The Hero’s Journey Explained: A Breakdown of its Different Stages

The Hero’s Journey Explained: A Breakdown of its Different Stages

The Hero’s Journey is a narrative pattern identified by Joseph Campbell, most notably outlined in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This pattern of adventure and transformation is a universal one that runs through all kinds of mythic traditions across the world.

Christopher Vogler has simplified this pattern in his The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. While Joseph Campbell’s monomyth is described to have seventeen stages, I will focus on Christopher Vogler’s version (which is divided into twelve stages) and break them down for you.


An Overview

In its basic form, The Hero’s Journey follows the archetype called The Hero on his journey to achieve great deeds. All the different points on his journey is what creates the framework. The journey is divided into three parts:

  1. Departure

  2. Initiation

  3. Return


This is a similar pattern to that of the Three Act Structure (The Setup, The Confrontation, and The Resolution). However, while the Three Act Structure focus on plot points, the focus in The Hero’s Journey lies on the stages the Hero goes through.


That brings us to the different stages The Hero’s Journey is divided into:

  1. The Ordinary World

  2. The Call to Adventure

  3. Refusal of the Call

  4. Meeting with the Mentor

  5. Crossing the Threshold to the Special World

  6. Tests, Allies and Enemies

  7. Approach to the Innermost Cave

  8. The Ordeal

  9. The Reward

  10. The Road Back

  11. The Resurrection

  12. Return with the Elixir


All of these stages are divided into the three parts I mentioned above. The first part, the Departure, include the following stages:

  • The Ordinary World

  • The Call to Adventure

  • Refusal of the Call

  • Meeting with the Mentor

  • Crossing the Threshold to the Special World


The second part, the Initiation, include the following stages:

  • Tests, Allies and Enemies

  • Approach to the Innermost Cave

  • The Ordeal

  • The Reward


The third part, the Return, include the following stages:

  • The Road Back

  • The Resurrection

  • Return with the Elixir


Now, let’s dive deeper into these different stages of The Hero’s Journey.


The Ordinary World

The Hero is introduced. He is shown in his Ordinary World, which is nothing special and a complete contrast to the Special World he will later venture into. He has a sad, boring life that usually gets the reader to sympathize and/or identify with him.


The Call to Adventure

Within his Ordinary World, the Hero receives some form of information that shakes up the situation and acts as the call to adventure. The Hero is being prompted to leave the Ordinary World for the Special World. This is where he is beginning a new stage in his life.


Refusal of the Call

The Hero experience some refusal to answer the call and turn away from the adventure, perhaps by feelings of insecurity, obligation, or fear of the unknown.


Meeting with the Mentor

The Hero meets a guide or protector or some form of magical helper—often a seasoned traveler—who offer the Hero training, knowledge, confidence, advice, and such that will help the Hero on his journey. The key word is that the Mentor offers help and guidance while the Hero is the one who should complete the journey.


Crossing the Threshold to the Special World

At the end of this first part, the Departure, the Hero commits to leaving the Ordinary World and crossing into the adventure and the Special World. This new unknown and dangerous world contains rules the Hero is not familiar with. While the Mentor lead the Hero to the threshold, the Hero has to cross it on his own. The threshold is also guarded by a Guardian or Gatekeeper, which means the Hero must prove to be worthy in order to pass the threshold.


Tests, Allies and Enemies

The Hero explores this new and unknown world and goes through tests and trials within this unfamiliar setting. He learns new things and skills that will prepare him for the Ordeal that’s to come. The Hero should not succeed at every test, he should know what failure feels like (because this will make him grow). He will also encounter new characters and sort out friends from foes. His new companions will help him with the tests and trials.


Approach to the Innermost Cave

The Hero prepares for the major challenge in the Special World—together with his friends—by facing greater challenges and more difficult obstacles and guardians. This is a way to prove himself worthy of greater challenges and the ultimate battle.


The Ordeal

The Hero faces his greatest challenge yet, in the form of the Antagonist, with the knowledge and skills he has obtained up until now. He confronts death or his deepest fear. He then experiences death and rebirth (either literal or symbolic).


The Reward

The Hero takes possession of the reward/treasure he won by facing his greatest challenge, marking his triumph over the Antagonist. This reward/treasure is what the Hero went on the journey to get (it does not have to be something material, though).


The Road Back

The Hero is driven to complete the adventure by going back to the Ordinary World with the reward/treasure he won. It can often be as dangerous to return from the journey as it was to start it in the first place. There is often a chase scene that signals the urgency and danger of the mission, or the defeated Antagonist may be rallying for a second round.


The Resurrection

The Hero is once again tested on the threshold going back to the Ordinary World (this may be brought about by a rebounding Antagonist who must be conquered once more). The Hero experiences a final moment of death and resurrection that’s on a higher and more complete level than the previous one, so that he is pure when he reenters the Ordinary World. This resurrection may either be literal or symbolical, and he wakes to a new world and transformed life.


Return with the Elixir

The Hero returns home with some element of the reward/treasure that will help him improve the Ordinary World (it can just as well be a material thing as a greater insight into himself as a person). Usually, the elixir (the reward/treasure) is meant to help someone other than the Hero—what the Hero gained on his journey will benefit others beyond himself.


There you have the Hero’s Journey in its simplest form. I hope this post has been useful.

Let's Chat!

Have you structured your story with The Hero’s Journey as a framework? If not, would you consider using it? Please do share in the comments below.

The Hero’s Journey Explained: A Breakdown of its Different Stages
The Hero’s Journey Explained: A Breakdown of its Different Stages

Do you want a Scrivener or Microsoft word template that will help you with your story’s structure?

The Story Structure Template is designed to help you create and develop your story and its structure.

It includes a template for the Three Act Structure, one for the Seven Point Story Structure, and one for The Hero’s Journey structure so that you easily create or develop your story from the structure you like best.