Hero with a thousand faces in writing

The basic structure of this kind of story was described by Joseph Campbell. In it the protagonist follows a basic formula that is easy to tailor to any kind of story, but works best in character, milieu and token stories.


Confrontation. The protagonist is faced with a challange. It could be an event or token that they must deal with.

Destiny. The protagonist will choose to deal with the situation or are thrust into dealing with it. There is no escaping their destiny, even if not called destiny or fate it amounts to the same thing.

The journey. They leave the life they had and enter a strange new world actually or figuratively. They will face many  trials and discover new allies. Thus ready they will face ever growing challenges only to be defeated.

Darkness. The point when everything looks lost and failure looks assured. It is the point the protagonist must look deep inside themselves to find faith.

Faith. The protagonist must make a final attempt trusting in all the new allies,  talents and abilities they have learned in the journey to defeat the final obstacle.

Triumphant. The protagonist returns with his new found allies and knowledge to improve the lives of everyone.


That is the basic structure and obviously not all stories will have the hero starting the journey in the first step or have to go around helping everyone, unless they are robin hood. In most stories it is best to hit all of the beats. Short stories usually will start later in the structure than a novel which has time to dwell on each area. Short stories will usually start  and end around one of the points in the structure. It could be when they are confronted with destiny and finally accept it or at the darkest hour and when they find faith. The other steps are implied or flash backed to as needed.

Elements of story

The classic story structure which has had a resurgence follows a simple formula.

Action. The story should always begin in the middle of the action. Find the point at the beginning when things are changing and start there. Action pulls the reader into the “now” of the story and invests a sense of curisousity about where it is going.

Staging. Set the stage but don’t overdress it to the point we can’t see the action. Give enough information to place teh character and give context to their actions and why we should care.

Conflict. This is about what the protagonist desperately wants. That without which the protagonist life isn’t worth living. Conflict is story. Without conflict there is no story.

Escalation. The pursuit of the want must be met with failure and increasingly difficult attempts to reach it. It is the journey to reach what one wants against all obstacles.

Crisis. This is the point that the character must make a choice between what was or what they want and the consequences of their choice. The most dramatic point in the entire story.

Climax. This is the point of no return when the character must give everything or fail completely. This is where the story is resolved.

Consequences. The outcome of the climax. How has the world changed because of the protagonist’s choices and final outcome.

Common Story Structures

There are 5 common story structures used in writing.  The structure is the thing that is most important for the story. When you find yourself not knowing which way to go you can fall back on one of these story structures to help get your story more focused. The easiest way to figure out what the story is about is to look at how the character can resolve the situation. Lord of the rings starts in the shire and ends when they return, but it isn’t a milieu story. If they came back early the shire would be destroyed so the story is actually about the ring. It’s the one thing everyone is after and the one thing that will destroy the villain. So the story is a token story. Once they get rid of the token the story is over. they can go home.


The Milieu Story

Milieu stories center on a location, house, country. The story will start when the characters enter a place and end when they leave the location. Common examples are The wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. All stories may deal with getting through a location but a milieu story is all about getting through a location and escaping.


The Token Story

Token stories center around objects, things. The story begins when the character comes into possession of something and ends when they get rid of it or come to accept it. The token doesn’t always have to be an inanimate object. It could be a person , animal or even a curse as well. In some cases it can be the reverse, where character is looking for the token and the story ends when they get rid of it. In any case it is something that the character doesn’t want and spends the story trying to get rid of. Examples are Lord of the rings,  MIB 1, The gods must be crazy, King Kong. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Fifth element.


The Idea Story

These kinds of stories focus on a mystery, or a question. The story begins with a question and ends when it is answered.   Examples are every cop show and murder mystery.


The Event Story

This kind of story begins when something dramatic happen that changes everything. An event that changes the character’s life. Something goes wrong and the character must now work to fix it. It can be a farm boy who comes into possession of two droids followed by the empire (Star Wars), It can be an asteroid about to hit the world (Armageddon),


The Character Story

This kind of story begins when the character is so angry, miserable, or down on his luck that he has to make a change. The story ends when the character finds happiness, peace or learns to deal with his situation. Common Examples are Antz,  Vampire$. This is about the character growing or changing. All stories involve characters but not all characters grow. It is not always important for a character to grow unless it is a character story