How to plot your novel – with a little help from Simba and The Hero’s Journey

So I’ve officially started my second novel, and there’s nothing scarier than looking at a blank Word document and thinking to yourself, “How do I even start?”

Well, thanks to the lovely professors at SMU’s Writer’s Path, I have the answer…

When I was first introduced to Joseph Campbell, I was skeptical. Twelve steps for EVERY SINGLE STORY? No way. But then I started paying attention to different plot lines: Harry Potter, The Green Mile, Erin Brockovich, a random episode of Doctor Who (for those of you who haven’t seen “Blink,” I strongly recommend it).

And I realized that maybe they were slightly different, maybe they were out of order, maybe they were of varying lengths or importance. But they were ALL there!

So when it came to Dani and State of Grace, I wrote each of the twelve steps of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey  first. Then I filled in the blanks. And I plan on imitating the process for my second novels as well.

I thought I would detail that process for those of you who may want to learn – whether fellow writers or just interested.

And here’s a nifty little diagram:


For those of you unfamiliar, I’ve outlined those exact steps below using one of my favorite stories… The Lion King (or the animated, animal-talking version of Hamlet).

  1. Ordinary World. So when the movie opens, we see Simba as a cub. He wants to someday be King of the Pride Lands (in Disney movies, this stage is almost always portrayed by a song). When introducing your protagonist, you want him/her to be likable, but flawed in their every day lives.
  2. Call to Adventure. In a terrible – and heartbreaking – twist of fate, Simba’s father is killed. According to a typical monarchical progression, Simba would then ascend the throne to be become king. And yet…
  3. Refusal of the Call. Simba flees to the jungle, leaving his kingdom at the hands of his father’s enemy and rejecting his destiny.
  4. Meeting with Mentor. Unlike some other heroes, Simba is pretty damn lucky in that he has a variety of different mentors:
    1. Timon & Pumba who teach him to live life with no worries.
    2. Nala who attempts to convince him to return to Pride Rock.
    3. Rafiki & Mufasa’s Ghost who tell him to “look harder” and remember that he is the rightful King.
  5. Crossing the Threshold. Thanks to these mentors, Simba realizes he can no longer run from his past and agrees to return to the Pride Lands to take his place as King.
  6. Tests, Allies & Enemies. As I mentioned before, Simba has a pretty great set of teammates. Here they all prove themselves while going up against the hyenas.
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave. Now is the time when our hero couldn’t back down now even if he wanted too. Between Scar hitting Sarabi and trying to convince everyone Simba killed his dad, you know it’s pretty much fight time. Oh and then Scar confesses he killed Mufasa. It.Is.On.
  8. The Supreme Ordeal. Simba fights Scar and wins (now that I am rewatching, this scene is pretty intense… not sure how I didn’t have nightmares as a kid). Scar is even killed by his very own hyenas after offering to betray them. Gotta love karma.
  9. Reward. Now these last four steps tend to go by pretty quickly. Especially for this film with a whopping two and a half minutes. First, Simba’s role as king is restored, and he climbs back to the top of Pride Rock with an epic ROAR.
  10. Road Back. The rain heals The Pride Lands of Scar’s influence, and they return to the normal beauty (the road back to the ordinary world… get it?) And all the animals come back, so our lions have something to eat. Apparently being eaten by Simba is a better way to go?
  11. Resurrection. Simba is accepted as the rightful king of the Pride Lands. And he gets the girl.
  12. The Elixir. Simba and Nala welcome their new cub into the world, showing not only the “circle of life” but the full circle of the hero’s journey.

So that’s it!

Now everyone writes differently. There are lots of writers who just starting writing and wing it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that; you just have to find what works for you. I just know if I approached it that way, I would never get a damn thing done.


9 thoughts on “How to plot your novel – with a little help from Simba and The Hero’s Journey

  1. MLer says:

    If you are not writing a book, but a saga? Should I use the circle of the hero for each book or divide the circle in three, or four, depending of the number of books i want to write


    • tauricox says:

      I would say both! I think each novel in a series should have its own mini-hero’s journey, but you can plug each installment into a larger one too. It works particularly well with trilogies, and you can divide into three acts. First with the main character getting used to the new world and very much living within her own lie. Second can be the midpoint (MC has to fully invest himself, starts to see the lie, suffers a loss). And third can be the final act where your character overcomes their lie and uses that new knowledge to defeat the antagonist.


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