According to writer Joseph Campbell, all stories are essentially the same.
Every story is told in specific stages– the collection of which he refers to as The Hero’s Journey (aka “the monomyth.”) Campbell applied his theory to mythology in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but we see it all the time in films and novels.
While writers employ other plot structures, like the 3 Acts, the Hero’s Journey is a bit more controversial. After all, how detailed can a plot structure get before we consider it a formula– and if it truly is the heart of the best stories already told, should aspiring writers avoid or embrace it?
YA Fantasy writer Quanisha A. McGruder shares her thoughts on:
After reading and researching the Heroes journey through Constantine and articles, I find that this plotting structure is actually used quite often just in different ways. Mainly the beginning. These three Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call; Playing with Fire by Gena Showalter is a great example and I loved this book.
However, what many authors are not doing, and I as a writer will hope not to do, is the predictability factor that the guy wins and gets the girl or always win any battle. Now I want a happy ending, but let’s not take the real life element out of it. I was once writing this story about lovers who one was a witch and the other a demon.
Now in my head, I’m trying my hardest to figure out a happy ending to this even though the story is leading me to a happy one but not romanticized. It ended up with me being stuck in writer’s block because there is no way in real life that these creatures with this many problems could stick it out without sacrificing themselves.
Now the question is do you do a happily ever novel? Or more importantly do readers thrive for a happy ending? To answer that lets take a step and answer the question of why do readers read fiction?
To relate, to learn, and/or to escape.
How you can relate to someone and their journey if everything is going right for them like in the Campbell’s Monomyth structure? I mean, their whole world is set up for them going good like stage four of Meeting the Mentor or having Supernatural Aid. Or thinking that everything they do is going to be met with a reward.
If the reader is reading for a lesson in how everything always works itself out and gets better in the end, then this is the perfect story structure to follow. It tells you to keep trying, keep going, you will succeed.
And if the reader is reading to escape, then maybe they need this plot structure too. A step back from how the real world works to read something good. To raise their spirits and hope.
All in all I think you can’t please everyone; as a writer, your respect is towards you and your novel so write it the way it’s supposed to be written– whether you use this plotting structure or not.
Quanisha McGruder is writer of YA fantasy, adult fiction, and poetry. She is currently working on her first novella, The Foretold, a fantasy novella that brings forth a new magical world, Crystalline. Check her out on Wattpad and Embrace the Madness!