Post 5: Story Structure – “The Hero’s Journey Mad Libs”

I’m a terrible person to take to the movies.  Just ask my husband.  “Gravity” was on T.V. a few months ago.  Do you know this movie?  It stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.  They’re astronauts.  They have a problem with their space shuttle.  They float around in space trying to figure it out.  Their lives are in danger.  Yada, yada, yada.  I suspect that there’s some tear jerking ending that I won’t spoil for anyone who hasn’t seen it.  It’s all very suspenseful.

“Gravity” received positive reviews, so my husband wanted to watch it.  Unfortunately for him, I’ve been studying story structure and I’ve discovered a new game.  It’s called “Guess How The Movie Ends Without Watching It.”  I told my husband what I thought would happen, which ruined that movie for him.  When I looked up the synopsis of the movie later, it turned out I was correct.

I know.  I’m awful.  No one will ever hang out with me at the movies again.  But seriously, we don’t have a lot of free time these days.  Who wants to waste two hours watching a movie when you know how it’s going to end?  I did the two of us a favor.

I’ll stop here to issue a warning.  If you don’t want to ruin stories/movies for yourself, stop reading here.  Anyone interested in ruining stories for friends and loved ones should keep reading.

If you think movies are formulaic, you’re right.  Most stories follow the same basic pattern.  The only change is the context.  The better the storyteller, the better the context.  Two authors who are famous for their work on story structure are Joseph Campbell (“The Hero With A Thousand Faces”) and Christopher Vogler (“The Writer’s Journey”).  Both of them discuss a commonly used storytelling formula known as “The Hero’s Journey.”  Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, but most popular books and movies don’t deviate from this formula.

I found this pseudo-“Mad Libs” template for the “Hero’s Journey” on the internet.  (Source:  kalbashir.com).  It does a great job of demonstrating how the formula works in two movies – Star Wars and Harry Potter.

A HERO’S JOURNEY MAD LIBS TEMPLATE:

[Insert Hero] is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of [Insert Location].

[Hero] is rescued from [Insert 1st Antagonist] by wise, bearded [Insert 1st Ally] who turns out to be a [Insert Special Occupation].

[1st Ally] reveals to [Hero] that [Hero’s Father] was also a [Insert Special Occupation] and the best [Insert Person with Special Skill] he had ever seen.

[Hero] has many adventures in [Insert New Magical Location] and makes new friends [Insert New Allies].

In the course of these adventures, [Hero] distinguishes himself as a top [New Magical Occupation], making a direct [Insert Strike Against Enemy] that secures the [Insert Group Of Allies] victory against the forces of [Insert Evil Enemy].

[Hero] also sees off the threat of [Insert Enemy Leader], who we now know murdered his [Insert Loved Ones]. 

In the finale, [Hero] and his new friends receive [Insert Recognition]

All of this is set to an orchestral score composed by John Williams.

 

STAR WARS EXAMPLE

So here’s how this would work with Star Wars:

LUKE SKYWALKER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of TATOOINE. 

LUKE is rescued from ALIENS by wise bearded BEN KENOBI who turns out to be a JEDI KNIGHT.

BEN KENOBI reveals to LUKE that LUKE’S FATHER was also a JEDI KNIGHT and the best PILOT he had ever seen.

LUKE SKYWALKER has many adventures in THE GALAXY and makes new friends HAN SOLO AND PRINCESS LEIA.

In the course of these adventures, LUKE distinguishes himself as a top X-WING PILOT, making a direct HIT that secures the REBEL victory against the forces of THE EVIL EMPIRE.

LUKE SKYWALKER also defeats the threat of LORD VADER, who we now know murdered his UNCLE AND AUNT. 

In the finale, LUKE and his new friends receive MEDALS OF VALOR

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.

 

HARRY POTTER EXAMPLE

Hey!  That was fun!  Let’s try this with Harry Potter:

HARRY POTTER is an orphan living with his uncle and aunt on the remote wilderness of SUBURBIA.

HARRY is rescued from MUGGLES by wise bearded HAGRID who turns out to be a WIZARD.

HAGRID reveals to HARRY that HARRY’S FATHER was also a WIZARD and the best QUIDDITCH PLAYER he had ever seen.

HARRY POTTER has many adventures in HOGWARTS and makes new friends RON AND HERMIONE.

In the course of these adventures, HARRY POTTER distinguishes himself as a top QUIDDITCH SEEKER, making a direct CATCH that secures the GRYFFINDOR victory against the forces of SLYTHERIN.

HARRY POTTER also sees off the threat of LORD VOLDEMORT, who we now know murdered his PARENTS.    

In the finale, HARRY POTTER and his new friends receive THE HOUSE CUP.

All of this is set to score composed by John Williams.

Wasn’t that fun?  This kind of feels like telling the truth about Santa Claus, but I think it’s an awesome template.  What a great way to summarize the plot of a new novel!

All kidding aside, I admit that I’m curious to see if this template works in practical application, so I’m going to use it as a starting point for my next manuscript.  Now all I need is a four-syllable name for a protagonist and I’m ready to go.

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