Stories, like our lives, need shape to make sense. To find our place, we need to know where our journey started and where it’s heading. Journeys are about purpose. They reflect our desire to see our own lives as constantly moving forward and meaningful. They allow us to live vicariously – to be inspired, shown change, or to escape our realities entirely.
Any story is essentially a chronicle of change. How you got from A to B, and what motivated the journey. It involves taking on the mantle of responsibility and crossing a threshold into the unknown, where risks have to be taken, trials have to be met and relationships tested. In stories and in life, change is a call to action. It asks hard questions of us, but it also offers us hope in our potential to influence the wider world.
The Hero’s Journey
Nineteenth Century Mythologist Joseph Campbell discovered a story pattern in ancient myths that has been repeated across much modern literature and entertainment. It is the journey of a protagonist who struggles against conflict, learns skills, undergoes a revelation of identity and finally triumphs against the odds. Its presence in the earliest written stories suggests it was part of an older oral storytelling tradition. There is something about this dramatic arc that speaks to us at a primal level, perhaps because it satisfies our need to have absolute versions of our lives reflected back at us.
Science Fiction author Kurt Vonnegut showed that story arcs could be mapped based on the journey of the central character. Using a graph with time along the x axis and fortune on the y axis, he believed that the most persuasive stories in our cultures rarely stray far from the same basic shape.