How many stages are in the hero's journey?

Heroes can be found in both books and movies, and television shows. But, they exist in real life; they are the ones who help others, who show up every day and give their all.

"A hero is someone who has dedicated his life to something greater than himself," writes acclaimed literary critic Joseph Campbell. This simple and profound definition is the entry point to his famous breakdown of The Hero's Journey, as defined in his book About Him the Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Continue reading for a breakdown of the hero's journey steps (17 in total) and a hero's journey template you can use in your writing and life.

What is the hero's journey?

Simply put, the hero's journey is the character's development. It is your journey of embarking on an adventure, facing a challenge, and overcoming it to become a better person, often while also benefiting the greater good.

Every story, whether a Disney classic or a literary classic, inherently adheres to a particular archetype or set of narrative designs, motifs, character types, images, or elements. This is true regardless of the medium. Whether it is Samba’s journey back to Pride Rock in The Lion King or Harry's quest to defeat Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, literary critics and readers can identify some aspects of these stories and relate them to ancient precedents. Whether they discuss Harry's journey in the Harry Potter series or Simba's journey in The Lion King is true.

These recurring elements are meant to elicit powerful reactions from the audience because they reflect fundamental patterns that are universal, primal, and elemental. Some of the most common archetypes include stories about death and rebirth, traveling back to one's roots, looking for one's family, and, of course, the hero's journey.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces and Joseph Campbell

Because the archetype of the hero's journey is so complex and intertwined with human life, it has gotten a lot of attention. Joseph Campbell, an American comparative mythology professor, and literary critic, best known for his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which discusses and compares the hero's journey, also known as the monomyth, to various religions, spent much of his career dissecting the archetypal hero's journey. Campbell's most famous work is The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

Campbell created a type equation, which was a step-by-step guide that outlined each of the distinguishing characteristics. This enabled us to recognize the elements of the hero's journey in the world we live in today.

According to Campbell, there are three major stages, each consisting of several steps: departure (or separation), initiation, and return. During the game, the hero is introduced, who introduces himself and prepares for his journey. The initiation stage occurs when the hero crosses the point of no return and overcomes the transformative challenges. Finally, the return is the hero's journey back to his usual world and a satisfying ending.

What stages and steps comprise the hero's journey?

  • Starting or separation stage

1. Call to Adventure

The call to action, another name for the call to adventure, can come in many different ways. It gets in the way of the hero's daily life and threatens him, his family, or his community. However, the hero can't ignore the call to action, no matter how much he wants to. It throws him off his normal routine and gives him a challenge that he must take on.

2. Rejection

Frightened by the idea of ​​abandoning the comfort of everything he knows, the hero hesitates to accept the call to action. The task is overwhelming, and the result is unknown. He will remove the hero from everything familiar to him and what is comfortable for him. At this journey stage, he doubts whether he should accept the challenge. In some stories, this can result in suffering or punishment for the hero. The hero's response to fear and the unknown makes him seem more human, and the audience can identify with him.

3. Supernatural help

Once the hero accepts the call to action, his guide or magical helper approaches him. This supernatural help will serve as a mentor and provide the hero with the necessary physical or metaphorical tools to undertake the journey.  

4. The crossing of the first threshold

This is precisely what it sounds like, the moment the hero officially begins his journey, the moment he crosses the threshold into a world different from the one he knew. But unfortunately, this stage of the hero's journey can invite danger and the unknown.

5. The belly of the whale

This is the point at which there is no turning back. After crossing the first threshold, the heroine enters the belly of the whale or the first real challenge of the journey. This step represents the hero's final separation from the version of themselves and the world around them.

  • Initiation stage

6. The path of trials

The protagonist goes through a series of challenges and tests in the first step of the initiation stage, which sets in motion his transformation into the true hero he is destined to be. It is typical for the hero to fail some of these tests before passing all of them. This strengthens his character and gives him self-confidence.

7. The encounter with the goddess

It is the point in the plot where the hero meets and befriends an ally or guide. The person or entity assists the hero on his journey.

8. The woman as temptation

At this stage, the hero is tempted to give up and abandon his mission. Although the classic representation is that of a woman because the original heroes were men tempted by lust, this stage does not have to be represented by a woman: temptation can manifest itself in many ways.

9. Atonement with the Father

This stage represents a significant turning point in the plot. At that moment, the hero confronts the true purpose of his journey. Everything he has endured up to that moment led him to this moment of claiming the person or entity that rules his life.

10. Apotheosis

As a result of his confrontation with the symbolic "father," the hero becomes fully aware of his power, purpose, or ability during the apotheosis or climax. This discovery is the key to the hero's ultimate success. 

11. The Final Blessing

This is the final stage of initiation. During this phase, the hero reaches his fullness by achieving the goal he set for himself. Everything the hero has suffered has led to this moment, until this victory. Often this achievement is presented as the acquisition of some magical item, an item that grants the hero immortality or exemplary power.

  • Return stage

12. Refusal to return

This is the beginning of the return stage of the hero's journey. During this stage, the hero is reluctant to return to the life he knew. The journey has changed him, and he doubts if he should return to the world he once inhabited.

13. The magical flight

Although the hero has completed his adventure, some alternate powers may remain after him. This stage is the hero's chance to evade them and return from his journey.

14. Rescue from abroad

In the same way that the hero receives help from a "goddess" during the initiation stage, he receives help from an ally or guide to start the return home.

15. The return threshold crossing

Once again, as precise as it sounds, the hero returns to the ordinary world he once left.

16. Mastery of Both Worlds

The heroine, after completing her adventure, became a different person. She can acclimatize back to the world she once knew or thrive in this new realm of challenges and adventures.

17. Freedom to live

In this last stage of the hero's journey, the protagonist can live freely. In other words, the hero has completed his task, escaped danger, evaded death, evolved into a better person, and gained the freedom to live comfortably and peacefully.

Here are resources I recommend to get more in-depth knowledge

Storytelling 101 teaches you how to write compelling stories worthy of commercial success. This is best for screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, videogame writers and storytellers.

Children’s Books 101 teaches you how to write stories that children will love. This is best for aspiring children’s book authors and storytellers.

Owl AI is the revolutionary AI-powered content production platform that helps storytellers, writers, and bloggers of all subject matter easily create highly-polished content.

Success, Money & Mindset Subliminal is a self-hypnosis recording that we recommend to new writers to help with focus, concentration, creativity, and motivation.

Shadow Work Journal: 240 Daily Prompts contains inner work exercises related to relationships, anger, anxiety, self-love, healing trauma, abandonment issues, depression, forgiveness, etc.

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