The Hero’s Journey
I’ve been researching The Hero’s Journey for about a decade now on this blog. When I wrote my Thriller Screenplays book back in 2013, it was a plot template that was ALL the rage.
In fact, just ten short years ago, screenwriters were told it was pretty much the ‘only’ plotting archetype worth writing … and that if their characters did not change, their writing was ‘bad’!
Fast-forward to 2023 and these expectations have changed considerably. Audiences have started to tire of The Hero’s Journey and its ubiquity. Novels, indie film and even major blockbusters have started using different plotting templates.
This is understandable. For the past forty-five years The Hero’s Journey has been EVERYWHERE. But imagine my surprise when I started hearing that apparently The Hero’s Journey is ‘inherently masculine’!
Look, I understand why some people – women especially – might feel heroism in storytelling is gendered. It literally has been!
In the past, we’ve been more likely to see male heroes (who were also usually white, straight, able-bodied and cis-gendered aka not transgender).
However, that’s not actually the same as The Hero’s Journey being an inherently masculine plotting archetype. Here’s 10 reasons why it’s NOT just ‘for boys’ … Ready? Let’s go!
1) The Hero’s Journey is a *universal* story structure
The Hero’s Journey is a universal story structure that can be applied to any character, regardless of gender. It is a powerful tool for crafting compelling narratives that resonate with audiences.
I relate to the Hero’s Journey very strongly because I have had to be a warrior to get through the various problematic things I’ve had to face in my life. I enjoy seeing a character make it through terrible odds, triumphing in the face of adversity.
This means I find it super-offensive when my fellow women tell me I ‘shouldn’t’ because such an arc is ‘for men’. MORE: How Story Arc Works For Your Characters (With Examples)
2) … has gender-neutral archetypes
The Hero’s Journey includes archetypes that are not gender-specific, such as the mentor, ally or trickster. Archetypes are a kind of ‘prototype’ or foundation you can build on top of. Literally none of them *have* to be male … hell, you can write them ALL as female characters if you want to. Why not?
We might not have heard about female heroes for a long time, but that doesn’t mean there are none. There are countless examples of female heroes in myths, legends, and popular culture who follow the Hero’s Journey.
From Athena and Artemis in Greek mythology to Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games (a new case study in the 2023 update of my Thriller Screenplays book, by the way!), female heroes have ALWAYS existed.
This makes the idea The Hero’s Journey is ‘just for boys’ even more absurd.
4) … and that representation matters
Women and girls need to see themselves represented as heroes in stories. For a long time, thrillers and action-adventure stories sidelined female characters bystanders or motivation for male heroes (especially as the dead wife or girlfriend!).
By using the Hero’s Journey to craft holistic female characters, writers can create compelling characters for audiences of all ages.
5) … breaks stereotypes
The Hero’s Journey can be used to create female characters who break stereotypes and challenge traditional gender roles. For example, for a long time female heroes were depicted as rejecting marriage and motherhood in favour of pursuing their own ambitions and adventures. These days, female heroes are more layered and may do all of these things at once. More, next.
6) … showcases complex characters
The Hero’s Journey allows for the creation of complex, multidimensional female characters who are more than just their gender. It can help us explore the inner lives and motivations of our female heroes.
A good example of this in action is Detectives Lopez and Harper in The Rookie. Both women are super-heroic and badass, but they are also nurturing mothers and loyal wives who put their family first. When female characters were ‘either/or’ for such a long time, it’s refreshing to see women can succeed at work AND home.
The Hero’s Journey is an empowerment narrative. Just as it inspired men, it can inspire female audiences to take control of their own lives and pursue their dreams.
This means The Hero’s Journey can be a powerful tool for promoting women’s rights and gender equality. I used the template in my novel, The Coven (as Lizzie Fry), on this basis.
8) … Diversifies storytelling
By using the Hero’s Journey to create female heroes, we can diversify storytelling and present a wider range of experiences and perspectives. This can lead to richer, more nuanced stories that reflect the complexity of the world we live in … because OBVIOUSLY!
9) … has genre flexibility
The Hero’s Journey can be applied to any genre, from fantasy and science fiction to romance and drama. This means female characters can be heroes in ANY type of story.
Don’t believe me? Check out this awesome breakdown of Cinderella as a Hero’s Journey narrative. That’s right: CINDERELLA!!
10) … has the power to unite audiences
The Hero’s Journey is a universal story structure that can unite audiences of all genders, races, and backgrounds. By creating female heroes who follow this narrative pattern, writers can bring people together. This in turn promotes empathy and understanding. MORE: Spotlight On Structure: The Monomyth Versus Christopher Vogler’s Version
Look, if you’re bored with The Hero’s Journey and simply want to try something else, go for it! You’ll get no argument from B2W. It has been over-used in the last four decades for sure.
However, if you believe you ‘shouldn’t’ use the plotting archetype for your female characters because it’s ‘inherently masculine’, this is simply not true. There’s plenty you can do with it to showcase your female character’s arc, whatever situation or genre she is in. Have fun with it.
Want even MORE script reading secrets?
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