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Hi everyone, the assignment for this week is to (1) write ten more pages of your screenplay (rough versions are fine), and (2) read the material below, then analyze your story in terms of the monomyth. 

The Zoom video from last week is below:



The seven archetypes

Movies usually have one main character (protagonist) and a range of supporting characters. There are seven basic character types in the monomyth. They occur in myths, and can be found in a great number of movies. 

NOTE: Archetypes are not, and should not be, stereotypes.  They fill a prescribed role… the mentor always plays a mentoring role… but this should not prevent them from being complex three dimensional characters.

1. The hero is the protagonist or central character. The hero typically leaves her safe, familiar life or world, and enters a new and unfamiliar one filled with hazards in order to achieve an objective.  The audience identifies with the hero and experiences the journey, and the movie, through his eyes.

Examples: Luke Skywalker, Erin Brockovich, Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, Neo in the Matrix, John McClane in Die Hard, Ariel in the Little Mermaid.

2. The mentor:  Most heroes have a mentor who tells them the “lay of the land” when they set out on their quest or journey, and provides training and guidance.  The guidance often has both an intellectual element (teaching the hero what she needs to learn, to complete the mission), and a moral aspect (helping her steer clear of temptation). (In the original Star Wars movie, Obiwan Kinobe was Luke’s mentor. When Obiwan died, Luke needed a mentor for the subsequent movies, so Yoda was introduced.)

Note: in some cases the mentor may be long-dead, but his or her influence is still alive.  Think of Pa Kent in the Superman movies, who provides Clarks’ moral compass when he’s confused — or any character in the movies who talks to a dead parent or other ancestor when looking for help or guidance in a crisis.

(Traditionally the mentor is usually male, though there are exceptions.  Further on in the journey, the hero may encounter a wise woman who plays a somewhat different role.)

3. The herald:  Heralds can play several roles. They may give the hero (and audience) vital information.  They often appear near the beginning of a story, and issue a summons to the hero, i.e., an invitation or call to adventure.  (The droids R2D2 and C3PO are the heralds in the original Star Wars movie.) 

4. The threshold guardian:  The guardian’s job is to protect the hidden world and its secrets from the hero, and try to bar him  from entering it.  In a traditional myth the hero has to prove his worth by getting past the guardian, sometimes with the help of the mentor.  For example:

  1. In Star Wars, Luke is trying to leave his home planet to save princess Leia in Star Wars.  He and his entourage are confronted by Imperial Storm Troopers who are out to capture them. The storm troopers are the threshold guardians. Obiwan waves his hand and tells them, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” allowing them to pass.
  2. In The Little Mermaid, Aerial’s father’s tries to prevent her from going to the surface, and enlists some fish (guardians) to try to reign her interests in, and keep her under the sea.  (They sing ‘under the sea’ to try to convince her not to go on her journey.)

5. The shapeshifter: We (and the hero) often don’t know who the shapeshifter is loyal to.  He or she may turn out to be a loyal ally or a betrayer. Often, but not always, he or she appears to betray the hero, then turns out to be a “double agent” who saves him or her at the end.  For example:

  1. In the first Alien movie, an alien is brought onto the ship, escapes and starts killing the human being on board in grotesque and frightening ways. The crew is desperately trying to survive, but are unable to destroy the alien.
  2. Their main resource in trying to understand the alien well enough to kill it, is the ship’s doctor. He seems incompetent at first, supposedly trying to help them but failing.  Its then revealed that he’s really a double agent, whose job it is to bring protect the alien that’s destroying them.  After that it’s revealed that he’s not human at all — he’s an android, only pretending to be a human being.  He “shifts his shape” several times, pretending to be things he’s not, before the truth about his role in the story is revealed.
  3. Note for  those interested in writing teleplays: Series television almost always has at least one shapeshifter character.  In the British TV series Orphan Black, Sarah’s mother is a shapeshifter… we never quite know who’s side she’s on.  Delphine (Cosima’s girlfriend) is another.  (Some stories, and ongoing TV series, have several shapeshifters, and keep the audience guessing till the end.)
  4. In the fantasy and SF genres (and early myths), there often are literal shapeshifters, someone who can change into a werewolf, or a human ally who turns out to be an enemy alien or supernatural being in disguise. 

6. The shadow:  The shadow in a movie can be a “bad guy” or villain (Darth Vader, Dr. Doom, etc.). Or it may be your hero’s own personal failings. 

One way to think of the shadow is that it’s the opposite of who you’re character is.  Your hero might fight bravely against injustice in the world, yet neglect or be mean to her own family. (This would be her shadow side.) Your hero might be a detective trying to solve a mystery, while combating tendencies his own toward alcoholism. (His addiction to alcohol is his shadow.)

Looked at this way, a villain can have a shadow too, which reveals good in him or her.  Showing the “good” in your story’s bad guy can cause your hero to doubt himself at a crucial moment.  Imagine that your hero is about to strike an “evil” character dead, then sees the “evil” character crying; the hero has a moment of self doubt; the bad guy notices and moves in for the kill.

Note: Often the villain in a movie is a “failed hero” who once tried to do something good and failed. This may make him resent and hate the hero.

7. The trickster: The trickster can bring humor and insight, much like a court jester.  She is often fiercely loyal to the hero, but can be a little inept (i.e., a fighting character’s ineffectual sidekick, who bumbles his way through the story).  Another is a character who comes up with flippant comments to help the hero keep things in perspective.  In the TV series Orphan Black, Sarah’s brother plays the role of trickster. 

The main character will usually encounter friends and allies to help her, as well as enemies trying to block her from achieving her goal, as the narrative moves forward. The key enemy (the shadow) is often a father figure, who needs to be “conquered” then later reconciled with and forgiven. Or it may be an internal weakness that may need to be overcome.

8. The Wise Woman (or Wife) (or wise man, if your main character is female). A person of the opposite sex who completes your character, and gives him or her a more complete perspective on life.

Ways to view the monomyth

The monomyth is complex and can be viewed in a number of different ways. One is in terms of five basic steps, which are familiar from most or all movies.



The hero starts in the ordinary world (his or her ordinary, familiar life life).  (This is similar to the “setup” in a traditional story.) Then he or she receives a call to enter an unusual world of strange powers and events. (The call is similar to the “inciting incident” in a typical story.)  The hero may initially accept this call or decline it. If he or she declines it, there may be consequences.  (This step is sometimes referred to as the “Call to Adventure.”)


The hero is transported into an extraordinary world or situation, where he or she faces profound challenges.  The hero may face these trials alone, or with help. He may succeed or fail at dealing with them.  (Sometimes called “The Road of Trials.”)


After facing an increasing number of challenges and trials, the hero achieves what she set out to – victory! Woohoo!  But the movie isn’t over yet.


This step may or may not happen easily, or voluntarily… if the villain/shadow/antagonist isn’t totally destroyed, he/she may make one last ferocious attempt to stop the hero, at this stage of the story.

STEP 5) FREEDOM TO LIVE (or: starting over)

Using what he or she has learned.  In this stage, the skills, abilities or insights the hero has gained, can be applied to improve his or her life or world.


The monomyth can also be simplified down to THREE STAGES:

1. DEPARTURE deals with the hero beginning his or her quest. (The hero is separated from her community and from her normal everyday life.)

2. INITIATION includes the hero’s various adventures and obstacles as he moves through his journey (roughly parallel to the road of trials).

3. The RETURN focuses on his return home with knowledge and powers acquired on the journey.

When viewed this way, each of the three stages has several steps:

The steps in Departure are:

1. The call to adventure

2. Refusal (or acceptance) of the call

3. Supernatural aid

4. Crossing the first threshold

5. Entering the belly of the whale (final separation from the familiar)

The steps in Initiation are:

6. The road of trials

7. Meeting with the Goddess

8. Woman (or opposite sex) as temptress

9. Atonement with the father

10. Apotheosis

11. Achievement of a goal or boon

The steps in the Return are:

12. Refusal of the return

13. Magic flight

14. Rescue from without

15. Crossing the return threshold

16. Master of two worlds

17. Freedom to live.

Some myths, novels, films and screenplays contain all seventeen steps.  Others may have most of them, or combine or omit some, but are still considered variations on the same basic story structure. 



After a brief SETUP in which we get to know the hero in his or her everyday life, the ADVENTURE begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of his or her family or community.

Or sometimes the hero blunders into an adventure – for example: 

  • Your hero goes out walking in the woods and sees someone getting shot.
  • Your hero goes out to the garage and finds an alien extraterrestrial.
  • Your hero goes into work and overhears someone plotting to kill her employer.
  • When there is a call, it often comes from a character in the story who acts as a “herald”.  The herald may appear dark or terrifying, or friendly and benign.
  • (Note: The SETUP before the call to action may last anywhere from a page to ten pages, in a typical screenplay.  In a novel, it can sometimes last several chapters.  The call to action is similar to the “inciting incident” in traditional models of storytelling.)


  1. In the  original Star Wars movie, the protagonist, Luke Skywalker,  is first seen as a listless teenager longing to leave home, to go out into the universe and do something meaningful with his life.  The heralds are the droids who carry a recorded message from Princess Leia.   (“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”)
  2. In The Matrix, the hero, Neo, receives a call from Morpheus and his followers who encourage him to question reality. 
  3. In American Beauty, the protaganist’s wife urges him (calls on him) to come with her to see their daughter perform as a cheerleader.
  4. In Alien, a ship is moving through deep space with a crew in suspended animation, when a apparent distress call is intercepted by the ship’s com system.
  5. In Aliens, Ripley is offered an opportunity to return to space and pilot a freighter.  (The sleazy lawyer in the movie rings her doorbell and physically calls on her to ask her to take the job.)
  6. In Bladerunner, Decker’s boss calls him on a cell phone to tell him he has a job for him (tracking down three replicants who have escaped from a labor camp).
  7. In My Best Friend’s Wedding, the heroine receives a phone call from her ex-boyfriend, telling her he’s getting married and urging her to come to the wedding.  (“You’ve gotta come, Jules… I’ll never get through it without you.”)
  8. In the Little Mermaid, Ariel responds to an inner call, a strong inner impulse to see the surface world.  The call leads her to the ocean surface, where she spots and falls in love with Prince Eric.

Step 2: Refusal (or acceptance) of the Call

In some stories, the hero initially REFUSES the call.  When this happens, he or she usually suffers somehow. There’s a price to be paid for refusing.

In Aliens, Ripley refuses the invitation to go back into space, then later relents and decides to accept the job.

In Star Wars, Luke’s uncle refuses to let him seek out Obiwan Kinobe. Shortly afterwards, the aunt and uncle are murdered. 

In American Beauty, the protaganist says he doesn’t want to go to his daughter’s cheerleading exhibition, but relents and gives in at his wife’s urging  and goes with her.

One way the other, the hero finally ends up accepting the call.

Step 3:  Supernatural Aid (“a little help from my friends”)

After the hero has accepted the call, he or she encounters a protective figure (often elderly) who provides special tools and advice for the adventure ahead, such as an amulet or a weapon.

In the Wizard of Oz, Glynda the Good witch appears to tell Dorothy to keep the magic slippers, i.e., not to surrender them to the Wicked witch of the west.

In Star Wars, Luke encounters Obi-Wan Kenobi, who gives him a lightsaber and teaches him the Force.

In American Beauty, the neighbor’s son sells the hero drugs which facilitate his inner and outer transformation.

In Aliens, Ripley travels to the planet with a contingent of marines and a humanoid android with remarkable, more-than-human abilities, which end up being essential for her survival.

Sometimes the hero finds a whole contingent (family or army) of allies to help along the way. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy faces the Wicked Witch of the West, with the assistance of the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion.  In Star Wars, Luke faces Darth Vader with the help of Princess Leia, Han Solo, Obiwan Kinobe and the Droids. In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke seeks the help of Yoda. In The Little Mermaid, Ariel’s aquatic friends sing a song to try to get Prince Eric to “kiss the girl.” 

Step 4:  Crossing the First Threshold

The hero has been living in one world, living a familar life, and must cross over into another world or situation, which is often strange or unfamiliar.  Crossing over isn’t always easy.  Often it entails facing a “threshold guardian”, whose goal is to prevent him or her from crossing the threshold.

In Star Wars, Luke and Obiwan Kinobe don’t just fly off happily into space. They first have to travel to a place called Mos Eisley, and avoid capture by a group of stormtroopers. (the threshold guardians).   (Luke escapes them with the supernatural aid of Obiwan Kinobe, who gestures and convinces the stormtroopers that “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.”)

In The Matrix, Neo swallows a red pill, which causes him to leave world he thinks is real (the Matrix) and wake up in a terrifyingly different reality.

In The Little Mermaid, the threshold is the edge of the water (separating her from her world, the ocean, and the surface world where people breathe air).  Ariel crosses it and emerges out into the open air, where she sees and falls in love with a prince.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy steps through the doorway of her house when she arrives in Oz. It’s not just a doorway, it’s a symbol of her passing from a black and white world (her ordinary life in Kansas) into an amazing full color universe (Oz).

In Alice in Wonderland, the rabbit hole that Alice falls down is the threshold that transports Alice from her mundane life into a world of madness and enchantment.

Step 5: Rebirth

Rebirth may be an alternative to the threshold, or may be an aspect of it. Death becomes the portal between one world and another, which transforms the hero and makes him or her ready to face the adventure ahead.

In The Matrix, Neo takes the pill, goes under, and wakes up in a bioelectric cell where he is one of the humans being harvested by machines.  He wakes up naked inside a sheath like a placental wall and has to tear free of it and be reborn to emerge into the new reality.

In Alien, the rebirth is symbolized by the crew awakening from their cryonic sleep chambers.  Cryo sleep is like death; they’re sluggish and dreamlike as they come out of it, and are shown wearing diapers, like babies, when they emerge from their “coffins.”

In Aliens, Ripley sheds her fears of confronting the aliens, and is reborn as a warrior.

In American Beauty, the hero, who has been dead inside for years, comes back to life emotionally in stages, as the movie progresses.

In The  Little Mermaid, Ariel is transformed and reborn as a human being.  She washes up on the shore, naked as a newborn baby.  Like a newborn, she can’t even speak, but has to find other ways to try to communicate.

Step 6: The Road of Trials

Once past the threshold, the hero encounters “a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms.”  (Pay attention to the words — they’re significant!)  The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles, learning and realizing new things, discovering hidden realities in the process. He or she is often aided and assisted by supernatural and other forces along the way.

In American Beauty, the protaganist, played by Kevin Spacey, sets out to get into physical shape to seduce his daughter’s friend.  (The protaganist’s goals don’t have to be laudable!)  His wife senses something is up and opposes each step he takes to try to reclaim himself.  His “helper” is the drug dealer next door, who gives him drugs that help transform his consciousness and move him further along the road to the inner transformation he is seeking.

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel takes a drug given her by Ursula the witch-octopus, and undergoes a vivid hallucinogenic experience as she’s transformed into a human being.  Later, when it becomes important that prince kiss her, her “helpers,” Sebastian the crab and the others, sing a love song, “Kiss the Girl,” to try to help get the prince in the mood.

In Alien, we never quite see the alien  that is destroying Ripley’s crew… we see bits of it, a thing lurking in the shadows.

In the sequel, Aliens, Ripley and the others are trapped in a complex where they confront the aliens, represented as ambiguous, fluid shadows, often out of sight until they emerge from the dark to become terrifying enemies. ____________

Step 7:  Marriage (real or symbolic) (“The meeting with the Goddess”)

This stage is sometimes represented as a marriage or union between the hero and a queenlike or mother-like figure (or a male figure, if the hero is female). The marriage can be symbolic, an emotional or intellectual bonding.  (One interpretation of this is that the hero transcends his or her gender, and the limitations inherent in it, and experiences all that can be known.)

In The Matrix, Neo encounters the Oracle, who gives him information that helps guide him to his destiny.

In Aliens, Ripley develops a romantic bond with one of the marines.

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel marries a human, the prince.

In general, the marriage is between characters with “masculine” and “feminine” aspects.  But they are not always of different genders.  Midnight Cowboy and Thelma and Louse are examples of movies in which two characters form a transcendent emotional bond that does not have to do with gender or sexuality.  (One character  is usually more traditionally masculine, the other more traditionally feminine, though they may be of the same sex).

STAGE 8:  Opposite sex as temptation

In this stage, the hero is tempted away from his or her goal by a woman or man who seems to offer another path, but an inherently false and misleading one…. a temptation or diversion from the path or journey he or she is on.

In Aliens, a sleazy company man tries to tempt Ripley into going along with his plan to bring the aliens back to earth as a bio-weapon, with the offer of money.

In the first Star Wars trilogy, Darth Vader tries to tempt Luke with promises of power if he joins the emperor and the dark side.

In Thelma and Louise, two women are on a journey of self-discovery and deepening friendship and reliance on each other; a sexy young guy played by Bradd Pitt tempts one of them away from her journey.

Being tempted away from the point of the journey is not the same thing as the meeting with the Goddess. The Goddess is benign; the temptation is a negative force in the story.

Step 9:  Atonement with the Father (or father figure)

The hero achieves an understanding, reconcilation or atonement with a father or father-like authority figure. This may involve conquering the father in combat, or winning over his heart or mind.  (For this to be meaningful, there has to be a conflict of some sort with the father figure earlier in the story, usually in the setup).

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke confronts Darth Vader and learns that Vader is his father and a former Jedi.  He fights Vader using his light saber. He can’t defeat Vader physically but defeats his plans to have Luke join the dark side.  In Return of the Jedi, he takes it one step further and wins Vader back to the forces of “good.”  Vader loses his life, power and apparent immortality, but is saved by Luke spiritually. 

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel reconciles with her father, who had personified the obstacles to her transformation into a human being, at the end of the movie.  The father comes around, realizes he had been wrong, forgives his daughter and welcomes her choice of marrying a human.

In American Beauty, the protaganist is literally transformed from a seducer into a father figure, when he gives up his goal of seducing a fifteen year old girl and instead becomes her protector. 

STAGE 10:  Apotheosis (transcendance)

The hero’s ego (or limitations) are “disintegrated in a breakthrough expansion of consciousness.”  Quite frequently the hero’s idea of reality is changed. The hero may find an ability to do new things or to see a larger point of view.  This sometimes leads to the hero sacrificing himself or herself, and experiencing death, either “really” or symbolically.

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke sacrifices his own life, or tries to, rather than turn to the dark side.

In American Beauty, the protaganist is brought back to reality by realizing that the girl he has been aiming to have sex with, is just a child.  He sees her as she really is, lets go of his aim of seducing her, and becomes a protective father figure to her…. and very soon after, dies.  In death, he experiences an even greater expansion of consciousness, in which he sees both the beaty and stupidity of his lie and choices, and all human lives, from a transcendant enlightened view. 

In the final Matrix movie, Neo faces death in order to be reborn with the ability to end the war between humans and machines.

Step 11:  The Ultimate Boon (or: “What have you learned, Dorothy?”)

If the hero survives, he or she may achieve a gift or “boon.”

After capturing the broomstick of the wicked witch of the west, Dorothy receives the knowledge that her magic slippers will take her home to Kansas, if she clicks her heels together three times.

In the climactic scene of Star Wars, Luke uses the profound intuitive knowledge he has connected with (the Force) to successfully destroy the Death Star by firing torpedos down a narrow ventilation shaft of the Death Star (which is also, of course, a sexual metaphor… but that’s another approach, for another class!)

In American Beauty, the protaganist’s death at the end gives him a new awareness of the preciousness of every moment of life.

In the Little Mermaid, Aerial achieves her goal of making the prince fall in love with her, and marrying him.

Step 12: Return (or) Refusal of the Return

Having found enlightenment in the other world, the hero may or may not not want to return to the ordinary world to bestow the boon onto his fellow man. (Or sometimes be unable to return… which leads to stage 14)

STAGE 13:  The Magic Flight (Or: trying to get home again)

If the hero does decide to return, he or she often faces challenges on the journey home.  This may involve a chase, or pursuit. The hero often faces the most profound and difficult-to-overcome challenges in rapid succession, at this stage of the story.

In Aliens, Ripley enters a nest of aliens to rescue a little girl and returns with her to the surface. But as she approaches the surface with the girl, her path is blocked at every turn by the vengeful alien queen.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s first attempt to return to Kansas doesn’t work; the Wizard’s balloon flies away without her.  This leads her to discovering the deeper truth about the magic slippers, and that she always had a way to get home.. she just had to learn how to use it.

STAGE 14:  Rescue from Without

The hero may need to be rescued by forces from the ordinary world. This may be because the hero has refused to return or because he is successfully blocked from returning. 

In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is rescued by the Millenium Falcon as he hangs on an antenna beneath Cloud City after a battle with Darth Vader.

In American Beauty, the hero is “rescued” from his own lust after a teenaged girl, by the realization that she’s really a child.  His “return” is to his own basic goodness, to a grounded state of being.

In Aliens, Ripley and Newt are rescued at the last possible moment by the android.

STAGE 15: Crossing the Return Threshold

The hero returns to the world of common day and must accept it as real.  (This isn’t always easy…. one movie which explores the difficulty of  returning to reality after a profound experience is Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges.) (The whole point of Fearless is that the character is trapped in the transcendant world he has entered, and needs help to return to a normal existence)

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy clicks her heels together three times and returns home.

In Aliens, Ripley’s ship, piloted by the android, flies away into space as the planet with the aliens is destroyed.  The edge of space is the return threshold she has to pass through on her way back home.

STAGE 16:  Master of Two Worlds

This is an important and sometimes misunderstood part of the journey.  In a sense it renders everything that has gone before meaningful: 

Due to his or her experience, the hero may now perceive both the ordinary and extraordinary, or human and divine, worlds.  She sees things other people don’t see.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke becomes a Jedi. He has mastered the force and defeated the temptation of the Dark Side.  At the end of the movie, he sees the spirits of Darth Vader, Yoda and Obiwan Kinobe. Luke is the one who was changed most by the movie, so he’s the only one who can see them; they are not seen by Han Solo, Leah, or others in the story who have not shared his transformation.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has her memories of Oz, and what she learned from the experience, and is back home with her aunt and uncle and farmhands who represent figures from her experience (human versions of the Lion, Scarecrow and Tin Man).

In Dorothy’s Return to Oz (a sequel to the Wizard of Oz), Dorothy goes off to Oz again, then returns to Kansas at the end but can see into Oz when she looks into a mirror.  (No one but her can see it)

At the end of Aliens, Ripley is both a mother/caretaker, symbolized by her relationship with a little girl, and a warrior who has been “through the fire.”

In Alien Resurrection, Ripley is left with both human and alien DNA in her body…. she’s no longer just human, she’s something more.

(This stage equates with the aspect of most stories, that the audience expects the hero to have been transformed in some way by his or her experiences.)

STAGE 17:  Freedom to Live

The journey is over.  The hero has accomplished his or her goal, and brought the benefits of his or her quest home.

In Return of the Jedi, Luke has overcome the Empire. The “rebellion” is free to live, grow and thrive.

In My Best Friend’s Wedding, Julie has given up on her attempt to break up her friend’s wedding.  He and his wife have the freedom to live their lives, and she has the freedom to live hers.

In Aliens, Ripley, Newt and the other survivors fly off happily into the sunset (until the sequel, anyway).

In The Little Mermaid, Aerial is free at the end of the movie to begin her new life with the prince.

In Alien Resurrection, Ripley has accepted that she’s not fully human anymore, and is ready to begin a new life on an earth she’s never seen.