campbell's contribution but this was the way WE were telling stories from the beginning of time. Just like Syd Field studied movies and came up with a road map of the three act structure, so did Joeseph Campbell research and study mythic storytelling and give us a basis of screenwriting structure.

Next Article in series.

About The Unknown Screenwriter

A working screenwriter and producer, The Unknown Screenwriter makes his home in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of Northern California and somewhere in the state of New Mexico with just a little bit of Los Angeles thrown in when he feels he can breathe the air.

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