Erin Lausten

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The Hero’s Journey

Posted by erinlausten on November 18, 2011


Image by David Bailey

The hero’s journey is a constant concept built into the collective consciousness to such a point that we know exactly how the story goes. From Gilgamesh and Hercules to Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter we know the characters, the struggles, and the victories. It is like a perfect song. All the elements converge to create a seamless experience we recognize and expect.

These men are faced with an untenable situation, endowed with the skills, talents, and the desire to do the right thing. But within themselves they have a flaw that they must conquer in order to overcome the obstacles. Hercules spent years atoning for his flaws in order to be the hero. Luke Skywalker overcame youthful inexperience and lack of patience. Indiana Jones fought snakes (my personal favorite).

Actually, Indiana Jones is far more complex than an adventurer with a snake phobia. His values often collided with opportunity, fame and fortune. His fear of commitment and obsession with what seemed to be missing from his childhood often stood in the way of him becoming a pure hero.

This is how we like it. A hero with flaws. A hero that fights against himself as much as he fights against evil. He becomes real. A man, not a god.

The hero’s journey is all part of the shared cultural experience and we recognize it when we see it. We recognize when it is not quite right as well.

The heroine’s journey is just as recognizable, though not necessarily as prevalent in the shared culture. Often this story is about a woman’s self-discovery. It focuses on growth and development of internal strength. These are fabulous stories, heartwarming and encouraging. The best will take a woman from a point of absolute vulnerability to a point of self-mastery and absolute understanding of worth.

But what about women put in the hero’s journey? This is what I love to write. Is the hero’s journey gender specific? Yes and no. Men and women think about the world differently. If you don’t know this I recommend any number of books by Deborah Tannen.  The story will reflect this unique perspective.

In theory the circumstances and challenges that face them should be a constant. However, the world will react to each differently based on their gender. It is all very confusing at times to keep straight.

And what happens when you put a man and a woman into the same journey? Does the story remain focused on just one? In many cases it does. In romance and urban fantasies the story is often focused on the woman’s journey and to a lesser extent her significant other. The development of the secondary hero fluctuates by the author’s preference. In a number of genres the genders switch in focus, with the male taking the lead.

In Unexpected the journey is skewed toward Hailey. But Derian’s perspective is also examined. The hard part is ensuring that all characters provide the real appearance that they are experiencing their own journey. This is what creates authenticity in the story and prevents the impression that the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts simply there to provide environmental backdrops for the protagonist.

Did I do a good job? I will have to leave that to the readers. Let me know what you think!

Join Hailey and Derian in a fast paced adventure in time against forces no one expected. In fact, it was all quite Unexpected. Now on Amazon and Smashwords!

Are you interested in knowing the minute my books are available? Send me an email at and I will put you on the list. I promise not to spam you with a constant barrage of sales pitches. I’ll only send information when something new is out.
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6 Responses to “The Hero’s Journey”

  1. Well said, Erin! I’ve gotten to see some of Hailey and Derian already, and like what you’re doing with both of them.

  2. Erin, you’ve done a great job on the book…and on this blog.

    Indiana Jones is one of my all-time favorite characters. I love the complexity with which he’s drawn. The best fictional characters are the ones who are as complex as real people. They’re also the most fun to write!

  3. DM said

    Loved it. Excellent writing.

  4. Mike Saxton said

    This one is moving up on my to-read list once classes are out.

  5. Az said

    Perhaps the most even-handed and sensible discussion of gender issues in literature I’ve yet read. This is a brilliant analysis of how gender can be used effectively in writing to capture and maintain the reader’s attention. What I like best is that you did it so concisely and so convincingly…and without all that nonsense about how all men write brief tracts on how difficult life can be (we’re not all Hemingway in disguise!) whilst all women write about what a girl really wants but worries she’ll never have (not every woman writes or wants to write romance fiction!)

    Great post, Erin!

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