Using the Hero’s Journey to Plot
At the Michigan SCBWI conference two weeks ago, I was asked to teach about the Hero’s Journey. Taken from Joseph Campbell’s classic work on folklore, the hero’s journey is a classic paradigm for plot, especially for quest stories. The best book for studying the hero’s journey is The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
While we usually see the hero’s journey used for a quest story, it can be used in many other types of stories, including contemporary children’s stories. Here’s my take on how The Bridge to Terabithia fits into the Hero’s Journey. I doubt Paterson was thinking about this paradigm as she wrote; but it’s a classic paradigm that can shortcut your plotting process and give you something great to work with.
OPENING or BRIDGING CONFLICT: Jess wants to run, but his family doesn’t appreciate him.
Main Supporting Character hinted at: new family moving into Perkin’s old place.
Jess wants to do art, as supported by (Mentor) Miss Edmunds, but his family doesn’t think it’s worth his time to pursue.
Meets Leslie and the first week of classes, she beats all the boys at running. (Notice that Leslie doesn’t enter the story until chapter 3! The Ordinary World is often slighted by beginning writers and this is an excellent example to study for the importance of this stage.)
CALL TO ADVENTURE/REFUSAL
MEETING WITH MENTOR
The one bright spot on the horizon is Miss Edmunds’s weekly visit to the school.
2ND CALL TO ADVENTURE
Leslie admits to class that her family doesn’t have a TV. Jess wants to protect/comfort her, but can’t.
CROSSING THE THRESHOLD
Jess supports Leslie against girl bully, Janice Avery.
Their friendship begins.
TESTS, ENEMIES AND ALLIES
Jess and Leslie’s friendship continues to grow and deepen in the next couple of months, both in school and in Terabithia.
- Enemies: Janice Avery has a subplot of her own.
- Tests: Christmas gifts – Jess finds free puppy, Prince Terrin, for Leslie; she gives him paint supplies
SUPREME ORDEAL: FEELS ABANDONED
Leslie helps Dad remodel their house and Jess feels abandoned. When Leslie realizes this, she invites Jess to help paint the golden room.
Golden room and play in Terabithia.
ROAD BACK: HE IS CHANGING LESLIE NOW
Jess convinces Leslie that they have to try to help Janice, the bully.
Raise the stakes: Jess’ Dad is laid off work.
DEATH & RESURRECTION
When Jess goes with his teacher to an art gallery, Leslie goes to Terabithia alone and is drowned.
He thinks about how Leslie has changed him, and he realizes that the only way to preserve both those changes and her memory is to preserve Terabithia.
RETURN WITH ELIXIR
In one of the most poignant “return with elixir” moments in children’s literature, Jess introduces his little sister, MayBelle to Terabithia saying, “there’s a rumor going around that the beautiful girl arriving today might be the queen they’ve been waiting for.” He’s passing on the wider outlook on life that Leslie had introduced to him.