This narrative pattern was discovered by Joseph Campbell. He found it to exist everywhere there is a human community. It is a common structure human beings from all cultures share for telling stories. No matter where you go, you’ll find almost the same principles and elements, in the exactly same order.
No doubt many stories in film and literature deviate from this pattern. And some of them probably achieve great or moderate success. They are not very many, though.
- The Hero is living in his ordinary world. He might not be happy or satisfied, but he is comfortable. This is the world that he knows. In fact, this is the world as he knows it. Only a great crisis could provide the motivation to make him go out of his ordinary world.
- A great crisis hits the hero where it hurts and his ordinary world becomes unbalanced. He or she must go out to regain the lost balance and make his or her world whole again. This crisis is his call to adventure. With it there is a mission he must fulfill.
- The hero ventures into the special world, the unknown, where he is lost. He must figure everything out, pass tests, vanquish enemies, trick or destroy those who impede his progress. During his stay in the special world, the hero is gradually transformed. He must at the end of this phase reach the lowest point of his quest, where everything seems to be lost.
- After this, the hero is thoroughly transformed and knows how to complete his mission. He moves on to the final conflict.
- He either wins or loses this final confrontation, according to the mood of the story.
- He can accomplish his mission alive or dead: many heroes give their lives in order to achieve perfection and balance. Others die and come back to life, more powerful than before.
- If the hero has survived his ordeals and accomplished his mission, he usually turns back and returns to his ordinary world with the boon of what he has learned and acquired.
Here’s the scheme in visual form:
Think of three films and deconstruct them using this scheme.