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The Hero’s Journey As A Screenwriter...

By Mark Sanderson

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I’ve always thought the journey of a screenwriter is very similar to the Hero’s Journey.

We start off in THE ORDINARY WORLD of our lives: Our struggle to create and hang on through the worst of times, experiencing criticism and failures, but never losing sight of our dreams to play in the big sandbox with all the toys.

We’re presented with the CALL TO ADVENTURE: We finish our screenplay and the offers of being validated arise, so we consider the potential consideration by “the powers that be” to come and play in their rarefied sandbox.

We often REFUSE THE CALL: It’s fear based thinking and as the creators we’re always targets of criticism, ridicule and disrespect. We’re terrified of the unknown and may still be thinking of turning back feeling it’s safer not to act. This is when we need our Mentor to help us move forward with courage in the face of our fears.

It’s then we often consult with our MENTOR: This can actually be another artist or most likely our agent or manager. Our trusted guardian helps prepare us for our journey with advice, information and guidance to get us across the first threshold

We finally commit to the adventure and CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD: Our screenplay is sent out and offered to buyers. There’s no turning back and we stand behind our material and agree to face the consequences—whatever they will be.

Once across the First Threshold, we’re on the road of trials and encounter TESTS, ALLIES, and ENEMIES: We eventually receive feedback on our merits—both good and bad. We obtain valuable information, we meet new players, and we’re constantly tested to see how badly we want to stay in the game. We discover some players become allies and others enemies who try to foil our journey toward the place we want to visit the most — the inmost cave.

When our screenplay is deemed of value, it unlocks the secrets of the map and we can navigate this Special World to APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE: Yes, it’s the protected lair of the producer or studio and is often their headquarters. The tricksters and fools now distract us as they spin their illusions of love for our abilities and talent. If we’re able to fight their seductions, we still need to get past the Threshold Guardians. These are the assistants and lower level minions who want to keep us from finding the Grail, as this was our goal when we left home those many years ago and decided to follow the artist’s way. If our screenplay is the key to the Grail, we can drink from it and live our dreams of success—or so we are mistakenly believe. It’s at this point, we need to anticipate the facilitator’s mindset and use this to breakthrough to the inner most chamber. Here we’re granted an audience with the “powers that be” and allowed to present our cause. But remember, playing in the inmost cave with the monsters is dangerous and risky at best.

Once inside, we must face THE ORDEAL: We’re face-to-face with an imposing and supposedly all-powerful facilitator. They present themselves as being able to make all of our dreams comes true by their acceptance into their clan. We project our fears on this figure and the ordeal itself, as our self-doubts and the critical voices inside our heads attempt to distract us from our goal. It’s at this point they hack apart our project or impale our pitches and we symbolically suffer a creative death or the death of our ego.

When we push back with the knowledge our work is good and we are powerful in its ownership and our ability to create—this is when we transcend and become reborn into a new consciousness. We’ve shed our old powerless self because we embrace this reality—we are the content creators who risk everything with every presentation of our work. If we’re able to deflect the rejections by those who dangle the magic prize and then reply how we didn’t quite hit the mark, we slay the dragon’s attempts for dominance and seize the victory. We as screenwriters become the fearless Hero and receive the reward.

We now savor our victory, as we’ve faced our creative death, tasted it and yet lived to write another day. This is when we receive THE REWARD: Our reward is our new self as created by slaying the dragon and our inner demons that keep us from moving forward. We’re different and will never see our world the same again. We didn’t take possession of their Grail—the one we’ve believed could be ours if we were just good enough. We didn’t want it because their offer was always just a tease and a lie. As we travel on the road back, we reclaim the power of ownership over our creations and the epiphany of our true abilities as creators.

We’re faced with the dilemma: Do we stay in this Special World where we’re looked upon as powerless, or do journey back home to the Ordinary World? Few Heroes elect to stay and most take THE ROAD BACK: This is when we rededicate ourselves and rally our cause as a powerful creator. We gather up what we have learned and our treasures and follow our new goal of heading home. We may face retaliation from our battles with the dragon and lose that audience forever. We may face situations out of our control, but we soldier on facing new challenges.

Oh, but it’s not that easy. We need to undergo a final purification before we can return to the Ordinary World and this comes from THE RESURRECTION: We need to create our new self for our return to the Ordinary World. It will reflect our lessons taken from our journey and battle with the dragon and our demons. Our resurrection will come from facing our creative mortality as we decide to sit down again and fill the blank page. Do we choose to follow our old, misguided ways, or do we act according to our new powerful beliefs? The final showdown is within us. If we have truly conquered our fears and self-doubts, we’re resurrected and reborn to write again. This will be cathartic for our fellow screenwriters will enjoy knowing there is personal success on our collective journeys as artists.

Finally, we return to our starting place, as there’s no place like home. We have returned with THE ELIXIR: Our new life and enlightenment. We share this with other screenwriters, it gives them hope and we might even heal a few wounded souls in the process. The elixir is our new responsibility to take control of our career. Showing by the example of producing our own projects and not just being a “hired gun” seeking validation from the “powers that be.” We are the powers that be. Hopefully sharing our knowledge and experiences will help other screenwriters become Heroes on their journeys and we can collectively change perceptions and obstacles that keep us down.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” — Joseph Campbell

“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” — J. R. R. Tolkien

“For the warrior, there is no ‘better’ or ‘worse’; everyone has the necessary gifts for his particular path.” — Paulo Coelho

“Footfalls echo in the memory, Down the passage which we did not take, Toward the door we never opened, Into the rose-garden.” —T.S. Eliot

About Mark Sanderson

Mark is a veteran of the screenwriting game with over fifteen years of experience and blessed to be living his childhood dream of being a filmmaker. From his start in sketch comedy writing and performing live with The Amazing Onionheads and writing for MTV, to his thirteen writing assignments that have garnered seven produced films—the emotionally compelling I'll Remember April, An Accidental Christmas, and Deck the Halls, the stylish indie noir Stingers, and action-packed thrillers USS Poseidon: Phantom Below and Silent Venom—Mark's films have premiered on Lifetime, SyFy, Fox Family, and HereTV and have received worldwide distribution.
His long association with Hollywood veterans and award-winning filmmakers dates back to his first produced screenplay, and has since worked with Producer's Guild of America nominees, legendary genre directors, and Academy Award, Emmy and Golden Globe acting nominees.  Mark's films have also been recognized around the world and have opened and premiered at major film festivals.
His popular screenwriting blog MY BLANK PAGE has developed into an internet sensation with over 120,000 readers -- in addition to his screenplay consulting services, Mark is busy shopping two TV pilots, moving into pre-production for his new indy Sci-fi comedy Area 54, and finishing his first book A Screenwriter’s Journey to Success. He offers workshops, webinars, and screenplay consultation services.  Visit Mark's website at:

Screenwriting Article by Mark Sanderson

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