The Heroine’s Journey

When Joseph Campbell wrote his comparative mythology opus, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he set in motion the embracing of a mono-myth that would launch hundreds of Hollywood and novel writer’s careers.

Campbell’s dense academic writing is not for the fainthearted however and it was Christopher Vogler who brought Campbell’s work to the popular masses with his, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, now in its third edition.

As you may have noticed, both of these works are based upon a male hero figure. For many years, most writers with female protagonists assumed that her journey or character arc would be no different. But it was Campbell who remarked,

“There are no models in our mythology for an individual woman’s quest. Nor is there any model for the male in marriage to an individuated female.” (cited in The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth)

Luckily, a few writers have rectified this situation, but before I get to the heroine’s journey, for those not familiar, I will recap Campbell’s hero’s journey (from Vogler’s work mentioned above):

  1. Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
  2. they receive the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
  3. They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
  4. are encouraged by a MENTOR to
  5. CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World, where
  6. they encounter TESTS, ALLIES AND ENEMIES.
  7. They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
  8. where they endure the SUPREME ORDEAL.
  9. They take possession of their REWARD and
  10. are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
  11. They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION, and are transformed by the experience.
  12. They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

So, finally, with all that background out of the way, we can look to the heroine’s journey

One of the first to write about the heroine’s journey was Maureen Murdock. Her book is entitled, The Heroine’s Journey.

Another is The Bridge to Wholeness: A Feminine Alternative to the Hero Myth by Jean Benedict Raffa.

Both of the titles above (and quite a few more) have strong psychological leanings, so for my purposes, in this article, aimed at the fiction writer, I want to call special attention to 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

What I like about this book is she provides two plot outlining worksheets, one for the “Feminine Journey” and one for the “Masculine Journey.” She also gives us a side-by-side comparison of the differences.

A few of these differences include:

  • a circular or episodic framework versus a linear framework
  • the heroine’s need to prove herself to herself (rather than the group)
  • traveling a path of allowance versus a path of resistance

Whether or not you agree with Schmidt’s take on the heroine’s journey, or even if you think there is no difference from the hero’s, if you are crafting a female protagonist, you should see if Schmidt’s ideas creates or expands a different way of being for your character.

If you are new to the world of archetypes (the hero and heroine are Jungian archetypes), the best place to start is Vogler’s The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. I have the second edition. My third edition is on the way. It is my hope that he has expanded it to include the heroine’s journey. Updates to come.