Plot design & story structure: Joseph Campbell vs Christopher Vogler

Essays by Shalon Sims on education, creative writing and literacy

Plot design & story structure: Joseph Campbell vs Christopher Vogler

Image is from John Barth’s novel, Chimera. This is not an exact representation of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as outlined in Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In this article, I discuss my process for developing plot and share the incredible tools I discovered to examine, critique and improve the plot of my novel. Download this new and improved for 2021 Campbell vs. Vogler Plot Design Template that will help you design your plot by examining if and how your story follows the hero’s journey.

Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler

The two writer’s classics, Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, cover the various elements of plot and storytelling from two different perspectives.

Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was an expert in comparative mythology. He looked at stories from around the world and found common themes and plots, and went on to develop theories to describe his discoveries. His views were based largely on inductive reasoning, and his writing is very academic and difficult to access for the average reader. I have always loved mythology, and so was interested in Joseph Campbell long before I needed him to help me solve my plot problems! haha…

Christopher Vogler (1949 – ), on the other hand, is a Hollywood script-writer. His work is based largely on the work of Campbell, although he altered Campbell’s analysis to fit the standard methods used in Hollywood movies and scriptwriting. His views are suppositions, or educated guesses, about what makes a (Hollywood) story successful, and his writing is very accessible for the average reader. His book, The Writer’s Journey, is one of the most popular writing resources out there. 

These two books have been invaluable to me as a writer and I highly recommend them for anyone who is struggling with plot.

Where I got stuck with my plot

I was wading through about 80,000 words of the first draft of my novel and was struggling to fill in key plot holes. I’m not a writer who writes from beginning to end; rather, I jump around and write whatever scene is pressing at me to be written.

This is admittedly not the best way to go about it, but it’s my first novel, so I’m not exactly an expert on this yet. (edit from 2021: Eight years later and I’ve since learned how to be a ‘plotter,’ and would never go back to this free-form ‘discovery’ or ‘pantsing’ style of writing. My first ‘book,’ which actually turned into a five-book series, is still not finished. In the meantime, I wrote another book with a very thorough outline in less than 8 months…).

So I had all these islands of writing, and when it came time to start tying them all together into one continuous, flowing plot, I found I had a lot of gaps and a lot of questions:

  • What should happen here?
  • Where is the plot going?
  • Should I increase tension or decrease tension here?
  • Where exactly is my climax?
  • Should I shorten the beginning?
  • Where should I add, and where should I take away?

I found I didn’t know the answers to a lot of these questions, and it was some pretty frustrating times as a writer. I had all of this material in front of me—pages and pages, hundreds of thousands of words of writing—but to a total stranger it wouldn’t make sense, or look like a story.

Studying Plot Structure

So, I decided to take a break from writing to study about storyboarding, plot design and story structure. Of course, I’d learned all this as an English student at university, but hadn’t really applied it to a story this big (as I write this, my novel is now 135,000 words! Edit from 2021: as I write this that same story is now 446,000 words).

In my online research I found this very helpful video by Mary Carroll Moore called “Storyboarding for Writers”. It was very informative to lay my story out visually, but in the end, I found the three-act structure very confusing to apply to my own work. I knew that my plot needed improvement, but I didn’t know where, and how.

Then I began reading The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler. It was an aha moment and made me go to my bookshelf immediately and pull down my copy of Hero With a Thousand Faces.

I had tried to read Campbell years before, but put it down because it was too dense for me at the time. I began to read Hero With a Thousand Faces while I was reading the Writer’s Journey, and I’m very happy that I read both books in tandem because Vogler’s book helped me make sense of Campbell’s academic writing.

The difference between Campbell & Vogler

I learned that one of the major differences between Vogler and Campbell is that Vogler tries to force Campbell’s classification into a linear 3-Act progression, whereas Campbell’s ideas are not linear. There are some linear elements (for example, Refusal of the Call to Adventure obviously comes before Refusal of the Call to Return), but many elements of Campbell’s plot structure can happen in tandem or before or after other ones.

Vogler’s work is useful in that it applies the modern Three Act Structure to Campbell’s work, and gives lots of helpful modern examples. However, his cookie-cutter approach doesn’t contain the powerful nuances of Campbell’s ideas. However, the two of them together provided me with many insights into my own story.

To apply what I was learning to my own plot problems, I created a worksheet outlining both Campbell’s and Vogler’s views and their descriptions of the major elements of stories. That is the table I’ve featured below. Then I added another column for each of my characters, and brainstormed where my story matched Campbell’s and Vogler’s descriptions.

I think this is an important point: I didn’t try to force my story into a plot template (storyboard), but rather, I looked at my story and defined parts of it against Campbell’s external criteria. This helped me see my own story within the framework of mythology, and also helped me narrow down some of the choices that I was facing. It made certain choices for my characters more appropriate, and some other options that I had been considering suddenly didn’t make sense anymore.

Download the free worksheet

The following worksheet is a word document that is free to use, adapt or share for non-commercial purposes. It contains:

  • A detailed breakdown of each element of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
  • A detailed breakdown of Vogler’s story structure compared to Campbell’s elements
  • A third column for notes about your own story for each element.

I hope this table will help you!

Joseph Campbell vs. Christopher Vogler




Act 1

  1. Ordinary World
  • Foreshadowing: “Writers often use the Ordinary World section to create a small model of the Special World, foreshadowing its battles and moral dilemmas.” “Foreshadowing can help unify a story into a rhythmic or poetic design.”
  • Dramatic question: “Another important function of the Ordinary World is to suggest the dramatic question of the story. Every good story poses a series of questions about the hero.”
  • Problems: “Every hero needs both an inner and an outer problem. … Characters without inner challenges seem flat and uninvolving, however heroically they may act. They need an inner problem, a personality flaw or a moral dilemma to work out. They need to learn something in the course of the story: how to get along with others, how to trust themselves, how to see beyond outward appearances.”
  • Making an entrance: “How the audience first experiences your hero is another important condition you control as storyteller.” “What is the character doing at the moment of entrance? The character’s first action is a wonderful opportunity to speak volumes about his attitude, emotional state, background, strengths, and problems.”
  • A Contrast to the Special World.
  • Show the Hero’s Lack (often a family member is missing), tragic flaw (often hubris), or deep psychic wound (often symbolized by “a visible, physical injury”
  • What’s at stake: “Scripts often fail because the stakes simply aren’t high enough. … Make sure the stakes are high—life and death, big moey, or the hero’s very soul.”
  • Backstory and exposition: “The audience will feel more involved if they have to work a little to piece together the backstory…” “Many dramas are about secrets being slowly and painfully revealed.”
  • Theme: “What is the story really about? If you had to boil down its essence to a single word or phrase, what would it be?”
  1. Call to adventure
  • Often begins by a blunder: “A blunder—apparently the merest chance—reveals an unsuspected world, and the individual is drawn into a relationship with forces that are not rightly understood. As Freud has shown, blunders are not the merest chance. They are the result of suppressed desires and conflicts. They are ripples on the surface of life, produced by unsuspected springs. And these may be very deep as the soul itself. The blunder may amount to the opening of a destiny.”
  • Brought by the herald. “The herald’s summons may be to live, as in the present instance, or, at a later moment of the biography, to die. It may sound the call to some high historical undertaking. Or it may mark the dawn of religious illumination. As apprehended by the mystic, it marks what has been termed “The awakening of the self.” … But whether small or great, and no matter what the stage or grade of life, the call rings up the curtain, always, on a mystery of transfiguration—a rite, or moment, of spiritual passage, which, when complete, amounts to a dying and a birth. The familiar life horizon has been outgrown; the old concepts, ideals, and emotional patterns no longer fit; the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand.
    Typical of the circumstances of the call are the dark forest, the great tree, the babbling spring, and the loathly, underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of destiny. We recognize in the scene the symbols of the World Navel.” Pg. 43-44.
  • “The first stage of the mythological journey—which we have designated the ”call to adventure”—signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. This fateful region of both treasure and danger may be variously represented: as a distant land, a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, superhuman deeds, and impossible delight.”
  • “The Hero can go forth of his own volition… or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent…”
  1. Call to Adventure
  • Get the story rolling: also called the “inciting or initiating incident, the catalyst, or the trigger.” Pg.99
  • Unsatisfied with the Ordinary World
  • Synchronicity: “A string of accidents or coincidences may be the message that calls a hero to adventure.” Pg. 100
  • Temptation: “the allure of an exotic travel poster or the sight of a potential lover. It could be the glint of gold, the rumor of treasure, the siren song of ambition.” Pg. 100
  • Herald of Change: “A character performing the function of Herald may be positive, negative, or neutral, but will always serve to get the story rolling by presenting the hero with an invitation or challenge to face the unknown. In some stories the Herald is also a mentor for the hero, a wise guide who has the hero’s best interests at heart. In others the Herald is an enemy, flinging a gauntlet of challenge in the hero’s face or tempting the hero into danger.” “Often heroes are unaware there is anything wrong with their Ordinary World and don’t see any need for change. They may be in a state of denial. They have been just barely getting by, using an arsenal of crutches, addictions, and defense mechanisms. The job of the Herald is to kick away these supports, announcing that the world of the hero is unstable and must be put back into healthy balance by action, by taking risks, by undertaking the adventure.”
  • No more options: “the Call to Adventure may be the hero simply running out of options. The coping mechanisms no longer work, other people get fed up with the hero, or the hero is placed in increasingly dire straits until the only way left is to jump into the adventure.”
  1. Refusal of the call
  • “Walled in boredom, hard work, or “culture,” the subject [the hero] loses the power of significant affirmative action and becomes a victim to be saved.” Pg.49
  • “The myths and folktales of the whole world make clear that the refusal is essentially a refusal to give up what one takes to be one’s own interests.” Pg.49
  • An example is King Minos who “failed to advance into the life-role that he had assumed—and we have seen with what calamitous effect. The divinity itself became his terror; for, obviously, if one is oneself one’s god, then God himself, the will of God, the power that would destroy one’s egocentric system, becomes a monster.” Pg. 49
  • Fixation: “What they [fixations] represent is an impotence to put off the infantile ego, with its sphere of emotional relationships and ideals. One is bound in by the walls of childhood; the father and mother stand as threshold guardians, and the timorous soul, fearful of some punishment, fails to make the passage through the door and come to birth in the world without.”
  • The refusal can come about “by the dragon power of the fixating parent.” Or symbol of the parent, who refuses to relinquish control.
  • “Not all who hesitate are lost. The psyche has many secrets in reserve. And these are not disclosed unless required. So it is that sometimes the predicament following an obstinate refusal of the call proves to be the occasion of a providential revelation of some unsuspected principle of release.” Pg.53
  • “Often, with a stubborn refusal, overcoming the refusal requires a miracle. ‘Well able is Allah to save.’ The sole problem is what the machinery of the miracle is to be.” Pg.56
  1. Refusal of the call
  • Signals the Risk: “this halt on the road before the journey has really started serves an important dramatic function of signalling the audience that the adventure is risky.” Pg.107
  • “Persistent refusal leads to tragedy.” “Looking back, dwelling in the past, and denying reality are forms of the refusal.”
  • Positive refusals: “When the Call is a temptation to evil or a summons to disaster, the hero is smart to say no.” “Another special case … is that of the artist as hero.”
  • “Willing heroes: if the hero is willing, “Other characters will express the fear, warning the hero and audience of what may happen on the road ahead.”
  • Threshold Guardian tests worthiness.
  • The Secret Door: Belle must not open the door, Pandora must not open the box, Psyche must not look at Cupid. “These stories are symbols of human curiosity, the powerful drive to know all the hidden things, all the secrets.”
  1. Supernatural Aid
  • “For those who have not refused the call, the first encounter of the hero journey is with a protective figure (often a little old crone or old man) who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass.” Pg. 57
  • “What such a figure [and his amulet] represents is the benign, protecting power of destiny. The fantasy is a reassurance—a promise that the peace of Paradise, which was known first within the mother womb, is not to be lost; that it supports the present and stands in the future as well as in the past (is omega as well as alpha); that though omnipotence may seem to be endangered by the threshold passages and life awakenings, protective power is always and ever present within the sanctuary of the heart and even immanent within, or just behind, the unfamiliar features of the [special] world. One has only to know and trust, and the ageless guardians will appear. Having responded to his own call, and continuing to follow courageously as the consequences unfold, the hero finds all the forces of the unconscious at his side. Mother Nature herself supports the might task.” Pg. 59
  • The hero to whom such a helper appears is typically one who has responded to the call. The call, in fact, was the first announcement of the approach of this initiatory priest.”
  1. Meeting the Mentor
  • Preparation and provisions: “The behaviors, attitudes, and functions of Wise Old Women and Men are well known from thousands of stories, and it’s easy to fall into cliches and stereotypes…” “Meeting with the Mentor is a stage of the Hero’s Journey in which the hero gains the supplies, knowledge, and confidence needed to overcome fear and commence the adventure.”
  • Misdirection if mentor is secretly the enemy. “You can make the audience think they are seeing a conventional, kindly, helpful Mentor, and then reveal that the character is actually something quite different.”
  • Mentor-hero conflicts: some stories show that “not all Mentors are to be trusted, and that it’s healthy to question a Mentor’s motives.”
  • “Once in a while an entire story is built around a Mentor.”
  • Mentor as evolved hero “who have become experienced enough to teach others.” Pg.122
  • “Does your hero have some inner code of ethics or model of behavior?”
  1. The Crossing of the First Threshold
  • The threshold (guardian) has both a protective element and a destructive element. “He is an adroit shapeshifter”
  • “With the personifications of his destiny to guide him, the hero goes forward in his adventure until he comes to the “threshold guardian” at the entrance to the zone of magnified power. Such custodians bound the world in the four directions—also up and down—standing for the limits of the hero’s present sphere, or life horizon. Beyond them is darkness, the unknown, and danger; just as beyond the parental watch is danger to the infant and beyond the protection of his society danger to the member of the tribe.” … “And yet—it is only by advancing beyond those bounds, provoking the other, destructive aspect of the same power, that the individual passes, either alive or in death, into a new zone of experience.”
  • Into the unknown: “The regions of the unknown (desert, jungle, deep sea, alien land, etc.) are free fields for the projection of unconscious content.”
  • “Incestuous libido” meets “patricidal destrudo” or ogre meets mysteriously seductive beauty.
  • “The Arcadian god Pan is the best known Classical example of this dangerous presence dwelling just beyond the protected zone of the village boundary.” Pg. 66.
  • “…the word oko-juna (“dreamer,” “one who speaks from dreams”) designates those highly respected and feared individuals who are distinguished from their fellows by the possession of supernatural talents, which can be acquired only by meeting with the spirits—directly in the jungle, through extraordinary dream, or by death and return. The adventure is always and everywhere a passage beyond the veil of the known into the unknown; the powers that watch at the boundary are dangerous; to deal with them is risky; yet for anyone with competence and courage the danger fades.”
  • “The pairs of opposites (being and not being, life and death, beauty and ugliness, good and evil and all the other polarities that bind the faculties to hope and fear, and link the organs of action to deeds of defense and acquisition) are the clashing rocks (Symplegades) that crush the traveler, but between which the heroes always pass. This is a motif known throughout the world.” Pg.73
  • “As the rising smoke of an offering through the sun door, so goes the hero, released from ego, through the walls of the world—leaving ego stuck to Sticky-hair [the threshold guardian] and passing on.” Pg. 73
  1. Crossing the First Threshold
  • “Now the hero stands at the very threshold of the world of adventure, the Special World of Act Two.” Pg.127.
  • Approaching the Threshold: “Heroes typically don’t just accept the advice and gifts of their Mentors and then charge into the adventure. Often their final commitment is brought about through some external force which changes the course or intensity of the story. This is equivalent to the famous “plot point” or “turning point” of the conventional three-act-movie structure.” Pg. 128
  • “As you approach the threshold you’re likely to encounter beings who try to block your way.”
  • Leap of faith: “Sometimes this step merely signifies we have reached the border of the two worlds. We must take the leap of faith into the unknown or else the adventure will never really begin.
    Countless movies illustrate the border between two worlds with the crossing of physical barriers such as doors, gates, arches, bridges, deserts, canyons, walls, cliffs, oceans or rivers.” Pg.129-30
  • Rough landing: “Heroes don’t always land gently. They may crash in the other world, literally or figuratively. The leap of faith may turn into a crisis of faith as romantic illlusions about the Special World are shattered by first contact with it. A bruised her may pick herself up and ask, “Is that all there is?””
  • “The First Threshold is the turning point at which the adventure begins in earnest, at the end of Act One.” Pg. 131
  1. Belly of the Beast
  • “The idea that the passage of the magical threshold is a transit into a sphere of rebirth is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale. The hero, instead of conquering or conciliating the power of the threshold, is swallowed into the unknown, and would appear to have died.” Pg. 74
  • “This popular motif gives emphasis to the lesson that that passage of the threshold is a form of self-annihilation.” “But here, instead of passing outward, to be born again. The disappearance corresponds to the passing of a worshiper into the temple—where he is to be quickened by the recollection of who and what he is, namely dust and ashes unless immortal. The temple interior, the belly of the whale, and the heavenly land beyond, above, and below the confines of the world, are one and the same. That is why the approaches of and the entrances to temples are flanked and defended by colossal gargoyles: dragons, lions, devil-slayers with drawn swords, resentful dwarves, winged bulls. These are the threshold guardians to ward away all incapable of encountering the higher silence within.” Pg.77
  • “The hero whose attachment to ego is already annihilate passes back and forth across the horizons of the world, in and out of the dragon, as readily as a king through all the rooms of his house. And therein lies his power to save; for his passing and returning demonstrate that through all the contraries of phenomenality the Uncreate-Imperishable remains, and there is nothing to fear.” Pg.78
  • Vogler’s simplified definition: Doing the right thing can be dangerous


(the following are various rights of initiation for the hero)

Act 2

6. The Road of Trials

  • “This is the favourite phase of the myth-adventure. It has produced a world literature of miraculous tests and ordeals.”
  • “…if anyone—in whatever society—undertakes for himself the perilous journey into the darkness… he soon finds himself in a landscape of symbolical figures (any one of which may swallow him)….”
  • “In our dreams the ageless perils, gargoyles, trials, secret helpers, and instructive figures are nightly still encountered; and in their forms we may see reflected not only the whole picture of our present case, but also the clue to what we must do to be saved.”
  • The hero, whether god or goddess, man or woman, the figure in a myth or the dreamer of a dream, discovers and assimilates his opposite (his own unsuspected self) either by swallowing it or by being swallowed. One by one the resistances are broken. He must put aside his pride, his virtue, beauty, and life, and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable. Then he finds that he and his opposite are not of differing species, but one flesh.
  • “The ordeal is a deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance: Can the ego put itself to death?”
  • The original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again, again, and again. Meanwhile there will be a multitude of preliminary victories, unretainable ecstasies, and momentary glimpses of the wonderful land.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

  • “The audience’s first impressions of the Special World should strike a sharp contrast with the Ordinary World.
  • The most important function of this period of adjustment to the Special world is … to test the hero, putting her through a series of trials and challenges that are meant to prepare her for greater ordeals ahead.” Pg. 136
  • “The Tests at the beginning of Act Two are often difficult obstacles, but they don’t have the maximum life-and-death quality of later events.”
  • “If the adenture were a college learning experience, Act One would be a series of entrance exams, and the Test stage of Act Two would be a series of pop quizzes, meant to sharpen the hero’s skill in specific areas and prepare her for the more rigorous midterm and final exams coming up.” Pg.136
  • “The Tests may be a continuation of the Mentor’s training. Many Mentors accompany their heroes this far into the adventure, coaching them for the big rounds ahead.” Pg. 136
  • “The Tests may also be built into the architecture or landscape of the Special World. This world is usually dominated by a villain or Shadow who is careful to surround his world with traps, barricades, and checkpoints.”
  • Sidekicks: “…pairings of hero and sidekick can be found throughout myth and literature…. These close Allies of the hero may provide comic relief as well as assistance.”
  • “Comical sidekicks … may freely cross the boundaries between Mentor and Trickster, sometimes aiding the hero and acting as his conscience, sometimes goofing up or causing mischief.”
  • “The Testing stage may also provide the opportunity for the forging of a team.”
  • Enemies: “The hero’s appearance in the Special World may tip the Shadow to his arrival and trigger a chain of threatening events.” Pg. 138
  • “A special type of Enemy is the rival… [who] is not out to kill the hero, but is just trying to defeat him in athe competition.”
  • “The watering hole is a natural congregating place and a good spot to observe and get information.” Pg. 140

7. Approach to the Inmost Cave

  • “It’s time to make final preparations for the central ordeal of the adventure.”
  • “As heroes near the gates of a citadel deep within the Special World, they may take time to make plans, do reconnaissance on the enemy, reorganize or thin out the group, fortify and arm themselves, and have a last laugh and a final cigarette before going over the top into no-man’s-land. Pg. 144
  • Last laugh, a joyful time (calm b4 storm)
  • Courtship
  • Beware illusions
  • Threshold Guardian
  • Another Special World
  • Shamanic territory
  • Higher stakes
  • Team pep-talk, ass-whupp
  • Disguise

7. Meeting with the Goddess (mystical marriage, crisis)

  • “The ultimate adventure, when all the barriers and ogres have been overcome [in the Road of Trials], is commonly represented as a mystical marriage of the triumphant hero-soul with the Queen Goddess of the World. This is the crisis at the nadir, at the zenith, or at the uttermost edge of the earth, at the central point of the cosmos, in the tabernacle of the temple, or within the darkness of the deepest chamber of the heart.”
  • “The Lady of the House of Sleep is a familiar figure in fairy tale and myth. … She is the paragon of all paragons of beauty, the reply to all desire, the bliss-bestowing goal of every hero’s earthly and unearthly quest.”
  • “The remembered image is not only benign, however; for the “bad” mother too… persists in the hidden land of the adult’s infant recollection and is sometimes even the greater force.”
  • “Only geniuses capable of the highest realization can support the full revelation of the sublimity of this goddess. For lesser men she reduces her effulgence and permits herself to appear in forms concordant with their undeveloped powers.”

8. Ordeal

  • Death and Rebirth
  • Crisis not climax
  • Points of tension
  • The mid-point (can also be delayed crisis, but my novel is mid)
  • Witness to sacrifice or death needed
  • Facing the shadow
  • Walk through story in Shadow’s skin
  • Sacred Marriage
  • Negative anima or animus
  • Facing the greatest fear
  • Standing up to a parent
  • Death of the ego

8. Woman Temptress

  • “The mystical marriage with the queen goddess of the world represents the hero’s total mastery of life; for the woman is life, the hero its knower and master. And the testings of the hero… were symbolical of those crises of realization by means of which his consciousness came to be amplified and made capable of enduring the full possession of the mother-destroyer, his inevitable bride.”
  • “And always, after the first thrills of getting under way, the adventure develops into a journey of darkness, horror, disgust, and phantasmagoric fears.” This is related to the realization “that everything we think or do is necessarily tainted with the odor of the flesh. … which is intolerable to the pure, the pure, pure soul.”
  • According to Vogler, this stage is “the love that kills” and is a confrontation with a negative anima or animus

9. Atonement with the father / mother

  • “the Wrath of god is like great Waters that are dammed for the present; they increase more and more, and rise higher and higher till an Outlet is given; and the longer the Stream is stopt, the more rapid and mighty is its Course when once it is let loose.”- Jonathan Edwards
  • “For the ogre aspect of the father is a reflex of the victim’s own ego—derived from the sensational nursery scene that has been left behind, but projected before; and the fixating idolatry of that pedagogical nonthing is itself the fault that keeps one steeped in a sense of sin, sealing the potentially adult sprit from a better balanced, more realistic view of the father, and therewith of the world. Atonement (at-one-ment) consists in no more than the abandonment of that self-generated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). But this requires an abandonment of the attachment to ego itself; and that is what is difficult. One must have a faith that the father is merciful and then a reliance on that mercy.”
  • “It is in this ordeal that the hero may derive hope and assurance from the helpful female figure, by whose magic… he is protected through all the frightening experiences of the father’s ego-shattering initiation.
  • “When the roles of life are assumed by the improperly initiated, chaos supervenes.”
  • “For the son who has grown really to know the father, the agonies of the ordeal are readily borne; the world is no longer a vale of tears but a bliss-yielding, perpetual manifestion of the Presence.”
  • Vogler describes this as standing up to the parent and healing deep wounds between hero and parent

10. Apotheosis – raised to god-like stature

  • According to Vogler, apotheosis is the death of the Ego
  • Nirvana (final exterpation of delusion, desire, and hostility), Enlightenment
  • Transcending the pairs of opposites (male/female, time/eternity, etc)
  • Knowledge that “Peace is at the heart of all because … the mighty Bodhisattva, Boundless Love, includes, regards, and dwells within (without exception) every sentient being.”
  • ““The Lord Who Is Seen Within.” We are all reflexes of the image of the Bodhisattva. The sufferer within us is that divine being. We and that protecting father are one. This is the redeeming insight.“
  • We have died and been reborn as something more.
  • “The third wonder of the Bodhisattva myth is that the first wonder (namely, the bisexual form) is symbolical of the second (the identity of eternity and time). For in the language of the divine pictures, the world of time is the great mother womb. The life therin, begotten by the father, is compounded of her darkness and his light. We are conceived in her and dwell removed from the father, but when we pass from the womb of time at death (which is our birth to eternity) we are given into his hands. The wise realize, even within this womb, that they have come from and are returning to the father; while the very wise know that she and he are in substance one.”

11. The Ultimate Boon, the magical elixir

  • Indestructibility
  • “The supreme boon desired for the Indestructible Body is uninterrupted residence in the Paradise of the Milk That Never Fails”
  • “The research for physical immortality [is] … a misunderstanding of the traditional teaching. On the contrary, the basic problem is: to enlarge the pupil of the eye, so that the body with its attendant personality will no longer obstruct the view. Immortality is then experienced as a present fact: “It is here! It is here!””
  • “The boon bestowed on the worshiper is always scaled to his stature and to the nature of his dominant desire: the boon is simply a symbol of life energy stepped down to the requirements of a certain specific case. The irony, of course, lies in the fact that, whereas the hero… may beg for the boon of perfect illumination, what he generally seeks are longer years to live, weapons with which to slay his neighbor, or the health of his child.”

9. Reward

  • Celebration
  • Campfire scenes to retell the tale
  • Love scenes
  • Seizing the sword, taking possession
  • Holy Grail (the elixir that heals all)
  • New perceptions, see through deception
  • Clairvoyance
  • Self-realization
  • Epiphany


Act 3

12. Refusal of the Return

  • “When the hero-quest has been accomplished … the adventurer still must return with his life-transmuting trophy. The full round, the norm of the monomyth, requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom, the Golden Fleece, or his sleeping princess back into the kingdom of humanity, where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community, the nation, the planet, or the ten thousand worlds.
    But the responsibility has frequently refused.”

10. The Road Back

  • Another threshold
  • Finnish your opponent
  • Chase scenes
  • Magic flight – sacrifice of beloved/sacred objects
  • Setbacks require resolve to finish journey

13. The Magic Flight

  • If the return is opposed by some force, “then the last stage of the mythlogical round becomes a lively, oftten comical, pursuit. This flight may be complicated by marvels of magical obstruction and evasion.” Pg. 170
  • “And she went forth after him, running. And he saw her, and changed himself into a hare and fled. But she changed herself into a greyhound and turned him. And he ran towards a river, and became a fish. And she in the form of an otter-bitch chased him under the water, until he was fain to turn himself into a bird of the air. She, as a hawk, followed him and gave him no rest in the sky. And just as she was about to stop upon him, and he was in a barn, and he dropped among the wheat, and turned himself into one of the grains. Then she transformed herself into a high-crested black hen, and went to the wheat and scratched it with her feet, and found him out and swallowed him. And, as the story says, she could not find it in her heart to kill him, by reason of his beauty. So she wrapped him in a leathern bag, and cast him into the sea to the mercy of God, on the twenty-ninth of April.” -The Tale of Gwion Bach.Pg. 172
  • “A popular variety of the magic flight is that in which objects are left behind to speak for the fugitive and thus delay pursuit.”
  • “Another well-known variety of the magic flight is one in which a nuber of delaying obstacles are tossed behind by the wildly fleeing hero.”
  • Another form is the lost lover as, “a possibility exists of a return of the lover with his lost love from beyond the terrible threshold.”

14. Rescue from without

  • An alternative to the flight, is when “The hero may have to be brought back from his supernatural adventure by assistance from without. That is to say, the world may have to come and get him.”
  • The myth of the Shinto tradition of Japan is “an example in which the rescued one is somewhat reluctant.”
  • Many myths and stories “sufficiently illustrate the rescue from without. They show in the final stages of the adventure the continued operation of the supernatural assisting force that has been attending the elect through the whole course of his ordeal.” Pg.186
  • “This brings us to the final crisis of the round, to which the whole miraculous excursion has been but a prelude—that, namely, of the paradoxical, supremely difficult threshold-crossing of the hero’s return from the mystic realm into the land of common day.” Pg.186

15. The Crossing of the Return Threshold

  • “Whether rescued from without, driven from within, or gently carried along by the guiding divinities, he has yet to re-enter with his boon the long-forgotten atmosphere where men who are fractions imagine themselves to be complete.” Pg. 186. In other words, he still must cross the threshold.
  • The two worlds, the divine and the human…. …the two kingdoms are actually one. The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know. And the exploration of that dimension, either willingly or unwillingly, is the whole sense of the deed of the her.” Pg. 188

16. Master of the Two Worlds

  • Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back … is the talent of the master.
  • “We do not particularly care whether Rip van Winkle, Kamar al-Zaman, or Jesus Christ ever actually lived. Their stories are what concern us: and these stories are so widely distributed over the world—attached to various heroes in various lands—that the question of whether this or that local carrier of the universal theme may or may not have been a historical, living man can be of only secondary moment. The stressing of this historical element will lead to confusion; it will simply obfuscate the picture message.” Pg. 198
  • This is a “state of anonymous presence.”

11. Resurrection

  • Second death and rebirth
  • Climax (not crisis)
  • Demonstrate new personality/ lesson learned /true change
  • The greatest threat
  • Deliver the deathblow to fear (Shadow)
  • Showdowns
  • Catharsis (bringing unconscious material to the surface)
  • Proof required

17. Freedom to Live

  • “What, now, is the result of the miraculous passage and return?
    The battlefield is symbolic of the field of life, where every creature lives on the death of another. A realization of the inevitable guilt of life may so sicken the heart that, like Hamlet or like Arjuna, one may refuse to go on with it. One the other hand, like most of the rest of us, one may invent a false, finally unjustified, image of oneself as an exceptional phenomenon in the world, not guilty as other are, but justified in one’s inevitable sinning because one represents the good. Such self-righteousness leads to a misunderstanding, not only of oneself but of the nature of both man and the cosmos. The goal of the myth is to dispel the need for such life ignorance by effecting a reconciliation of the individual consciousness with the universal will. And this is effected through a realization of the true relationship of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all.”

12. Return with the Elixer

  • Denouement
  • Can be circular/closed or open-ended
  • Hero shares elixer (what she has learned)
  • Hero takes a place of leadership or service (rather than isolation)

As you can see, I put a tremendous amount of effort into creating this table. I don’t recommend this type of approach, and I think it was, in large part, a huge procrastination project. However, I do feel in the end that it was worthwhile because I love to learn about story structure, not just as a writer, but as an academic.

I hope this table will help you develop your plot structure!

Further Reading

I have a few other posts on plot design that are actually very popular. 

  • Plot your novel using MICE Quotient and Try/Fail cycles. This is a technique I learned from Mary Robinette Kowal at the Surrey International Writing Conference. This blog post is one of the more popular on my website. There’s a free MICE Quotient plotting template you can download. 
  • How to solve plot problems using a simple self-questionnaire technique is a method I developed to look at the plot holes in my stories and come up with the BEST POSSIBLE SOLUTION. Not a good fix, not a fix that works, but the best possible fix that causes the least ripple effect in my story structure. The post also contains a free template. 


10 Responses

  1. […] 14. This webpage uses pictures to further explain and depict a hero’s journey. 15. This is an example of putting Campbell’s work to use in a real-life […]

  2. Keith Farquhar says:

    thank you very much 🙂 going to use this with audio visual students in Lyon if that’s okay.

    • Shalon says:

      Hi Keith. I’m so happy you found the content helpful. Yes, feel free to use it. I offer all the content on my blog free of charge. If you want to add a link to my website on your handout that would be great!

  3. […] read my blog, you’ll know I’m no stranger to plotting techniques. I wrote an indepth essay comparing The Writers Journey story structure and The Hero’s Journey, and I’ve also studied and used Save the Cat […]

    • David Osborne says:

      Hi Shalon,
      Thank you for making available your piece on Campbell and Vogler.
      You displayed a graphic with key points displayed (World Navel / Axis Mundi), may I ask of the source
      of this diagram and whether you have examined it for your readers?
      Sincere regards,
      David Osborne, Student

      • Shalon says:

        Hi David,
        Thanks for stopping by. You know what? I was actually looking at that image the other day and thinking how I wanted to replace it because I didn’t feel it was representative of the text. I believe that Campbell’s views of the hero’s journey evolved over time and that he wrote and lectured about it in many different contexts. That particular image does not appear to represent the hero’s journey as outlined in the book A Hero With a Thousand Faces. I think it’s time I took it down and put up a more representative image.

        PS. I don’t recall where I got the image from. I did a quick search and it appears that the original image has been removed from google images. I believe it was originally a creative commons image as I do try to ensure all the imagery on my site is either accredited, creative commons or purchased.

      • Shalon says:

        Hi David, I was able to finally find the answer to your question. It took me quite a bit of research. The image is actually from John Barth’s novel, Chimera. So not from Campbell at all, which explains possibly why it deviates from Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. It does make me curious about Barth’s book because there are so many similarities and I wonder in what context he is using the visual graphic. Here is a link to learn more:

  4. Donald Satalic says:

    I am a “Save the Cat” advocate, until I came upon a problem. I write progressively, developing the story as I go along but always knowing my endpoint (sort of). The story expanded as I progressed, well beyond a single book. So, I thought this was like the Harry Potter series, just not as long.

    While researching that structure, I came upon your post. You have helped immensely. I know how to proceed thanks to your explanations.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *