The Heroic Journey 5: The Hero’s Inner Journey
Today’s article is the fourth in a series of guest posts from freelance writer, editor, and former WriteAtHome writing coach, David Sims.
Another fairly common trait in Hero’s Journey stories is the inner journey of the Hero, analogous to the outer journey he undertakes.
The Hero starts out with an outer “want” and an inner “need.” He might not be conscious, even, of the inner need, but it’s clear to the reader.
The novelist or filmmaker’s job is to take these inner limitations and problems and show them clearly and believably to the reader. Think of Shrek’s inner need to overcome his isolation and pain at the world’s rejection. We see it clearly even if he doesn’t.
So along with the adventures the Hero will be having, he’ll be progressing along an Inner Journey of change as well.
The outer motivation answers the question “What does the Hero want?” The inner motivation answers “Why does the character want this?” It’s usually to achieve greater feelings of self-worth.
The Outer Journey is a clearly-defined, visible goal, a clearly-defined finish line — “I won,” or “We got married,” or “I saved the world.”
The Inner Journey is the journey of fulfillment. From fear to courage, from shyness to confidence, from rejection to acceptance — think of the family in The Incredibles, how each of them are different at the end of the movie, especially the daughter.
Heroes in the beginning of movies, in the World of the Common Day, are frequently defined by others, by external forces and situations – their parents, jobs, beliefs they’ve always carried about themselves. But by the end of the novel, they stand up and say “No, this is who I am. I define myself.”
Generally the Hero is uncomfortable in his setting when the story opens, he doesn’t fit in, there’s some pain, and he’s frequently in or heading towards some bad trouble. Think of Mr. Incredible working at the insurance job, Cinderella scrubbing floors, Huck Finn at the widow’s house. He’s coping, getting by, maybe using crutches. During the story, he’ll wakes up and ditch the crutches at some point.
In fact, it’s bad writing when there isn’t some kind of a limitation in the Hero’s life at the beginning. It’s good to show there’s something he can’t do – can’t face some fact about his life; there’s something’s inhibiting his being who he really is.
Often the Hero, at the beginning of the novel, is making a mistake and might even think it’s the right way to be – “I must succeed,” “I must be right,” “I must prove something to my father,” “I must please others,” when actually the reader can see clearly it’s hurting him. Shrek says all he wants is to be left alone in his swamp, but the audience sees it’s really hurting him to be lonely.