AW Amazon Store

If this site is helpful to you,
Please consider a voluntary subscription to defray ongoing expenses.


 

Welcome to the AbsoluteWrite Water Cooler! Please read The Newbie Guide To Absolute Write

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 25 of 54

Thread: How useful is the monomyth?

  1. #1
    figuring it all out
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Devon UK
    Posts
    68

    How useful is the monomyth?

    Having just taken a stab at starting a fantasy novel I remembered this idea about 'The heroes journey' I wondered if anyone has found it useful, and if so, in what way?

  2. #2
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2005
    Location
    In the land of cheese and chocolate
    Posts
    10,547
    I said recently in another thread that the hero's journey is an archetypal story structure that can be found in nearly every novel and film of the western hemisphere, in some form or other. It can be inverted, changed around, disguised, and otherwise modified, but the basic bones are still there.

    Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey talks about this. I found it interesting to look at archetypes (of characters and stories) as an after-the-fact tool, examining what I'd already written to see what I had unconsciously done with those archetypes.

    I think it's possible for a writer to attempt to follow an archetype too slavishly, resulting in predictable stories. The art is in what you do with the archetype--the way you dress it up, change it, subvert it. The hero's journey is very flexible that way.
    Last edited by BethS; 10-31-2017 at 05:47 PM.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Connecticut
    Posts
    1,852
    The Hero's Journey has been used a gazillion times, both in modern fiction & in storytelling/myth over millennia. The Wikipedia article lists some examples. It's at least as useful to writers as any other popular story-structure formula (e.g. Save the Cat or Dramatica). There's a risk in applying it too rigidly that the result will end up looking exactly like every other story that uses the same formula. It's a pretty specific structure, so the pale copies (there are a lot!) end up repetitive and predictable. And you definitely don't want to force a story into that structure if it does not organically fit. But it's a time-tested formula for a certain type of story, and if your story is that sort of story & you're the kind of writer who likes to plan things out it can probably help you set up your storyline and character roles.

  4. #4
    Tending bar by the litterbox. Thomas Vail's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Chicago 'round
    Posts
    333
    Quote Originally Posted by Daggilarr View Post
    Having just taken a stab at starting a fantasy novel I remembered this idea about 'The heroes journey' I wondered if anyone has found it useful, and if so, in what way?
    The monomyth is as directly useful to writing a story as 'an automobile is wheels, chassis, power supply, motor and gearbox' is to designing a car. It can help you make sure you didn't leave out anything vital, but it's how you implement the details that determines whether the end result is a Ford Model A, a Porsche 911, or a Tesla Roadster.

  5. #5
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    3,248
    Last edited by cbenoi1; 10-31-2017 at 11:42 PM.

  6. #6
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Location
    The land from whence the shadows fall
    Posts
    1,481
    It's not supposed to be something you adhere to as such. It's just a pattern which emerges naturally over the course of crafting a story.

    eg, you wouldn't say that bees go out of their way to adhere to a life cycle. We've simply observed that they have one, and that it follows certain patterns.
    "Though one evil spirit may drive a woman out of Eden, all the devils in hell cannot drive Heaven out of a woman."

    -- George MacDonald

  7. #7
    is watching you via her avatar jjdebenedictis's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    Posts
    6,876
    I've tried a few times to use the Hero's Journey as a template for creating a story, and it has never, ever, ever been useful to me.

    Other people, however, have found it works well for them, so try it out and see what you get out of it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to writing; everyone's brain works differently.

    Personally, I got more traction with the idea of the Eight Sequences.
    Twitter: jjdebenedictis
    GoodReads: jj-debenedictis

  8. #8
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2011
    Location
    Lost in space. And meaning.
    Posts
    15,934
    As I understand it, Campbell's books were all the rage a couple of decades ago or so. The success of Star Wars made it very faddish in Hollywood, and there were college classes in literature, even anthropology that incorporated his work. As with everything that gets too faddy, though, naysayers emerged, and I think it's taken more with a grain of salt these days.

    To be fair to Campbell, I don't think he ever said that writers should be checking boxes as they construct their stories to toss out anything that doesn't fit a pre-determined formula. It was supposed to be a more retrospective analysis of epic tales across cultures. There's some debate over the across cultures thing, however, as some claim Campbell cherry picked from examples that fit his hypothesis.

    I think various elements of the hero's journey--quests, transformation, mastering more than one world, wise mentors who bite it, avoiding temptation, getting the princess at the end--frequently emerge in works of heroic or epic fantasy. This doesn't mean that every (or most) box/boxes will be checked in every book, or that a failure to conform to this model will result in a poor story structure. Actually, I think focusing too much on this as a template can result in a stale, predictable story, or it can amount to trying to force a story or character into something that doesn't fit.

    There is a ton of debate over whether there are successful stories that step completely outside of Campbell's monomyth structure, and over how ubiquitous all these elements are across cultures. Sometimes I feel like we're squinting pretty hard at some to make them fit. Was the story Arrival a hero's journey tale? What about Reservoir Dogs? What about Amadeus? What about Taxi Driver? What about Death of a Salesman? What about romance novels? What about mysteries? What about stories with an antihero protagonist? What about stories that are about everyday, ordinary things or about people who aren't remotely heroic, or even antiheroic?

    And what about books and movies with female protagonists? I have read that Campbell felt there was no such thing as a "heroine's" journey, because in storytelling, women are "always" unchanging plot devices of some kind (except when they aren't, but he seemed to ignore myths with female protagonists). Today, we tend to call that kind of thinking sexist, and there's more attention to the under representation of women and girls in movies and books. Some say there's a parallel story structure for female heroes (the heroine's journey), which encompasses a quest for wholeness that women experience in patriarchal societies. But forcing every story with a female protagonist into that shell would be just as problematic.

    My thought about the Monomyth is if it's taken too strictly it's stifling, and anyway, there are tons of exceptions. If it's taken very broadly (and one is allowed to omit elements at will), it's so vague that almost anything can be shoehorned to fit. If the latter is true, how useful is it?
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 11-01-2017 at 04:22 AM.
    Please excuse me, I was raised by wolves.

    My twitter - My FB - My blog

  9. #9
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2008
    Location
    Canada
    Posts
    3,248
    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    There is a ton of debate over whether there are successful stories that step completely outside of Campbell's monomyth structure, and over how ubiquitous all these elements are across cultures.
    Sometimes I feel like we're squinting pretty hard at some to make them fit. Was the story Arrival a hero's journey tale? What about Reservoir Dogs ? What about Amadeus? What about Taxi Driver?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ldx1TbG8rnk&t=92s

    {People think} "Mythic structure like the Joseph Campbell thing has to apply to every movie" even thought the guy that wrote the book says 25% of them it doesn't apply to at all.
    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    I have read that Campbell felt there was no such thing as a "heroine's" journey, {...}
    Have a link? I don't recall coming across this last time I read the book.

    -cb

  10. #10
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Sep 2017
    Posts
    25
    Quote Originally Posted by benbenberi View Post
    The Hero's Journey has been used a gazillion times, both in modern fiction & in storytelling/myth over millennia. The Wikipedia article lists some examples. It's at least as useful to writers as any other popular story-structure formula (e.g. Save the Cat or Dramatica). There's a risk in applying it too rigidly that the result will end up looking exactly like every other story that uses the same formula. It's a pretty specific structure, so the pale copies (there are a lot!) end up repetitive and predictable. And you definitely don't want to force a story into that structure if it does not organically fit. But it's a time-tested formula for a certain type of story, and if your story is that sort of story & you're the kind of writer who likes to plan things out it can probably help you set up your storyline and character roles.
    Thing is, humans have always loved those stories and always will. We were built to love those stories.

  11. #11
    figuring it all out atwhatcost's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Location
    South Philly, PA
    Posts
    80
    I love it. I need it. I'm using it, if I can get Book 1 published and can write the next 6 books in the heptalogy.

    I'm not using the whole thing of course, but the basics helped quite a bit.

  12. #12
    figuring it all out atwhatcost's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2015
    Location
    South Philly, PA
    Posts
    80
    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    As I understand it, Campbell's books were all the rage a couple of decades ago or so. The success of Star Wars made it very faddish in Hollywood, and there were college classes in literature, even anthropology that incorporated his work. As with everything that gets too faddy, though, naysayers emerged, and I think it's taken more with a grain of salt these days.

    To be fair to Campbell, I don't think he ever said that writers should be checking boxes as they construct their stories to toss out anything that doesn't fit a pre-determined formula. It was supposed to be a more retrospective analysis of epic tales across cultures. There's some debate over the across cultures thing, however, as some claim Campbell cherry picked from examples that fit his hypothesis.

    I think various elements of the hero's journey--quests, transformation, mastering more than one world, wise mentors who bite it, avoiding temptation, getting the princess at the end--frequently emerge in works of heroic or epic fantasy. This doesn't mean that every (or most) box/boxes will be checked in every book, or that a failure to conform to this model will result in a poor story structure. Actually, I think focusing too much on this as a template can result in a stale, predictable story, or it can amount to trying to force a story or character into something that doesn't fit.

    There is a ton of debate over whether there are successful stories that step completely outside of Campbell's monomyth structure, and over how ubiquitous all these elements are across cultures. Sometimes I feel like we're squinting pretty hard at some to make them fit. Was the story Arrival a hero's journey tale? What about Reservoir Dogs? What about Amadeus? What about Taxi Driver? What about Death of a Salesman? What about romance novels? What about mysteries? What about stories with an antihero protagonist? What about stories that are about everyday, ordinary things or about people who aren't remotely heroic, or even antiheroic?

    And what about books and movies with female protagonists? I have read that Campbell felt there was no such thing as a "heroine's" journey, because in storytelling, women are "always" unchanging plot devices of some kind (except when they aren't, but he seemed to ignore myths with female protagonists). Today, we tend to call that kind of thinking sexist, and there's more attention to the under representation of women and girls in movies and books. Some say there's a parallel story structure for female heroes (the heroine's journey), which encompasses a quest for wholeness that women experience in patriarchal societies. But forcing every story with a female protagonist into that shell would be just as problematic.

    My thought about the Monomyth is if it's taken too strictly it's stifling, and anyway, there are tons of exceptions. If it's taken very broadly (and one is allowed to omit elements at will), it's so vague that almost anything can be shoehorned to fit. If the latter is true, how useful is it?
    Actually, I didn't shoehorn anything. I already had the reluctant hero. He was kicked out of his home, (first threshold), kicked out of where he landed, (second threshold), had to go through three states before he gets where he needs to be, and each state had others he needed to learn about to see how the overall problem affected them too, so "three trials," and then had to confront the ones causing his people problems, before settling into his new normal. He has a mentor, because he's both reluctant and naive. It sort of cleared the way of how to get the kid from beginning to end on his epic.

  13. #13
    figuring it all out
    Join Date
    Oct 2017
    Location
    Seattle
    Posts
    56
    As a Iconoclast I find it important to really know the rules well so you can break them in interesting and new ways.

  14. #14
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    3,690
    It's interesting. Someone was talking about Joseph Campbell to me the other day wrt my own work, and I had to look him up.

    And in the case of what we were discussing, the hero's journey definitely belongs to my female MC. (Actually, it belongs to all of my MCs, but she's furthest along in hers.)

    It does feel like a natural arc for certain kinds of stories: MC goes on an adventure, learns lessons, grows, returns with something that makes everything better for everyone after paying a great cost. Star Wars, Hunger Games, etc. etc. etc. It's all in the execution, of course, but done well it provides a satisfying narrative.
    November goal: An additional 60K on WIP #2 (+48,382 : 64,620/~120,000)

    Hey, I got interviewed by AbsoluteWrite!




    Here are some books I wrote.

  15. #15
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    On the Server
    Posts
    13,310
    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    As I understand it, Campbell's books were all the rage a couple of decades ago or so. The success of Star Wars made it very faddish in Hollywood, and there were college classes in literature, even anthropology that incorporated his work. As with everything that gets too faddy, though, naysayers emerged, and I think it's taken more with a grain of salt these days.
    Campbell was a popularizer, but is not really respected by Medievalists, or Folklorists. He takes huge liberties with the assertions he makes about particular stories, and is very often wrong at the level of plot and in terms of historical fact. He is the twentieth century equivalent to Frazer's Golden Bough. Fun to read, but not reliable.

    He is most noticeably hampered because he relies on nineteenth century bowdlerized translations, rather than looking at the actual texts he uses.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 11-02-2017 at 07:16 PM.

  16. #16
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,879
    For me the main takeaway from the Hero's Journey as Campbell described it is that it recaps one old idea of a young man's path to becoming a grownup. He goes out, has adventures, and returns home with riches (maybe only wisdom) to take his place as a adult. The Odyssey and The Lion King are examples.

    Until recently a Heroine's Journey looked very different. She stayed home, not allowed to go out and risk herself. When she did go out it was under guard and to a different sheltered place, as a wife and eventual mother.

    Nowadays in the developed world a woman can go out by herself to have her own adventures, gain riches, and establish herself as an adult. Though one of the "adventures" she faces, more than men, is harassment and rape, as has become abundantly clear recently.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; 11-06-2017 at 02:03 AM.

  17. #17
    Tending bar by the litterbox. Thomas Vail's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2014
    Location
    Chicago 'round
    Posts
    333
    Quote Originally Posted by tenuki View Post
    As a Iconoclast I find it important to really know the rules well so you can break them in interesting and new ways.
    That's called, 'being a writer.'

  18. #18
    Perpetually in transit Helix's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2011
    Location
    Far North Queensland
    Posts
    6,303
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    For me the main takeaway from the Hero's Journey as Campbell described it is that it recaps one old idea of a young man's path to becoming a grownup. He goes out, has adventures, and returns home with riches (maybe only wisdom) to take his place as a adult. The Odyssey and The Lion King are examples.

    Until recently a Heroine's Journey looked very different. She stayed home, not allowed to go out and risk herself. When she did go out it was under guard and to a different sheltered place, as a wife and eventual mother.
    Women have always done 'heroic' things. There have always been women risking their lives to change things -- women with great political and military power and women without power.

    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    Nowadays in the developed world a woman can go out by herself to have her own adventures, gain riches, and establish herself as an adult. Though one of the "adventures" she faces, more than men, is harassment and rape, as has become abundantly clear recently.
    This last bit has been abundantly clear to women for millennia and across all cultures. It's one of the ways in which men control and diminish us. Another way is to erase us from history.
    Last edited by Helix; 11-04-2017 at 04:29 AM.


  19. #19
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,879
    Quote Originally Posted by Helix View Post
    Women have always done 'heroic' things. There have always been women risking their lives ...
    Good point. Which I found out when I began deeply researching history for my two alt-history books (Shapechanger's Birth and Sc's Progress). I especially found useful the various HERStory studies which have uncovered so many examples of heroic women in all times and walks of life.
    Last edited by Laer Carroll; 11-06-2017 at 05:23 AM.

  20. #20
    Not as sweet as you think Aggy B.'s Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    Just north of the Deep South
    Posts
    11,308
    I think this came up in a different thread not too long ago and it was pointed out (in addition to the valid pros and cons listed above) that Campbell was focused on Western/European work. Which means his "monomyth" is not so "mono" if you look at storytelling and structure in other cultures. Which could be why there has been some pushback more recently as folks in non-Western cultures have started being more vocal about not seeing their stories represented. (Obviously, this goes to ideas of gender, religion, sexuality, etc. But also just the structure of the story is not one size fits all.)

    I myself have never specifically used the hero's journey to structure my books (even the epic or fantastical ones) but it's possible there are still similarities there. (I do read a lot of Western fiction so chances are the unconscious structure of Western storytelling has seeped into my brain.) I have not found that not studying it or following it has seemed to interfere with my ability to tell stories - short or long.
    _________
    A.G.C.

    Touch: A Trilogy - AVAILABLE NOW!
    "The 'Touch' trilogy is a masterclass in world-building, tells a fascinating story with economy and intelligence, and does so with fine, pared-down prose." - Eric Brown, author of The Fall of Tartarus

    "I loved this novella series. Brooding, earthy, whispering to us with a delicious mood of creeping dread while filling the heart with a pure sense of wonder." - Charles de Lint, author of The Onion Girl

    A.G. Carpenter
    @Aggy_C

  21. #21
    New Fish; Learning About Thick Skin
    Join Date
    Sep 2017
    Posts
    25
    Quote Originally Posted by AW Admin View Post
    Campbell was a popularizer, but is not really respected by Medievalists, or Folklorists. He takes huge liberties with the assertions he makes about particular stories, and is very often wrong at the level of plot and in terms of historical fact. He is the twentieth century equivalent to Frazer's Golden Bough. Fun to read, but not reliable.

    He is most noticeably hampered because he relies on nineteenth century bowdlerized translations, rather than looking at the actual texts he uses.
    Well, yes, he was the popularizer of the work that Carl Jung did.

    "not really respected by Medievalists, or Folklorists"
    - how did you come to this conclusion?

  22. #22
    Moderator AW Moderator Sophia's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Location
    U.K.
    Posts
    4,115
    Quote Originally Posted by Poetical Gore View Post
    "not really respected by Medievalists, or Folklorists"
    - how did you come to this conclusion?
    The About.Me link in AW Admin's signature is a helpful place to look for part of the answer to this question.

  23. #23
    Aerospace engineer turned writer Laer Carroll's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    Location
    Los Angeles
    Posts
    1,879
    The Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey as I described them are oft-used models of reality. They are true but only of some people's lives.

    Such models may be more useful if we subvert them or use real-life situations. More often young men of all times stayed home and faced the more mundane risks of life: disease, bad weather, and scruffy local bandits, rather than exotic beasts or beautiful malevolent elves. Some young women did and do leave home to achieve goals despite risks, although often the more mundane risks such as men who try to use intimidation and force to get sex.

    One example of a real-life heroine is Elizabeth Blackwell. She struggled to get and got a medical degree. She helped set up health standards for the Union army during the American Civil War. Then as the war raged she traveled widely, including to Europe, to find sponsors for a medical college for women wanting to be doctors and nurses.

    Real life is complex and long, so to use them as story fodder we have to select just brief parts of biographies and focus on just some aspects of them. Blackwell lived almost 90 years.

  24. #24
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
    Location
    Massachusetts
    Posts
    3,690
    Quote Originally Posted by Laer Carroll View Post
    The Hero's Journey and Heroine's Journey as I described them are oft-used models of reality. They are true but only of some people's lives.
    ...Yeah, I think my issue is that, as described, the Hero's Journey is more of a human thing than a guy thing. Hero (to me, anyway) isn't a gendered term, and it's irritating to learn that Campbell saw it that way.

    I don't think I've ever known a single woman, no matter what her choices in life, who cheerfully aspired to be solely a motivator/reward for a man. Every woman I've known, from the full-time at-home parent to the soldier to the senior partner at a lawfirm, has had her own journey and her own story arc. That we still discuss women with adventurous lives as some aberration bothers me more and more the older I get.
    November goal: An additional 60K on WIP #2 (+48,382 : 64,620/~120,000)

    Hey, I got interviewed by AbsoluteWrite!




    Here are some books I wrote.

  25. #25
    Herder of Hamsters AW Admin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2008
    Location
    On the Server
    Posts
    13,310
    Quote Originally Posted by lizmonster View Post
    ...Yeah, I think my issue is that, as described, the Hero's Journey is more of a human thing than a guy thing. Hero (to me, anyway) isn't a gendered term, and it's irritating to learn that Campbell saw it that way.

    I don't think I've ever known a single woman, no matter what her choices in life, who cheerfully aspired to be solely a motivator/reward for a man. Every woman I've known, from the full-time at-home parent to the soldier to the senior partner at a lawfirm, has had her own journey and her own story arc. That we still discuss women with adventurous lives as some aberration bothers me more and more the older I get.
    Yes. This. Absolutely.


    If it works for you as a writer, that's great, but it's not a terribly useful tool in terms of closely looking at ur-tales; it's a kinda limited one-size-fits all lens.

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •  
Custom Search