|Trade paperback of Buffy: Season Eight, Volume One,|
The Long Way Home, written by Joss Whedon
In the Hero's Journey, Joseph Campbell describes 17 stages. But for the modern day writer, the breakdown of a simple hero's journey can take far fewer stages than that.
His first stage, the Call to Adventure, is one that every story needs. This is where the protagonist lives an ordinary life and something happens to change it. Either information is received or an event occurs and this leads to the protagonist needing to start their adventure. In the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series by Joss Whedon, the protagonist, Buffy, is living an ordinary life as a cheerleader at her school. She is not aware that there is anything special about her. Then vampires attack and she learns that she is specially equipped to fight them. I call this the Call to Action, because whatever has happened, it has called the main character to take action.
Many books, though not all, include Campbell's stage Refusal of the Call. This is where the hero doesn't want to be special or needed. The protagonist just wants to continue living in their ordinary world and doesn't want to answer the call to adventure. In the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" series, the protagonist, Buffy just wants to be an ordinary girl, and she tries to deny her calling at first. I think the current name for this stage fits it perfectly.
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is the perfect example of Campbell's next stage in his Hero's Journey, called "Supernatural Aid." This is the stage where the protagonist comes across a mentor. For Buffy, this mentor is Giles, a librarian at her school who is also a Watcher and on a council whose members have studied vampire slayers and learned how to train them. Not all novels include a supernatural element, so I call this stage the Meeting the Mentor stage.
Campbell's next stages in his Hero's Journey are Crossing of the First Threshold, where the hero starts her adventure, leaving the known and crossing into the unknown and Belly of the Whale, which represents the hero's willingness to separate from his known world and enter into the adventure fully. In many cases, these are not separate from the Supernatural Aid stage but happen concurrently, and the two stages can actually be combined. In "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," the protagonist accepts her role as vampire slayer, but she never really gives up on being able to lead a somewhat normal life, so the Belly of the Whale stage doesn't fully come into the story as she never fully accepts that she is not going to ever have the same things that normal teenagers get to have. I call this stage the Journey Begins. This stage, as I see it, is interchangeable in order with the Meeting the Mentor stage. Sometimes the mentor will be needed to convince the hero to accept the adventure, but sometimes the hero will start on her journey before she meets the mentor.
In Campbell's Initiation stage, the hero undergoes a series of tests or trials. These tests or trials often come in threes and the hero doesn't always pass them all, sometimes failing one or more of the trials. Taking our hero Buffy into account again, because her story is a series of stories, we find she faces many more trials than just three. It's true that she doesn't face all of her trials successfully. I call this the Three Trials. Many book forms, including picture books, chapter books and adult books, include the three stages of the main character trying and failing to succeed at their goal, usually only succeeding on the third attempt. If the book is the first in a series, then there may be three trials in the first book and three new trials in the second book, and so on.
In Campbell's the Meeting with the Goddess stage, this has to do with the hero encountering an all-encompassing love. In many cases, this is where the hero is meeting the love of his or her life. The difference between Joseph Campbell's theory about this and modern day novels is that a modern protagonist does not always meet only one love. Using "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" as an example again, she meets the love of her life, Angel, early on in the series, but later, he leaves and a new love is introduced, Riley, and, when that doesn't work out, another love is introduced, Spike. In "The Hunger Games," the all-encompassing love is the protagonist's love for her sister. I call this stage the Reason for the Journey. If not for love of self (i.e. the hero does not want to die) or love of others, then why is the hero on this journey?
Campbell's stage Woman as Temptress is another frequently found stage in novels. In this stage, the hero faces a temptation, or perhaps many temptations, which tempt her to leave the adventure and give up her quest. This is not necessarily a woman, but can be many things. The "Woman" in the title of this stage is merely a metaphor. For Buffy in the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," this temptation rears its head in many forms, usually in the form of a way to leave her responsibilities. In one instance, she is led to believe that she is insane and that if she just kills everyone she loves within her "dream world," she will wake up in that normal life she has left so long ago. In another instance, she dies and is, presumably, in Heaven, but her friends and family bring her back and she must choose to continue to fight. I call this stage, simply, Temptations.
In my method for writing a good fiction novel, once these things have occurred, there should only be four stages left. There should be the Complete Failure stage, where the hero is at the bottom. In this stage, the hero has failed utterly and it is difficult to see any way that the hero can now turn things around.
Then there is the Refusal to Give Up stage where the hero finds an inner strength and resolve not found prior to this point in the story. The hero can even find something that will help them in the battle ahead.
Then there's the Final Battle, where the hero battles to save the world or save her family or just to save herself. This is where the hero finally confronts whatever antagonist she faces within the story structure and wins. Taking Buffy as an example again, this stage occurs when she and her friends have the final battle in the depths of the Hellmouth against hundreds (or thousands) of master vampires.
And lastly, there is the Winding Down stage where everything is tied up neatly into a happy ending.
So here are the 11 stages in the alernate method of the Hero's Journey:
1. Call to Action
2. Refusal of the Call
3. Meeting the Mentor (not in every story)
4. Journey Begins (can come before or after stage 3)
5. Three Trials
6. Reason for the Journey (can occur at any point in the story)
8. Complete Failure
9. Refusal to Give Up
10. Final Battle
11. Winding Down