by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
We've all heard of the Twelve Steps in the Hero's Journey, right? Maybe even written novels or screenplays using those steps, read Joseph Campbell's book, or taken a workshop on it.
Confession time: I've never really GOTTEN the hero's journey. I know there are thousands of writers who swear by it -- there's clearly some value in those twelve steps.
But for some reason, they've just never quite worked for me. My heroes don't meet wise mentors, don't face dark caves, don't return with elixirs. My heroes are guys who hear advice from equally clueless friends, occasionally get rained on at the ballgame, and maybe return with a beer.
Same is true for my heroines. Swell women, all of 'em, but they're sure not out there staging interplanetary raids and facing down corrupt sheriffs and rescuing secret formulas.
No, their journey is more internal. Even if they're taking off from their everyday life and flying to Cleveland, the challenges they face aren't the kind that'll have movie-goers crunching popcorn at twice the usual speed.
Their challenges are more like our own.
"My husband doesn't understand why I need time to write." "My best friend left the company and nobody else is as close." "I wish I could make Mom understand why I didn't choose her way."
And, like most of our heroines, we occasionally settle for being less than we can be.
Of course, by and large, we do a pretty good job of looking out for our loved ones and ourselves. We speak up eventually when something bothers us. We try something new every so often; we recognize that even if our dreams aren't practical they aren't stupid.
But even so, we don't always live up to our highest self. We're not always the strongest, healthiest, wisest, best person we can be.
And neither are our heroines.
That's where we get to the Heroine's Journey. Just like every action hero goes through twelve steps, a heroine who hasn't yet achieved the victory of being her true self needs to go through thirteen steps.
Each one of those steps takes her from being a person who depends on others for self-worth to a person who's innately worthy in her own right. She might start and finish the book as a scullery maid, but along the way she'll make a difference in her world and become her own person...usually for the first time in her life.
She'll go through the steps that Kim Hudson, author of The Virgin's Promise, calls the Price Of Conformity, Dressing The Part, Caught Shining, and ten intriguing others. And each one takes her closer to the ultimate triumph.
What's cool about this is that the heroine, like each of us, is involved with other people throughout her journey. And these people (often with the best and most loving intentions in the world) want her to stay where THEY think she belongs, rather than where she discovers she can truly become her best self.
So that's where we get the payoff of the lucky thirteenth step -- because once she's her best self, she doesn't just go off and forget where she came from. She makes things better for those around her, as well, and that's what makes her a REAL heroine.
We'll get into more detail on that next month at my WriterUniv.com class on "The Hero's Journey, For Heroines," but meanwhile I'd love to hear some real-life examples. If you've ever managed to go beyond the limits that other people set for you, could you say what you did? And if you'd rather I DIDN'T use your comment, please mention that...but somebody who comments will win free registration to the October class!
Laurie Schnebly Campbell always wondered what was wrong with her, not really GETTING the Hero's Journey, until she discovered its feminine counterpart. Then she got excited -- not only by the premise, but also by the chance to create a brand new class for WriterUniv.com. She can't wait to see who else shares her enthusiasm for characters making discoveries within themselves, as well as within the world...no matter what their gender.