The Lasting Myth of Structure

For anyone who has ever written any form of story, both fiction and non-fiction, an interesting thing occurs subconsciously to form the basic structure of the narrative. It seems that through the countless eras of Human culture, the way we relate a story to one another whether verbal or written, this format has become hard-wired into the brain. Any storyteller, even if not conscious of it, has written within the confines of this mythic structuring. I was surprised to find that everything I had written was cut from this base mold when a dear friend of mine first gave me a copy of The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogel, first published in 1992. It was amazing to see that this ages old mythic structure was still the foundation fro literature today.

I later found another book, recommended to me by the same friend. Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces, first published in 1949. I then learned that Christopher Vogel had taken what he learned from this same book to pen his own (and Vogel has written many about this subject). This mythic structure, referred to as the mono-myth by Campbell himself, is the same format of all the great myths and histories back through the ages.

There is always a pull to leave the safety of normal life. Something that drags our hero from what he/she knows. The hero always faces obstacles along his/her journey – whether real or imagined, physical or mental. There is always a point where the hero as he/she is cannot succeed and so must loose the old self and be “reborn” with the will to see his/her path through to the end. And always the return home, the same person but changed forever. Now that’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

I’d like to share a quote from Joseph Campbell’s introduction in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, he sums it up better than I ever could:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

A simple, short idea of the concept behind the structure of myth. The same path every hero/protagonist takes through every story in every genre. Whether the writer is aware of it or not. This structure applies to more than just literary pursuits as well. Christopher Vogel is a screenwriter and his book is recommended reading for aspiring students of that craft. Both books can be invaluable tools.

Now to go a step further, if you treat the antagonist/villain with the same thought of the mythic hero’s journey just imagine how evil they can become. Because the antagonist is truly on their own path. And it makes for a strange relation between reader and villain, much as between reader and hero. A friend of mine once told me “that even bad guys believe they are on good quests.” Personally I think it makes for better opposition and a more believable antagonist. And in truth, every character in a story should be on their own quest no matter how small in comparison to the hero.

To this day, I’m still impressed that the concepts of storytelling from cultures long dead are exactly the same as today.

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7 thoughts on “The Lasting Myth of Structure

  1. Interesting post, Joe! I think the fact that we are still doing many things to this day that have been done for thousands of years, reflects the way we’ve been hard-wired, but also transcends that, showing that ancient man had several things on the ball and concepts that are ancient aren’t invalid simply because they are ancient. There is much wisdom in the ancients and also much depravity just as we have today. We tend to think we are so much better and more sophisticated, but as it has been shown again and again, we aren’t so different after all! Cheers!

  2. Good post. I recognize the hero’s journey in many books I’ve read, and in my own writing. In fact, I recently read a book about mystery writing, which also brought up this concept. It contained a good discussion on how important this journey was in building a good story line. I need to read Joseph Campbell. I’ve seen so many quotes from him that I really enjoy. Thanks!

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