Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Hero's Emotional Journey

Some of you said that you didn't think the Hero's Journey helped with writing romance. The reason is that the romance genre is about emotion. The internal conflicts and changes are more important than what happens to the hero externally. I think that you can use the Hero's journey as a plot device for the emotional story. (If you are unfamiliar with the Hero's Journey please read last week's blog and check out the link's provided. I am not going to rehash them here.)
Let's look at the five stages in act one from an emotional point of view. We start in the ordinary world where we place clues that something needs to change to start the heroine on her journey. (I use heroine here but you can replace it with hero, protagonist or antagonist as everyone has a character arc and goes on a journey to change. Unless you create an completely unredeemable character-but that doesn't happen very often in the romance genre. We like happy endings.) Let's say the heroine realizes she is lonely or that something is missing but accepts it as ordinary to her world. As Harry Potter accepted the fact that he belonged in the cupboard under the stairs. The call to emotional adventure comes in the form of the hero's blue eyes or wicked half grin. It creates an awareness of a deep emotional need the heroine hadn't realized was there. She denies the call listing all the internal reasons love is not for her-creating sexual and emotional tension. A magical helper appears-in the form of friend, son/daughter or parent who points out the obvious. You, dear heroine, are lonely. What can it hurt to go get a coffee? Heroine concedes and is whisked off into an alien world of emotion where she finds herself attracted and having fun with the hero. (Racier books may even have them sexual at this point. Heroine is lost in the alien world of emotional realities of sexual touch, petting, flirting, etc.) The act ends in an emotional tragedy that holds the potential for what comes next. Example: Heroine wakes up and realizes that she is not the same as she was in the beginning and becomes frightened at the change. She runs from the emotional world back to the safety of her ordinary world...but things have changed.
Act two has six stages. There are tests and trials the heroine must go through-again plan them in sets of three. The new emotional reality should slam up against her internal "line in the sand." My example is that she is on a diet to win a contest, but the hero is a box of the world's best chocolates sitting on the back shelf of her closet. Can she walk passed the closet and ignore the call of the chocolates? Will she give in? If the heroine fails one or two of these trials it creates more emotional tension. She is torn between the call of the new world and the safety of her ordinary world. In act two, the heroine experiences unconditional love from the hero-this shakes up her convictions. She wonders, how can I trust this alien world? But the hero's love gives her a real reason to change emotionally and open her heart and her world. Next come temptations to lure her off her emotional path with the hero. It's hard and scary to change. Maybe she should date another guy who doesn't threaten her old life as much as the hero does. Finally, the black moment. Our heroine must confront the one thing that holds the emotional power in her life. Is it trust? Is it fear? Is it her own inability to make a decision and stick with it? At the black moment, the reader and heroine feel as if all is lost. The lovely new emotional world and all it's promises are gone. Follow this by a brief period of rest. Then the heroine achieves the ultimate goal of her emotional quest- she changes and opens herself to love.
Act three goes very quickly in romance. Perhaps some of the steps can be skipped depending on your line. But remember there are still steps left to create a proper emotional happy ever after. The heroine must refuse to return to her ordinary world. But return she must with the love in her heart and the emotional strength she has found on her journey. The writer must show that the heroine can return to her ordinary world and retain the emotional wisdom to create a HEA. The final step is sometimes an epilogue where the heroine shows that she is comfortable with her new emotional state and can live her happy ending.
I hope that this simplified explanation can help you see how the Hero's Journey can also work for genre's that stress the internal change more than the external change. How emotions can go on this same journey to create a happy ever after. Questions? Thoughts? Have a great week. Cheers~


Judy Croome said...

Very well put Nancy! Would never have correlated the Hero's Journey to my romances, but the way you've written it, it's so clear.
Thanks :)

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Judy,
I love your new picture. Thanks for the comment. Funny, but these posts help me, too. :) Cheers~

MaryC said...

Nancy, that was brilliant! Thanks for doing it.

Isn't it great how writing a blog on something can help crystallize thoughts for you too.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi MaryC,

Thanks! I have always learned best by explaining to others. It's like my brain goes- oooh, now I get it- lol.

Thanks for stopping by. Cheers~

Anita said...

Seriously, this is the most concise explanation of the journey I've ever seen. Thank you!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Anita,

Thanks. I'm thinking about making a workshop out of it for my RWA chapters. Could be something useful for conferences or nationals. hmmm.


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

My book isn’t exactly a romance, but it is more about internal rather than external changes – I can see easily how the hero’s journey applies. Thanks for the clarification.

Marilyn Brant said...

I never get enough of reading your wonderful posts on craft, Nancy. I keep a diagram of the hero's journey (external and internal) next to me when I'm plotting by hand, but it's still so helpful to read over these stages in the clear way you describe them. I learn new things every time ;).

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hmmm, you have so much good stuff here, I'm going to have to read it several more times. I do learn a lot about craft reading your posts.

I've copied and pasted a few of them for reference. good stuff.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane, thanks! You are right. any story plot with an emotional arc can take this journey.
Hi Marilyn, see this is why your books are so popular. I am just now getting the hang of the Hero's Journey-external and internal. lol
Hi Sia, thank you so much for the compliment. I can't wait to read you in print. I know you'll be there soon.

Finn Jackson said...

I'm usually not a "Me, too" person, but this post so thoroughly clarified the Hero's Journey (as it relates to a romance), that I had to chime in. I've been researching this topic for some time, trying to capture the essence of how the romance integrates with the major beats, and you've explained the idea perfectly. Thank you so much! Excellent work, wonderful insight.

Allen said...

I'm pleased to see someone else making the point that the Hero's Journey doesn't just apply to quest films. Here's my own 12-step Hero's Emotional Journey.