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Thread: The Female Monomyth / Hero's Journey

  1. #1
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    The Female Monomyth / Hero's Journey

    In case you aren't familiar, The Hero's Journey is, essentially, a story of leaving the comfort zone (generally your home village), going out into danger, and through that danger gaining wisdom/power that you can bring back to your comfort zone to help your kin. There are twists to this, such as not wanting to return home after becoming enlightened, or not wanting to embark on the journey at all. An immense amount of mythology/storytelling in general cleaves to this Monomyth.

    I will be writing a female knight protagonist, and I realized that traditional Joseph Campbell hero stories are from a male perspective. What traits would a female version of this monomyth have - would it simply be gender-flipped (she wants to defeat/be accepted by her mother figure?), or would there be issues that are not present in the male monomyth at all?

    Thanks!

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    Asphodel is a journey through the Hero's Journey and my MC is a female. Although I think you have oversimplified the monomyth in your description above, you can really use the journey as you wish. I don't think you need to tie it down to gender-specific mileposts. It's viable for your character to defeat/be accepted by her mentor--a male knight who taught her, etc and so forth.

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    My limited understanding of myth studies is that there's a recognized heroine's journey that differs from the hero's journey at key stages. I don't write circular plots, so I'm no good as a resource. However, you could PM Grey Rose. I bet she could list all the differences.

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    Thanks for your quick replies!

    I was wondering if there are any psychological traits particular to women. For example, if you believe Freud, all men want to defeat/become their father figure, and be with their mother figure (the truth of those claims notwithstanding.)

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    There is a book called The Heroine's Journey: Woman's Quest for Wholeness By Maureen Murdock.

    IIRC, it describes the woman's journey as a spiral or circle rather than a straight line. Here's a link to the TOC that might give you some idea as to the high points.

    Remember that the monomyth is just a starting point. You also want to make sure your story has something unique to say.

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    The monomyth isn't limited to females. Just write it and see what happens. Don't feel confined by her gender.
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    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    What traits would a female version of this monomyth have - would it simply be gender-flipped (she wants to defeat/be accepted by her mother figure?), or would there be issues that are not present in the male monomyth at all?
    As another writer once told me, "That's something you have to figure out for yourself or you don't have a story, just a gaming session with plot points caged from other writers."

    You may need to get farther inside the skin of your MC and engage her on more complex levels. Motivations are tricky as many of us don't have them in our nice comfy lives.

    Ask your MC:

    What do you want?

    How far are you willing to go to get it?


    Make sure you ask this of all your supporting characters and especially the bad guys.

    Watch some Xena: Warrior Princess DVDs. The character of Gabrielle went from sick kick in need of protection to arse-kicking heroine.

    Good luck!

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    I'm vaguely recalling having studied female versus male hero's journeys in a unit on fantasy narratives a few years ago. I don't remember all of the details, but one aspect I think the female version had which was different was that, in the end, she makes some great sacrifice in order to achieve her goal. So, she might save whatever she's trying to save, but she doesn't get what she wants personally.

    We only looked at a subversion of it, though - a story where just about everything followed the pattern, but then bucked that last point - the heroine succeeded and managed not to sacrifice anything.

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    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    she makes some great sacrifice in order to achieve her goal. < > she might save whatever she's trying to save, but she doesn't get what she wants personally.
    Well, that suxs. Time it was changed.

    Women MCs should eat their cake and have more, then party hearty until the next one or else why take the journey in the first place?

    In a charming autobiography I read this year a 16 y.o. lady--raised on the banks of the Frio River in Texas--wriggled out her window one night, got on the train, and ended up working in a hat shop in Wichita. She had a happy home, but wanted more than living on a ranch.

    Seems tame enough to us, but not in the 1880s. THAT was scandalous. Ruination! Unheard of!

    She enjoyed herself thoroughly as an independent working lady, eventually got married, then eventually divorced.

    When all her female relatives gathered to talk her out of the split, their argument was "There's NEVER been a divorce in this family!"

    Her reply was, "Then it's high time we had one."

    I like her attitude. There's a few 21st century women I know who could learn from this spritely gal.

    Again, this is tame for a fiction adventure, but not for a real woman raised in those times. She didn't sacrifice anything to accomplish and obtain what she wanted in life, and by her own account had a grand time of things.


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    This is niggling at me so much! I know that I saw in a book (of mine??) somewhere recently a comparison of the male and female versions of the hero's journey, and yes, they were vastly different. I found it kind of odd to generalize these things depending on gender (I have a female hero who seems to be going on the male version of the journey!--except I'm of the Jungian school so she's constantly facing Animus figures rather than the Anima, etc.) but some people make good use of such things in writing. I hate that I can't remember where I saw this but I'll try to look for it. I'm afraid I can't make any guarantees though.

    Urgh!
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    Don't write a gender. Write a character.


    Then I won't care about whatever thing you think you're writing to, cos I'll just be involved already.





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    Bored Fanatic Straka's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillhoughly View Post
    In a charming autobiography I read this year a 16 y.o. lady--raised on the banks of the Frio River in Texas--wriggled out her window one night, got on the train, and ended up working in a hat shop in Wichita. She had a happy home, but wanted more than living on a ranch.
    Honestly I think that is more a case about gravity well that is Wichita. Who hasn't ended up there at some point in their life?

    Zero: I find writing females I don't think about writing a female. I write characters with strengths and weakness with that happen to have a female background. The rest seems to fall into place. So far I think its working... at any rate it sounds more natural to me. I just starred one project that has my first female lead.
    Last edited by Straka; 10-16-2008 at 05:06 AM.
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    Grumpy writer and editor Absolute Sage Gillhoughly's Avatar
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    Who hasn't ended up there at some point in their life?
    Or I was thinking it was Wichita Falls, Tx. OTOH, it could have been Waxahachie!

    What did stick in my head was the fact that she had the guts to take her journey. When I was 16, there was no way I'd have been able to manage that kind of thing. Even Bilbo Baggins was better prepared when he ran out of his Hobbit hole without even a handkerchief. At least he knew how to cook!

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    Impractical Fantasy Animal sunandshadow's Avatar
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    I think its a misunderstanding to assume that the her's journey is for male main characters and the heroine's journey is for female ones. It's not. The gender refers to the style of story told. The hero's journey takes a 'whole' character and beats the crap out of them as a test they must pass. The heroine's journey take's a damaged character and puts them through a healing process.

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    I don't think The Hero's Journey is gender specific. At least, it doesn't seem that way from Campbell's books. There's a video series called "The Power of Myth" where Campbell gives quite a few examples of Hero Journey myths with female protagonists. Also, there's a simplified version of the Hero's Journey monomyth specifically for writers- The Writer's Journey (can't remember the author).
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    I teach a class on this. However, I do not teach Campbell. Campbell is a no-no with folklorists. Please note that nothing I say has anything to do with Campbell.

    To make a complicated subject very simple, there are some common patterns. In the most popular one, the woman's quest involves getting in touch with her otherworldly female relatives, successfully performing tasks that involve domestic and socialization duties, and receive a dowry. This type of woman's quest culminates in marriage. Cinderella (not the Disney version) follows this pattern.

    This type usually has a male mitigating figure who sets the events in motion, .e.g. in Beauty and the Beast it is the father who causes Beauty to be obligated to go to Beast.

    Note that these tale types are popular in certain societies, but less so in others. You will find a lot of those in European folklore.

    The less frequent but prominent pattern involves a woman on a usually male quest to the Otherworld. The important difference usually is in the relationship the Donor / Keeper of the Otherworld. Unlike with the male quest, this is a familial relationship (the Keeper is a grandmother or a grandfather), or again the woman is aided by dead female relatives in guise of small animals such as mice, birds, etc. This quest involves saving or bringing back a loved one, who is sometimes a shapechanger. I suggest you read a Russian version of this, Finist the Bright Falcon, in Afanas'yev's collection readily available in libraries worldwide(translated).

    But really, I grossly oversimplified. This is not for a PM or a forum post. There more than enough material, as I said, for a class. There are many more types and quests, for example the Polynesian type where a woman is on a quest for flying penises (not kidding. Detachable penises are a big thing in Polynesian folklore).

    My advice would be to figure out your society first. Are female knights common? What is the reception that awaits her? Folklore reflects societal practices, sometimes anachronistic societal practices, but nonetheless. You need to know this first before you decide how the quest structure is adapted to your particular society.

    If you want to know more about general quest structures, please do not read Campbell. Read Vladimir Propp's Morphology of the Fairytale.
    Last edited by Gray Rose; 10-17-2008 at 05:15 PM.

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    Brony level >9000 Nivarion's Avatar
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    well this may be offensive to some people and i apologize in advance.

    one of the big diffrences you should pay attention to is that men tend to think and talk in this pattern
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    where as women tend to think and talk in the pattern.

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    sorry ladies, you tie everything in.

    or another way i can put it is like this

    guy phone call

    1. Hey you coming to the game?
    2. Yea
    1. Okay, hurry were about to start.
    2. ok leaving now
    1. bye
    2. bye

    ladies phone call.
    1. Hey you coming to the game.
    2. oh thats today.
    1. yes its today.
    2. oh im sorry today was so frustrating first ....

    im not going to type that one out.
    Hey, I'm back after, like, months! Almost a year even!

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  18. #18
    Beware of the Thorns! Gray Rose's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nivarion View Post
    well this may be offensive to some people and i apologize in advance.

    one of the big diffrences you should pay attention to is that men tend to think and talk in this pattern
    Nivarion, the OP asked a question pertaining to the gender differences in mythical/folkloric quest structure. Her heroine is a knight in a fantasy setting.

    You answered with an observation about gender differences in telephone conversations.

    Paying attention to the question asked and staying on topic are qualities one should cultivate, regardless of gender.

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    His heroine :-)

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    They've been very bad, Mr Flibble Mr Flibble's Avatar
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    Actually I'm like this on the phone:
    guy phone call

    1. Hey you coming to the game?
    2. Yea
    1. Okay, hurry were about to start.
    2. ok leaving now
    1. Bring beer
    2. Of course!
    1. bye
    2. bye
    Unless it's my mum, in which case I hold it to my ear and say 'uh-huh' a lot while doing something else.

    BTW ZF, as there are more women on this site than men ( iirc) and you haven't put your gender in your profile, you'll get called a chick quite often
    Last edited by Mr Flibble; 10-21-2008 at 12:12 AM.




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    Just updated my profile, thanks for the heads-up!

    I actually don't have direct conversations, and I break to side topics pretty easily. If someone bring something interesting up, I want to talk about it I imagine I'm a fairly atypical guy.

    There's something about conversations with mum, isn't there? You can kind of devote 10% of your attention to it and go off and do something else.
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    Beware of the Thorns! Gray Rose's Avatar
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    Don't think either of you are atypical. Spoken genres are fluid. It's stereotypes that are rigid. There are sociolinguistics studies that show that guys do babble/gossip (maybe on different topics). And there are plenty of gals who hate talking on the phone - I for one would rather not talk on the phone at all.

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    Down Under Fan HeronW's Avatar
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    Most male journeys are bloodier/conquest types: Aladdin, Sinbad, etc, East of the Sun, West of the Moon/Psyche-Cupid etc, has the woman moving within herself from child to adult, leaving the comforts of home and growing into her own woman (usually ending up with a man who adores her).

    Make your MC do both, growing emotionally and worldly wise to make a whole person capable and flawed, just like the rest of us :}
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    Quote Originally Posted by HeronW View Post
    Most male journeys are bloodier/conquest types: Aladdin, Sinbad, etc, East of the Sun, West of the Moon/Psyche-Cupid etc, has the woman moving within herself from child to adult, leaving the comforts of home and growing into her own woman (usually ending up with a man who adores her).

    Make your MC do both, growing emotionally and worldly wise to make a whole person capable and flawed, just like the rest of us :}
    I never thought of that one in that way. I wonder what it says that this was my favorite fairytale growing up
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    Quote Originally Posted by ZeroFlowne View Post
    I will be writing a female knight protagonist, and I realized that traditional Joseph Campbell hero stories are from a male perspective. What traits would a female version of this monomyth have - would it simply be gender-flipped (she wants to defeat/be accepted by her mother figure?), or would there be issues that are not present in the male monomyth at all?
    From an author's perspective, the Campbell monomyth is just a framework for selecting tropes with which to populate your story. While these tropes can resonate with the reader, just as often they're clumsy and predictable. The difference is in whether the events emerge from the characters and circumstances and just happen to also be tropes, or whether the tropes are picked from an academic's menu and barely fit the story.

    Ancient fantasy story-tellers didn't have Campbell's framework, yet they told great stories anyway. To my mind, the best place to start with a fantasy story is good character design. I've told many stories of knights over the years -- including female knights. Here's my suggestion for things to put into your female knightly character:
    • A main character who is competent at what she does (even if what she does is not knighthood)
    • Make your MC honourable according to some code or other (even if it's not the regular social code)
    • Make her somehow outside regular social norms
    • Make her marriageable or desireable somehow
    • Make her wounded
    • Whatever she's noted for, make it an extreme -- e.g. Most Compassionate Knight, Worst-Tempered Knight, Most Humble Knight.

    (If this looks like a list for a romance story -- it is. Stories of knighthood -- e.g. those told in Mallory are romance stories!)

    Give your story a villain. This villain should not be something abstract and impersonal (like the environment), but can be a human, something fae, or a monster. In other words - it needs a face. Whether it speaks or not, treat it as a person. In particular, make it:
    • Motivated by a human foible such as pride, envy, wrath etc...
    • Resourceful, regardless of whether it is intelligent or not
    • Elusive, difficult to find, difficult to recognise or else operating through a third party who looks benign
    • Driven to do evil and bring harm
    • An extreme of whatever type it is, e.g. Sneakiest Vizier, Evillest Witch, Biggest Dragon, Most Wrathful Faerie, Ugliest Giant.
    • Have a history of previous knights who have failed to defeat it

    Now add a dependent to the story. This is someone who will suffer if the evil is not defeated. For example it might be:
    • A village
    • A monastery
    • A King, Queen or local lord
    • A wounded knight
    • A damosel in distress
    • A child of omen
    • A fabulous creature that happens to act like a person
    • A relative, or the knight's lord/lady, or a subject of the knight's realm

    Your dependent may like your MC or not. It may be noble and honourable or quirky and grey, but should not be wholly evil. It should also be sympathetic from the outset. It may help or hinder the knight along the way. By the end of the story, the dependent should clearly be safe -- and if it is quirky or of dubious morality, it should be transformed by conflict with your knight.

    Fantasy knightly stories are clashes of passion and morality, not reason and not pure physical. It's critical that your knight has a ruling passion -- one that will drag it through the story whatever happens. The ruling passion somehow connects to the knight's wound.

    The simplest knightly stories have five distinct phases or Acts:

    Act I: Agreeing to face the evil
    Act II: Being tested until the knight's heroism is proven
    Act III: Hunting the evil to its lair
    Act IV: Trapping the evil
    Act V: Happy ever after - where each of the major players get a consequence according to their merit

    Obviously, you can complicate things further with subplots etc... You can also break part of Act II say, and salt it among Acts III and IV.

    Knightly stories are stories of virtue leading to action. Passage from one Act to the next should require a moral dilemma followed by a difficult, dangerous action that comes at sacrifice to the knight. In the villain's history where previous knights have failed, they will either have chosen the wrong fork of the dilemma, or failed to sacrifice enough. You can salt the story with evidence of these failures and even have failed knights survive to talk about it.

    Testing in a knightly story is always about wisdom, wit and purity of spirit. Even if it looks like a physical conflict, it should be symbolic of virtues and vices.

    Along the way, the knight may gain help or hindrance from other characters. In particular:
    • Wise Lords, Weak Lords, Mad Lords
    • Maidens, Matrons, Crones and Whores
    • Wizards, Priests, Fools
    • Faeries, Ghosts, Monsters and Fabulous creatures

    This largely happens in Act II, though the full consequences may not be seen until Acts III-IV. Because knightly stories are about passions and morals, the help will normally be something to fortify or heal the knight's spirit -- or to let the knight's spirit somehow affect the world. (e.g. if the knight is notably truthful, then give her a mirror that reflects truth back upon the one who beholds it).

    By the same token, hindrances consist of penances, curses or additional conditions that must be met while the evil is being vanquished -- these often arise from the knight having failed some sort of test. (E.g. a knight who is overly proud must thereafter ride everywhere backwards). Those hindrances are normally lifted once the knight has succeeded, and the knight should generally gain as much as she lost to validate her heroism.

    At the end, the knight's wound may or may not be healed. If you leave it unhealed, then you create a recurrent character. If you heal it then you're effectively writing the character out at the end of the story.

    Any evil effects that can be reversed should be visibly reversed by the end of the story. If the dragon has blighted the land, then the land should be in bloom again. If a giant slew a wise king, then have the king's grave in flower so that readers can see that the king's spirit has returned to the land.

    The format above can work equally well for male or female knights.

    If you want a very feminine-slanted story for example, give the female knight very feminine virtues, and a very feminine honour code. Make the tests very feminine tests. Give the boons feminine symbols (e.g. mirrors, girdles, spindles, pails for examples), and make the hindrances oppose traditionally feminine elements (e.g. ugliness vs beauty, clumsiness vs grace, unlikeability vs likeability). Or you can give your story masculine elements and it will also work just fine.

    Do all the above and you should have written a very satisfying knightly story, ZF!

    Hope this helps.

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