This morning, I was giving a talk to a group of writers on Joseph Campbell and the Hero Journey or Monomyth (in this case, specifically with regards to setting, rather than plot or character). I ran the group through a basic overview of Campbell’s schema, and gave them a number of examples from movies (since visuals are always helpful) — including two movies that I know for a fact consciously used Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as inspiration: Star Wars: A New Hope and The Matrix. And I mentioned that, while I loved the first Matrix movie, I felt as if I could hear the pages of Campbell’s magnum opus turning as Neo’s journey progressed. Call to Adventure? Check. Crossing the Threshold? Check. Belly of the Beast? Double-check…
One of the participants asked, very reasonably, how to use and honor the Hero’s Journey schema without falling into the trap of writing a story that is formulaic.
When I was studying to be an actor, we had a wonderful master teacher named Archie Smith. Now in addition to being a terrific teacher, he was also (though in his late 60s) still an actor and a student of acting; he would sit in on many of our classes with other teachers and go through the exercises they had us work on, then apply them to his own work on stage and talk to us about what he’d learned.
One day, one of our classmates asked Archie how we could keep all of our acting fresh, even as we tried to apply all of these technical concepts that we were learning. Archie told us to learn all of the techniques that he and our other teachers were giving us, to internalize them… and then, he said with great glee, “Toss them out the window!”
Continue reading Toss them out the window! Using and forgetting the Hero’s Journey