The Hero with 1,000 Faces

The video below gives a great synopsis of Joseph Campbell’s book A HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES. It’s a very interesting topic that suggests that all heroes in literature all tie back to heroes of ancient myths, claiming that they all journey down the same path. That a hero’s adventure is symbolic of our own life experiences toward conquering a fear. A quick summary of the journey is listed below:

  1. The hero is introduced in his ordinary world
  2. The call to adventure
  3. The hero is reluctant at first
  4. The hero is encouraged by the wise old man/woman
  5. The hero passes the first threshold
  6. The hero encounters tests and helpers
  7. The hero reaches the inner most cave
  8. The hero endures the supreme ordeal
  9. The hero seizes the reward
  10. The road back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the elixir

After watching the video, it is amazing to see the oversimplification of a hero’s journey and how they all relate in that context. This has to do with how we tell stories, which is very similar to Christopher Booker’s analysis of why we tell stories, explained at length in his novel THE 7 BASIC PLOTS, which I’ve talked about here.

So, now that we understand how similar stories of today are compared to stories of ancient myth and legend, let’s take a look at the different type of heroes that exist in our stories. An archetype is a prototype or model from which something is based, a framework of sorts. The character archetypes listed below are derived from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces and are deeply rooted in the myths and legends of many cultures.

  1. Hero
  2. Mentor
  3. Threshold Guardian
  4. Herald
  5. Shapeshifter
  6. Shadow
  7. Trickster

In my novel, The Soul Smith, it has been said that Erador is opposite of the ‘reluctant hero’ archetype – that he is eager to go on the adventure. What archetype is your character?

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Are There Only 7 Basic Plots?

According to Christopher Booker’s THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS, he has been able to reduce every fiction novel down to its most basic plot element and discovered that there are only 7 different plots possible.  I did not have the time to read such a voluminous book, so I read this article instead: http://bit.ly/LsM6Sm

When my good friend showed me the article (which summarizes THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS), it left me disheartened. I felt a wave of discouragement, as if it’s all been done before. I felt like my goal of ‘being as original as possible’ had just been rendered null. However, I realized that despite the lack of variety in plot choices, every story is unique because it’s always about the story, and how the characters choose to overcome the specific challenges that face them. The story and their characters are what make each novel unique, not the plot.

THE SEVEN BASIC PLOTS goes more in depth into the psychology as to why we are ‘programmed’ to imagine stories in these ways. Please read the article and/or book for a more in-depth look at what the seven basic plots consist of, but I have provided a short list below:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

On the flip side of this argument, I just finished reading On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King and he talks about how you do not need a plot to write a book. When he writes a story, he conceives of a single situation and then a book is born.  For example, what if a girl that was bullied through high school had telekinesis? Carrie. However, in my opinion, the ending to a situation-based story can feel like it is lacking closure when compared to the ending of a plot-based story.

My story (as I’m sure many of you will also say) does not fall within one specific category listed. I have some of The Quest, but mostly my story falls into Overcoming the Monster. However, the “monster” in my novel does not fall into the 3 basic roles listed in the article. Regarding the Quest, while I do have a party of companions that follows my hero, they did not encounter obstacles on the actual journey… the obstacles they encountered (among discovering a runaway traitor or “monster”) happened to them at home and are the reason why they left to go on the journey.

So, are there really only 7 types of plots? I welcome all your thoughts and opinions on this subject. Please leave a comment.