The Hero’s Journey Will Save You Too

A few years ago I was asked to watch a student short film and give the writer professional feedback.

The film was smart, entertaining and had something to say. Yet I felt it wasn’t quite as emotionally powerful as it could have been.

I had a really hard time facing this… Why?

Because I had been hired to consult on the final draft.

Watching the result of your work on the screen is educational, fun and it boosts the ego. Except when it isn’t as strong as I had hoped.

But what exactly was wrong with it? I couldn’t tell. It had a clear hero, a clear goal and a strong climax and resolution.

Watching the result of your work on the screen is
educational, fun and
it boosts the ego.

The writer played the film to me during the break at a Hero’s Journey seminar. It was a fabulous day, great energy in the room, inspired people.Then I had an idea. I asked the writer if it would be OK to show the film to the other students and discuss if/how it applied the Hero’s Journey – or not.

That’s when the magic happened. The students were perfectly capable of finding the flaws in this short film based on what they had learned from me that morning.

One of the problems: the 2nd act started too quickly after the inciting incident. There was no ‘refusal’, so it seemed as if it was no big deal to the Hero.

Another issue: the clear potential for ‘threshold guardians’ was not used. The travel from A to B was without any obstacles where it could have easily been more dramatic.

All without increasing the production budget.

That’s when the magic happened.
The students were perfectly capable of finding the flaws.

I was perplexed when I realized I had worked with the writer to get the 3-Act Structure right.  For lack of time and budget, we didn’t go the extra mile of looking at the 12 journey stages.

At that time I still believed the Journey didn’t apply to short films. Boy, was I wrong.

Here was the clearest of evidence that short films can be significantly improved using the tools of mythical structure.

Even more striking was the fact that the students didn’t need my help to find the issues with the story. They had freshly assimilated the material and applied it immediately – right there.

Short films can be significantly improved
using the tools of mythical structure.

And the writer? He was delighted. He had just started a feature and saw what to do with that.

– Karel Segers

Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia.
Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 5-year old son Baxter and anyone who listens.
He is also the boss of this blog.

The Hero’s Journey for Writers and Screenwriters:
24 and 31 October in Sydney. Click for more info.

Creative Commons License photo credits: Torley, puroticorico, woodleywonderworks1, atomicjeep.

About the Author

Karel FG Segers

Karel Segers wrote his first produced screenplayat age 17. Today he is a story analyst with experience in international acquisition, development and production. He co-wrote Danger Close, the biggest budget Australian film of the decade, and has trained and consulted all over the world, including award-winners and Academy Award nominees. Karel ranks among the most influential people for screenwriting on social media, and speaks a handful of European languages, which he is still trying to find a use for in his present hometown of Sydney, Australia

Comments 4

  1. Is it necessary do you think to include all 12 steps outlined in the Hero’s Journey to every story/script or it possible to bypass a few and still retain the core strength of the original idea?

    1. Post

      Very good question. Thank you, Tracey.

      From experience, a strong original feature idea lends itself well to use all the twelve stages, sometimes in non-conventional ways.

      BACK TO THE FUTURE has a really long Ordinary World. I believe CLOSE ENCOUNTERS has a disproportionately long Refusal of the Call; in INCEPTION that stage is really short. CASINO ROYALE has a triple Ordeal, TOY STORY 3 has a relatively brief Resurrection.

      I am absolutely convinced that leaving out a stage will diminish the emotional experience.

      For short films you surely don’t always need all stages. But when a story doesn’t work the way you want it, an analysis on the mythical stages may well bring the solution(s).

      Were you thinking of any specific movies?

      1. No, not specifically, more to do with creating a story/script and based on what I’ve read around the subject of the journey.
        I suppose we could relate the same to life and children vs the adult where stages of development have been missed out eg; walked but never crawled analogy. Not noticeable in itself but only later when character flaws begin to appear and closer inspection reveals problems in the early stages.
        I’m rambling now but just a thought.

      2. Post

        You’re not rambling Tracey. That’s the whole idea: the Hero’s Journey does reflect how life works, which is exactly why we subliminally accept it.

        And the analogy is perfect.

        The level of detail you’ll find in the similarities between our every day lives and the twelve stages is mind boggling. Keep the comments coming!

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