The Hero’s Journey Model for Non-Fiction Books: The Power of Stories
Updated: Aug 20, 2019
Ahhh, to savor the power of a good story, that is sweet indeed. But how does a non-fiction writer tap into the memorable power of a well-told story? Let’s explore this together through this illustration…
Once long ago on a windswept hilltop, a restless boy—almost in his teen years—looked across the valley, his eager eyes searching for news. He spied a column of weary travelers hiking slowly for their heavy burden. The hunt was successful.
The boy raced down the slope, his hair flying in the wind. He ran straight to the head of the column into the iron arms of his marching father.
“Tell me about the hunt!” he demanded eagerly. “I want to know everything!”
“Patience, young one. You and the rest of the clan will hear disturbing news tonight by firelight when wounds are patched, bellies are full, and hunters’ blood has cooled.”
I’ll bet you want to know what happens next, right?
I mean, come on! It’s human nature. Curiosity burns inside you, like a prehistoric bonfire.
Who is this boy? What kind of game did the warriors hunt? How did the hunters get wounded? What will become of the clan, what is the “disturbing news”?
These questions naturally burn inside us all. We crave stories. In fact, our need for stories is part of our DNA.
This was the conclusion of Joseph Campbell, the world famous scholar of Mythology and chronicler of the Hero’s Journey in his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces.
Campbell told us that the Hero’s Journey, or the Mono-Myth, has been told in stories all over the world throughout the ages. Stories from every continent can be broken down into the same basic structure.
Whether it’s Aesop’s Fables, the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, or Matthew, Mark, Luke & John, we thrive on the power of stories. We learn and grow through their messages, and we smile with satisfaction once the tale is told.
Capitalizing on What Your Audience Craves
Previously, we took a look at the nature of the Hero’s Journey for the benefit of non-fiction storytellers. Now let’s explore how authors can use its structure to write and illustrate your own non-fiction content.
Your options for writing a non-fiction book are almost infinite when you adapt the lessons of the Hero’s Journey for your work. One of the great truisms of speaking and writing is that you should never make a point without telling a story, and never tell a story without making a point.
The Hero’s Journey folds neatly into this structure as an element, hard-wired deep into our consciousness. It’s a story of coming of age and achieving a new level. Its symbolism conveys a tale of a death and rebirth, transformation into another dimension of being, just as a caterpillar becomes a butterfly.
By definition, a hero is someone who has given himself to a cause that’s bigger than himself then returns to his old life to share his experiences. Along the way, he ventures from his everyday world into another realm, one that is full of surprises and challenges.
On the journey, the hero encounters strange forces, and he struggles to reach his goal until there is a decisive victory. The hero returns from his adventure with new power and wisdom that he shares with the people of his native world.
Handcrafting Your Message Like a Journeyman
Using the Hero’s Journey in your work can make the task of writing much simpler. It can also elevate your work to a new level of quality and add a new luster to your ideology.
To begin, split your idea into 3 sections. Next split the sections into chapters—about 3 or 4 per section. Organize each chapter into 3 main points and illustrate your points with a story.
In terms of story craft, many authors use a fresh story and new characters each time they want to illustrate a point. But I say it’s easier—and far more compelling—to use one overarching storyline in your work and chronicle the struggle of a single hero.
Using this model, the 3 sections of your book should correspond to the 3 phases of the Hero’s Journey. Here’s what that looks like.
The hero receives a call to adventure. At first, he’s reluctant to heed the call. However, a mentor figure helps him see the necessity and he heads out on a mystical adventure or quest. This calling can be accidental, deliberate, or imposed on the hero.
The hero is initiated into a new world. He is either alone or with companions. He encounters obstacles and eventually fulfills his goal. Through the ages, all myths have dealt with transformation such as this. The hero’s consciousness shifts from being self-centric to selfless through his struggle.
The hero goes back to his world with the wisdom and powers he’s gained. He offers them as a gift to his friends, loved ones, and comrades. His whole society benefits from his sacrifice and transformation.
If you’re writing a book, you naturally want to captivate your audience and transform the way they look at your topic. Using the Hero’s Journey is a shortcut to your storytelling success, offering the kind of legends your audience craves—raging bonfire optional.
Bryan Heathman is the CEO of Made for Success Publishing and the author of #1 Best Seller: Book Marketing Reinvented, a book for authors with his best selling book launch formula. Bryan’s Fortune 500 experience includes Microsoft, Eastman Kodak and Xerox.