Archetypal Story Pattern

  12 Stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern

 adapted from Christopher Vogler

1.    Ordinary World

2.    Call to Adventure

3.    Refusal of the Call

4.    Meeting with the Mentor

5.    Crossing the 1st Threshold

6.    Tests, Allies and Enemies

7.    Approach to the Inmost Cave

8.    Ordeal – the Darkest Moment

9.    a Reward

10.  Trials along the Road Back

11.  the Resurrection after a Last Battle

12.   Return with the Elixir

10 Archetypal Characters

1.  Hero

2.  Ally/Helper/Foil

3.  Confidante/Friend

4.  Shadow Villain

5. Mentor/Elder/Crone

6.  Shapeshifter

7.  Trickster

8.  Love Interest

9.  Herald/Messenger

10.      Threshold Guardian

ASP Explanation


1.       Ordinary World – Present the world before the problem begins.

 2.       Call to Adventure – Show the problem happening to the main character as well as the consequences of the first event (such as—a bank robbery:  what happens to the policeman’s partner & what does the policeman decide to do)

 3.       Refusal of the Call – nobody willingly faces danger unless s/he’s an idiot or a risk-junkie.

 4.       Meeting with the Mentor – the quest to get needed information

 5.       Crossing the First Threshold – the first complication to solving the conflict and its solution        (such as—the policeman finds where the bank robbers had planned their robbery but they have abandoned that place) 

6.     Tests / Allies / Enemies

   Tests – that prove the protagonist worthy to face major challenge

@ New Allies—who help the main character face and overcome an encounter with. . .

!New Enemies

 7.       Approach to the Cave – getting close to the solution

 8.       The Dark Moment (or Ordeal) – how the main character almost doesn’t solve a major problem and the way s/he finally does (such as—the policeman finally locates the bank robbers at their new hide-out but they capture him instead)

 9.       a Reward – some triumph to keep the main character plugging along to the solution of the conflict

 10.     the Road Back – no worthy antagonist will allow the protagonist to escape with the reward without a fight

 11.      Resurrection – the main character overcomes the antagonist (such as the policeman escapes, contacts his colleagues, and captures the bank robbers)

 12.     The Return with the Elixir – the triumphant end (the policeman gets a promotion)

Mythic Story Structure / More Info

You may have studied classic story structure (exposition, rising action, falling action, climax [aka Freytag's Pyramid, which most closely resembles the 3-Act and 4-Act Methods) and complex story structure (exposition with narrative hook and conflict, complications with zenith and nadir, climax and resolution). We also have Shakespearean structure (introduction, complications, crisis, reversal, and climax/resolution).

“All stories consist of a few common structural elements found universally in myths, fairy tales, dreams, and movies.” [1]

These common structural elements together  comprise an archetypal pattern.

Archetype typical of an original model or pattern from which succeeding representations are copied.

 The Hero’s Journey is an archetypal pattern first drawn from the works of C. J. Jung and Joseph Campbell.  It is a pattern for story-telling;  most elements recur.  As with all patterns, adjustments are made to fit the story.  (Adjustments usually occur in order or omission.)  “The Hero’s Journey is a form, not a formula.”[2]

 The Ordinary World (a contrast to the strange new world to be entered)

 The Call to Adventure (the problem or challenge to be undertaken)

 Refusal of the Call (the reluctant hero realizes the danger and is not fully committed to the journey).  Some other influence – a change in circumstances, a further offense against the natural order of things, or the encouragement of a mentor – is required to get past this turning point of fear.

 Meeting with the Mentor (to prepare the hero to face the unknown through advice, guidance or magical equipment).  The mentor might begin the journey, but at some point the hero must face the unknown alone

 Crossing the First Threshold (commitment to the adventure).  The  hero, having overcome the first fear of the unknown, has decided to confront the problem and take action.

 Tests, Allies & Enemies (develop character).  Sometimes merely simple events;  sometimes the events reveal special aspects of the hero’s character.

 Approach to the Inmost Cave (the edge of the dangerous place, sometimes deep underground, where the object of the quest is hidden).  The most dangerous spot in the Special World is the Inmost Cave.  When the hero enters that fearful place he will cross the second major threshold.  Heroes often pause at the gate to prepare, plan, and outwit the villain’s guards.  This is the phase of the Approach.    The Inmost Cave may represent the land of the dead.

 The Ordeal (where the hero’s fortunes hit bottom in a direct confrontations with his greatest fear).  The hero faces the possibility of death and is brought to the brink in a battle with a hostile force.  It is “black moment” of suspense and tension, in which the audience wonders if he will live or die.  Even in a romantic comedy, the death faced by the hero may be simply the temporary death of the relationship.

A critical moment in any story, an Ordeal in which the hero must die or appear to die so that s/he may be re-born.  Like an initiate in an ancient ritual, the hero faces death in order to be re-born with new qualities.

 Reward >Seizing the Sword< (where the hero takes possession of the treasure s/he has sought).  The reward can be a sword, a special elixir, a token like the Holy Grail, knowledge and experience, or any other “key to the kingdom”.  By surviving the Ordeal, only now is the hero truly a “hero” worthy of surviving the supreme risk on behalf of the community.

  •       In a romantic comedy, this is when the hero is reconciled with the beloved.

 The Road Back (but the hero’s not out of the woods yet, for the consequences of confronting the dark forces of the Ordeal may come raging back).  The hero may be pursued by the vengeful forces disturbed when the Sword was Seized. This stage also marks the decision to return to the Ordinary World.  The hero realizes the Special World must be left behind, and there are still dangers, temptations, and tests ahead.

 Resurrection (a second life-and-death moment,  almost a replay of the Ordeal as death and darkness get in one last desperate shot before the final defeat. The hero who has ventured to the land of the dead must be reborn and purified before returning to the Ordinary World of the living. The hero’s new insights, discovered on the journey, are revealed more fully, proving s/he has been reborn.

 Return with the Elixir (the treasure, token, lesson, or healing knowledge that the hero has gained during the journey.  Sometimes it may be love, freedom, wisdom, or the knowledge that the Special World exists and can be survived.  Sometimes it’s just coming home with a good story to tell. Unless something is brought back from the Ordeal in the Inmost Cave, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure.

Archetypes are ancient patterns of personality that are the shared heritage of the human race, according to Jung.[3]  In story analysis, they are indispensable for understanding the purpose/function of characters.  They are not stereotypes but more like masks that characters can assume and switch at will.  The archetypes can also be representative of the different facets of one personality, just as the story elements can be a journey into the soul rather than an outward, physical journey.

Seven of the most useful are detailed the other three need no explanation (love interest, ally/helper/foil, and friend/confidante) -- but many more include crone, hunter, the Good Mother, the wicked stepmother, the fairy godmother, the iron Prince, the Prince of Gold, the Greedy Innkeeper.  Reading fairy tales will introduce you to a variety of them.  Even modern stories play on these archetypes:  good cop/bad cop, arrogant WestPoint lieutenant,  eager reporter, etc.

 Two questions help to identify the nature of an archetype:  1] What  part of the personality does it represent?   2] What is its dramatic function in a story?

 The Hero (from the Greek, meaning “to protect and to serve”) is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others.  He provides the window to the story and has universal drives that everyone can understand and which propel the story forward (ACTION).  The story provides a means of GROWTH as the hero overcomes obstacles and achieves goal.  The hero also has the quality of SACRIFICE and will show us how to DEAL WITH DEATH through risking his life.  Heroes also have FLAWS, which sometimes is the missing piece that must be repaired before the hero can be restored to wholeness.

An ANTI-HERO is a special kind of hero.  In the view of society, s/he may be an outlaw or villain (think Robin Hood).  S/he is wounded and rejected, usually a loner but especially a rebel, thumbing his nose at society.

The TRAGIC HERO never fully overcomes his flaws.  They are his doom.

 MENTOR = the wise elder, who teaches, provides gifts, motivates and “plants seeds”, and serves as the hero’s conscience (like Jiminy Cricket) until the hero earns one.  Mentors can be DARK, decoys that lure into danger; FALLEN, facing a crisis of faith and needing redemption just as the hero does;  MULTIPLE, many people teaching different skills; SHAMAN, the medicine man who understands mysteries; and COMIC, leading the hero into quasi-disaster.

 THRESHOLD GUARDIAN = an obstacle on the road to adventure, placed to keep the unworthy from entering.  They may present a menacing face to the hero but can be overcome/defeated and sometimes converted into an ally.  TESTERS, they are not villains or antagonists but can be lieutenants or guards to the Inmost Cave.

  HERALD or Messenger = issues challenges and announces the coming of significant change.  They provide motivation and get the story rolling.  The herald can be positive, negative or neutral.  The Mentor can sometimes function also as the Herald.

 SHAPESHIFTERs = hardest to grasp, by nature elusive, constantly changing in the hero’s perspective.  They can mislead and their loyalty is often in question.  Inherently positive AND negative, they can assume many disguises throughout the story.  Rather than try to kill the hero, they may only dazzle and confuse the hero.  Sometimes the hero must become a Shapeshifter to escape a trap or get past a Threshold Guardian.  Villains or their allies can become shapeshifters.  Shapeshifting is also a natural attribute of Mentors and Tricksters.

 SHADOW = represents the energy of the dark side, the unexpressed, the unrealized or rejected aspects, the suppressed monsters of the inner world.  The negative face of the Shadow is projected onto VILLAINS, antagonists or enemies.  The positive face shelters qualities that are in hiding or that we have rejected for some reason, potential unexplored and  latent.  The Shadow offers challenge to the hero and provides a worthy opponent.  The Shadow can be ver y similar to the hero, representing what the hero might become if s/he does not control her/his negative traits.

 TRICKSTER = the energies of mischief and desire for change.  It cuts egos down to size, usually through comic relief.  He provokes healthy laughter.  He can be a servant or ally of the Hero or Shadow or an independent agent with his own skewed agenda.  Most tricksters of mythology work through trickery and deceit.

TRICKSTER HERO = quick-thinking hero who outwits danger through his cleverness.  Sometimes they like to stir up trouble for trouble’s sake.  They can be catalyst characters, who change the lives of others without changing much themselves.


[1] Vogler, Christopher.  The Writer’s Journey.  Studio City, CA:  Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

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