That Hero’s Journey Monomyth Thingie: Part Three

Hi gang. Craig here with you once again with more about story structure. I’m taking on the biggest form of story structure out there, but there are others. If you missed any of the earlier posts, don’t despair. They live forever on the Internet.

Part One

Part Two

Time to get jiggy with it. We’re knee deep in the middle slog now, but we’re about to work our way out.

The Reward:

From our last section, we went through the ordeal. Indiana Jones survived the book burning, Frodo escaped the ring wraiths, and we killed off a mentor or two.

When the hero survives he gets a reward. Frodo got an entire fellowship to watch his back. Will Smith got a “noisy cricket.” Maybe the sword from the stone is lost, but the Lady of the Lake has something even better. (Depends upon which version of King Arthur you read.) You actually retrieve the plans to the Death Star.

In this section, your hero is now perceived differently. Strider is gone and Aragorn takes his place. Who are you? –– I’m Batman.

Tip: Costuming is your friend here. We’re all visual creatures to a degree. Spider-Man might have worn that ratty sweatshirt and ski mask up until now. From this point on, he has the real Spidey suit. Gone is Tony Stark’s steampunk looking creation from the cave in Afghanistan, now it’s the real Iron Man suit. It still works outside superhero themes, this might be the shiny armor from Excalibur, or maybe some science fiction high tech stuff.

I write speculative fiction, if you hadn’t guessed from my examples. Some of you might relate better to the journey of Eliza Doolittle.

The last section was about risk, this is reward. Simple as that.

Tip: Make the reward useful for your end game. Alejandro went to steal the Andalusian stallion. He pulled this off which was paramount to his adventure. He also made a pretty sexy connection with Catherine Zeta-Jones which didn’t work out too bad for him either. Gone is bumbling over-confident Alejandro, now he is truly Zorro. (And got a costume upgrade.)

One for you muggles out there: When Richard Gere comes to sweep Debra Winger off her feet he is wearing his dress blues, because he is now An Officer and a Gentleman. This one is odd, because it marks the end of the story. Gere’s graduation and salute from Louis Gosset Jr. was his reward.

One more: Will Smith puts on the black suit and tie. “I make this look good.” He also becomes known simply as J. It’s a new perception.

This is an earned reward, not simply a gift from a loved one. Wyatt Earp put up with the Cowboys for a long time. He complained to an inept sheriff and city marshal. When his time comes, he thumbs his lapel to show that he’s trumped everyone. “United States Marshall.” The promotion is an earned reward, and he’s perceived differently.

Note: This is not the same as Perseus’s gifts from the gods, or Harry’s Nimbus 2000. Those weren’t necessarily earned. They also came at an earlier point in the tale.

The Road Back:

This section is important. Things were a whirlwind from a loss and beatdown right up to the reward. It makes sense to mourn some losses at this point. It’s realistic, too. Things happened that are largely out of the hero’s control, but now it’s time to mourn losses. Obi-Wan died, the fellowship failed and lost track of the ring, Sirius Black died. Wyatt Earp is transporting his brother’s body.

Film can get away with a thousand yard stare at sunset and some dramatic music. We can’t. Internal thought can work, but dialog is better. Think about Gandalf and Pippin talking about what happens next. This is the part where Gandalf says, “All our hopes lie with two little hobbits…”

This is the reminder of what we’re fighting for, seems like Sam and Frodo had this conversation too. This is often referred to as the Dark Night of the Soul.

It starts with mourning of some kind, but then turns to an uplifting moment. Somebody usually makes a speech of some kind. Think of Aragorn’s speech to the troops outside Mordor. “There may come a time… but it is not this day.”

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about (Watch the damned video):

You might think of the label as the road back –– from disaster. This is why the speech, or at least some focus matters.


I don’t care for the name of this section, because we’ve already dealt with that. However, it’s not referring to the individual but the big picture. This is the rebellion that is resurrected, the world of man, piracy, etc.

Think about it like this. The East India Trading Company has Davy Jones and is about to wipe out piracy forever. The Pirates restore Calypso and now meet the EITC on equal or superior footing.

Sauron and Saruman build the Orc army to destroy man. They have the Nazgûl, those dudes with the elephants, the war is over. That’s when it all comes crashing down as Frodo delivers the bomb.

This is your big boss battle. Good ultimately triumphs over evil. Your readers hung with you for this, so pay them back.

Tip: Consider using a ticking clock to ramp up the tension. Bruce Willis sacrifices himself to save his daughter and Ben Affleck. Before Bruce nukes the killer asteroid, the clock is counting down to a point of absolute failure. There is less than a second to spare when he blows the damned thing up.

Some stories are obviously tragedies, so you’ll have to modify as needed. Kong falls off the Empire State Building, the classic monster dies, Godzilla is defeated. In these instances, you’ll have to make sure to sell the true message during the previous section. Man is a jerk, and Kong was a tragic victim. Godzilla represents planetary vengeance for all the horrible things we do to the Earth. This means your previous speech needs to take on a different tone.

That leaves us with…

Returning with the Elixir:

I didn’t name these, so don’t shoot me. This is your happy ever after. In modern fiction, it’s often abandoned entirely, or made very brief. Do with that what you will, but I agree with making it short.

Years ago I proofread a manuscript that had several chapters of happy, including names of unborn grandchildren, future college degrees, careers. It was an entrapment/murder mystery, so once the killer is caught the story needed to end. Drop the mike and walk offstage.

On the other hand, I’m not a fan of ending it abruptly. You know these stories. The hero and the sidekick are sitting amid a field of bones, but everyone else is dead. They light cigars and the credits roll. We get it, they won, but how about just giving us a taste of the future. (Think Jaws here as they paddle for shore. A hug from Brody’s wife would have been nice.)

Will turner defeated Davy Jones and restored some kind of balance to the spirit world. Piracy will go on, but we still got to see him come ashore and get some happy time with Elizabeth.

This is your party with the Ewoks. This is where John Wick adopted a new puppy.

Tip: Think about a return to the real world, like in John Wick. It can be a changed world, but gives a sense of normalcy.

We get to see Aragorn crowned king, and get a glimpse of Sam back at the Shire. The bit about seeing the elves, Gandalf, and Bilbo off was almost too much for me.

Your mileage will vary, but my preference is Happy –– Done. This lets the readers see everything is okay, but they get to imagine how it will be after that.

To quote Porky Pig, “That’s All Folks.” Twelve steps, three posts, that Hero’s Journey Monomyth Thingie. I hope I took some of the fear away, showed you where it’s safe to vary, and where it might be best to stick to the true path.

Let me hear from you. Did my unusual presentation of story structure resonate with anyone?

36 thoughts on “That Hero’s Journey Monomyth Thingie: Part Three

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and This Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  2. I’m not really a fan of the “happy” ending, but it has to be a true ending. Things wrapped up – maybe not happily, but definitely wrapped up (usually with a high body count). I HATE these endings where you’re left high going “huh”?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved the video clip. How could I not watch it when you prefaced it with (somebody watch the damn video)? 🙂 You made some great points here. The example of the book going on after the ending is one of my pet peeves. Well, I’ll be honest. When I read “The End,” it’s the end as far as I am concerned. What happens after that doesn’t interest me. Great post, Craig!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Two of my favorite things to say come from that Animal House clip.

    Loved this series, Craig. And I agree; endings are crucial. Nothing worse than a book (or a TV series or a movie) with a lousy ending. (And before I start to rant, I’ll just end the comment.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was hoping someone would watch the video. It begins at the point of mourning, but turns into the pep talk and call to action. It was that or the Elizabeth Swan “hoist the colors” speech which does the same thing. Glad you enjoyed the series.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Some great examples here, Craig. When writing my suspenses I like to end on about a page and a half wrap up where it’s clear the hero and heroine are either together or working in that direction. I like how Bones does it on TV. They have the big case with all of the investigation aspects, catch the killer, then generally wrap it up in their favorite hangout with a little humor and a lot of caring.

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  6. Fabulous wrap, Craig. There were a lot of gems in here. I especially liked “Returning with the Elixir.”

    Some books do drag on too much for me. I loved “Drop the mike and walk offstage.” On the other hand, some are too abrupt. When I first saw Jaws I wanted more to the ending. Now I’m okay with it. Maybe because I’ve seen it a gazillion times since.

    The ending for Tolkien’s Return of the King worked well in the book but didn’t translate as well to the screen. One of the best feel good endings ever–the reunion at the Ewok party. Good choice on that one.

    As a writer, I find endings as hard as beginnings. With beginnings you’re trying to hook the reader, but with endings you need to satisfy them for staying the journey. I don’t know which is worse!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: That Hero’s Journey Monomyth Thingie, Part Two | Story Empire

  8. Pingback: That hero’s journey, monomyth thingie | Story Empire

    • Went to Avengers yesterday. They spend a long time on the Dark Night of the Soul in the beginning, and on the denouement at the end. If you think about it, the story took 20 years to release completely and involved dozens of characters to address. I guess I’m agreeing that the massive stories take a bit more.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a nice recipe for a story, and it’s been proven for hundreds of years. I think the reward phase is important. We put them through a lot, and they deserve a breather of some kind.


      • There are tales with multiple reward phases too. I keep thinking of Perseus. He got the magic gear needed to defeat Medusa. Then he gained her head to defeat the Kraken. I might be getting the myth and Clash of the Titans mixed up.

        Liked by 1 person

      • No, you aren’t. Those gifts fit more into fairytale structure. They come early in the story and are not earned. You’re right about Medusa’s head, and that was the item from the reward section. I’m going to do a bit about fairytale structure next.


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