The Heroine's Journey: For Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture
Tired of the hero's journey? Frustrated that funny, romantic, and comforting stories aren't taken seriously? Sad that the books and movies you love never seem to be critically acclaimed, even when they sell like crazy?
The heroine's journey is here to help.
Multiple New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a clear concise analysis of the heroine's journey, how it differs from the hero's journey, and how you can use it to improve your writing and your life.
In this book you'll learn:
* How to spot the heroine's journey in popular books, movies, and the world around you.
* The source myths and basic characters, tropes, and archetypes of this narrative.
* A step-by-step break down of how to successfully write this journey.
What do Agatha Christie, JK Rowling, and Nora Roberts all have in common? They all write the heroine's journey. Read this book to learn all about it. From Harry Potter to Twilight, from Wonder Woman to Star Wars, you'll never look at pop culture the same way again.
With over a dozen NYT and USA Today bestsellers, and over a million books in print, popular genre author and former archaeologist Gail Carriger brings her cheeky comedic tone and over a decade of making her living as a fiction author to this fascinating look at one of the most popular yet neglected narratives of our time. Carriger uses the heroine's journey to produce bestselling, critically-acclaimed books that genre blend science fiction, cozy mystery, young adult, urban fantasy, romance, historical fiction, and alternate history. In this non-fiction book she uses her academic background and creative writing skills to bring to life the archetypes, tropes, story beats, themes, and messages inherent in the heroine's journey. Part treatise on authorship, part feminist literary criticism, part how to write guide, Carriger uses mythology, legend, and Gothic victorian 19th century literature to explore movies, screenwriting, books, and audience desires.
Gail Carriger's wildly funny paranormal and steampunk novels are loved and adored by her devoted readership. Carriger has penned over a dozen New York Times best-sellers and published in many languages. The Heroine's Journey offers a fresh and insightful analysis of a classic storytelling trope, as well as suggestions for improving your writing. – Melissa Snark
"The first book on writing structure that's ever truly resonated for me and made sense of the way my favorite stories work. I've thought back to this book so many times since reading it, and I know I'll be reading it again!"– Stephanie Burgis (Author of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart)
"I'm not sure how you can just rewire my brain to see the heroine's journey like this and then expect me to make coherent, thought-out comments about the text when all I want to do is hold this book in my twisted little grip while I shove it at people screaming like a madman and pointing at passages."– Author Beta Reader
"I knew that my stories didn't neatly fit the mold of the Hero's Journey, but it wasn't until I read this excellent resource on the Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger that I finally understood why. Now I understand not only how to reliably write in this form, but also how to better position my stories for readers and agents. "– Ethan Freckleton (Author & Host of The Fearless Storyteller podcast)
"Carriger's book was a revelation. It will help me to stay true to my stories, my characters, and their arcs."– diyMFA
"The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger is a game changer for genre fiction. Using dozens of examples from books and movies, Ms Carriger carefully and convincingly divides these into two distinct story camps based on the character arc of their protagonists: the lone wolf and the team player. "– The Blood-Red Pencil
INTRODUCTION: The Heroine's Journey by Gail Carriger
The Heroine's Journey is a separate narrative structure from the Hero's Journey. It exists. It has always existed. It is not derivative of, nor sourced in, the Hero's Journey. I thought, for a really long time, that everyone knew this.
I was wrong.
Which is how I (a fiction writer) have ended up writing this nonfiction book.
They say that the oldest trick for nonfiction is threefold:
1.Tell them what you're doing.
3.Tell them what you did.
Truth? Exactly the same thing works for dirty talk, if you're writing a sex scene... or just in life. (See what I did there? Now you know what kind of book this is.)
So I shall tell you, right up front, the basics of the Heroine's Journey and how it compares to the Hero's Journey. Then I'll provide evidence for those basics using ancient myth and modern pop culture. Then I'll break them all down so you can use them yourself. Finally, I'll remind you of what I told you from the get-go. Knowledge: the best kind of dirty talk.
To get us started on the right path, so to speak:
Here is the Hero's Journey in one pithy sentence:
Increasingly isolated protagonist stomps around prodding evil with pointy bits, eventually fatally prods baddie, gains glory and honor.
Here is the Heroine's Journey in one pithy sentence:
Increasingly networked protagonist strides around with good friends, prodding them and others on to victory, together.
Don't worry, more (considerably less flippant) definitions of both of these are yet to come.
However, I have been told not to be coy and to just lay it out there for you from the beginning.
Consider it laid.
* * *
Essentially the Heroine's Journey is different from the Hero's Journey in five significant storytelling ways (also known as the Five Key Ingredients):
The goal or focus of the journey is different. A hero is usually concerned with defeating an enemy or retrieving a boon of great import – think classic video game quests.
A heroine is looking for reunification with someone who was taken from her. She is concerned with networking, connecting with others, and finding family.
A hero acts on the offensive most of the time. He is active in his pursuit of his goal and will kill or (in the case of Odysseus) trick his way to victory. His enemy is stasis.
A heroine goes about achieving her goals through communication and information gathering. She is not a conqueror. She is a builder and a general – she sees the skills and strengths in others and knows how best to apply them. She is a delegator, which is great for storytellers because it's easy to build vibrant, supportive, extremely appealing side characters. Also, this humanizes the protagonist, who is self-aware enough to know what she is good at and when someone else can do it better.
Her enemy is loneliness or isolation.
A heroine's definition of strength is materially different from that of the hero. A hero must eventually go it alone; the journey usually climaxes with a one-on-one defeat of his enemy. For him, asking for help is a sign of weakness. He must shed the restrictions of civilization and family in order to succeed on his own.
A heroine is the opposite. Requesting aid is a sign of strength. It does not diminish a heroine to seek and receive assistance on her journey. In fact, the more companions she has, the stronger she is.
(And if that concept makes you wince, perhaps you might consider your own personal definition of what strength means and how the narratives around you have influenced that.)
As a result of all the above, when a heroine has her most powerful narrative and iconic moments, these will occur with others. They are usually characterized by intense communication and unity in the context of sex, romance, friendship, or familial relationships.
When the hero is at his most powerful, he is alone, because his quest is one of self-reliance and solitary achievement against overwhelming odds. His iconic moments will be ones of intellectual or physical superiority over someone else.
A hero, because of his need to self-isolate, has sacrificed too much for his goal, so the end of his journey is bittersweet. Iconography often depicts him alone, with the slow pan-out sequence and a sense of profound pathos. He has either grown too powerful to fit back into the world he has saved, or he has changed too much into a solo version of himself and can no longer exist in a group.
Poignancy typifies the end of a heroic narrative – lonely death, hard drinking, a hermit's existence.
The heroine is more likely to get a happy ending, surrounded by friends and family, with an implication of continued safety.
* * *
Follow-ups to the Five Key Ingredients
The above are some broad brush strokes, but I'm giving you the essentials before we tunnel into specifics. In other words, these are the five explanations I trot out at cocktail parties. (Yes, I go to the type of gatherings where we chat about the Heroine's Journey.)
One important note:
Biological sex characteristics are irrelevant to whether a main character is a hero or a heroine.
In other words, women, female-identified, and nonbinary characters can be heroes. Men, male-identified, and nonbinary characters can be heroines.
And one note of caution:
We humans have a tendency (once we know the two different journeys) to want to pigeonhole and fit every story we encounter into one model or the other. We like the binary; it's simple and fun. Things are rarely that black and white – for readers or creators.
* * *
My idea is to teach storytellers a basic understanding of the two models, so you learn when to obey the narrative beats and when to break them, in order to better manage reader expectations.
Similarly, I hope to educate the consumers of such stories, so they can better understand their own desires.
Please, try not to use these two journeys to pigeonhole every piece of pop culture you encounter. Therein lies madness.
Yes, many stories do fit into one journey or the other, but not all of them (I'm looking at you, Black Panther, 2018). I'll be talking about the havoc that swapped point of view narratives, buddy dramas, and ensemble casts can play with fitting comfortably into one or the other journey later on in this book.
To be clear, you've read the Heroine's Journey in its many forms before. You've watched it. You just might not have realized that. More fascinating, perhaps? There's a good chance that you love it, even yearn for more.
I intend to show you how to activate your own version of this narrative, whether as a writer of fiction, scripts, and games; as a parent thoughtfully choosing books for a child; or as a reader trying to better understand your own tastes and preferences.
This book will leave you with a solid working knowledge of how to read, identify, and understand what makes a Heroine's Journey, and from there, how to write a good one.