Project 2 (The hero’s journey) – Exercise 1

Choose a novel or a film or a play you love and map it to The Hero’s Journey. 

For this exercise I’ve chosen Les Misérables (2012), a musical drama film directed by Tom Hooper and inspired by Victor Hugo’s novel.

Act I (Beginning = the hero’s decision to act)

1. Ordinary World – The hero of the story is french prisoner Jean Valjean. He has served more than 15 years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. He is starved and worn but musters strength to perform his last task, which is raising a broken ship mast.

2. Call to Adventure – Valjean is finally released from prison but is unable to find work because of his parole. A bishop takes him in for the night and gives him food and a bed to sleep in.

3. Refusal of the Call – Despite the kindness of the bishop, Valjean steals silverware from the church and flees.

4. Meeting with the Mentor – The police finds Valjean, beat him up, and take him back to the church. The bishop, rather than being surprised or angered by the crime, claims that Valjean hasn’t stolen anything and that the silverware had been a gift. Valjean obtains forgiveness from the Bishop, who gives him important advice to live a better life under God.

5. Crossing the First Threshold – Valjean breaks the parole papers and promises himself to follow the Bishop’s advice and become an honest man.

Act II (Middle = the action)

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – After some years, Valjean has redeemed himself and is now mayor of a city and a factory owner. His new police chief, however, turns out to be one of his former prison guards, Javert. He also meets Fantine, a young woman who is now a prostitute after being fired from his factory. Stricken by guilt, he takes her to the hospital and promises to care for her daughter.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave – After an innocent man is accused of being the rogue Valjean, Valjean goes to court and reveals his true identity. He then goes to save Cosette, daughter of the dying Fantine, from the cruel innkeepers that were housing her.

8. Ordeal – He and Cosette move to Paris and make a new life for themselves. Valjean joins the rebellion that arises against the monarchy, while Javert tries to convince the revolutionists that he is on their side but is quickly exposed and threatened to be executed. It is in these circumstances that Valjean and Javert come face to face once again.

9. Reward – Valjean shows mercy to Javert and lets him live. But the latter, feeling morally confused, kills himself. Cosette falls in love with Marius, one of the revolutionists.

Act III (End = the consequences of action)

10. The Road Back – Valjean, not wanting to compromise Cosette’s happiness, makes plans to leave again.

11. Resurrection – Marius finds out that Valjean is the one that saved his life. Valjean confesses his identity to Marius, who grieves the death of all his friends and of the revolution. He eventually recovers because he is to marry Cosette.

12. Return with the Elixir – Cosette doesn’t understand why her father has left and finds out where he has gone. She arrives at the convent to find her dying father, who finally obtains peace after confessing his identity to her and obtaining her forgiveness.

Use The Hero’s Journey as a template to help you come up with your own plot.

Act I (Beginning = the hero’s decision to act)

1. Ordinary World – There was a little boy; a little boy named Bird. He liked to jump across streams without getting his feet wet and liked to catch dry leaves as they fell. But most of all, he liked to whistle with the birds. His mother called him everyday at noon, called out to the forest. Sometimes she had to call him more than once, but he always came. He came skipping along, with leaves, twigs, butterfly wings and feathers in his tiny hands, with scrapes, twigs, bruises and sprigs all over his arms and pants.

2. Call to Adventure – It was climbing the branches of a low tree that he heard the call of a bird. It was the strangest, most different, oddest call of a bird he had ever heard.

3. Refusal of the Call – For a moment, he hesitated. Bird was never the kind of boy to hesitate or stutter; he was the first to jump, to move, to go. But this call was eerie and he was far from where he could hear his mother’s voice.

4. Meeting with the Mentor – Standing in front of a little rushing spring, Bird thought and mulled over his options.He imagined himself to be much older, as old as his mom and dad. The older him was having a conversation with the younger him and telling him all about the great adventures he’d had. This was definitely one he’d had.

5. Crossing the First Threshold – Full of new confidence, Bird jumped the little spring and swiftly walked through this unfamiliar part of the forest. He could tell he was getting much closer to the call.

Act II (Middle = the action)

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – This forest was not like the forest near his home, and the sticks and the twigs became thorns and brambles. It was only a little later than noon and already the thick trees there cast everything in shadow. Bird was a quick thinker and collected a long sturdy branch to clear up his path and a stone to mark a few trunks so he could find his way back.

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave – His mind filled with all the stories about wandering children getting lost in the forest, but Bird was not even a little bit scared and instead felt that this would be his greatest adventure yet. He approached a thicket of bushes and heard the mysterious trill coming from right beyond it.

8. Ordeal – Being so small and thin, he found a small space where he could crawl through. With his head ducked down to avoid losing any of his eyes, he charged forward as safely as he could manage. Already he could hear his mother’s reprimands as soon as she saw his clothes in tatters and his arms pink with scratches.

9. Reward – It was there. The bird was perched on a low branch, hardly moving except for a gentle sway as it held on with its claws. Not wanting to scare if off, Bird sat down at a safe distance and started quietly whistling. The bird shook itself and looked at him, then gave its quick strange call.

Act III (End = the consequences of action)

10. The Road Back – Bird sat in front of his new discovery for several minutes, before it became restless and flew away without much fanfare. It was time to go back and write about his greatest adventure yet.

11. Resurrection – His mother was waiting in their little front garden. She was sitting calmly but looking anxiously at the edge of the forest. This had never happened before, but she had always known  it eventually would. And then there he was, running to her with a big smile and his clothes in ruins. She smiled right back.

12. Return with the Elixir – Bird narrated his adventures to his mother, who listened gladly. From his pocket, he took out a small gray feather and held it as gently as he would a porcelain thing. He had no idea what kind of bird it was but that never really mattered; he had its feather and its call.

This exercise was extremely insightful. I suddenly can’t stop thinking about all the novels and movies I’ve read or seen that follow these stages, either subtly or literally. Though I realise that this isn’t a cheatsheet for writing a good story, it is very helpful to understand how a good progression of events might look like. I also feel that this is a good general guide to keep in mind when struggling with how to put down an idea into words and turning it into a story.


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