Think of a book or movie that you are familiar with? Got one? Now follow this chart and see how it matches up. I'll do it with The Fellowship of the Ring (the first book in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy) because it works and many people have at least a foggy notion of what the book or movie is about.
- Starting at 12 o'clock on the picture, we have the hero in his natural environment. This is Frodo in The Shire.
- The call to action is Gandalf telling Frodo the Ring can't stay in the Shire.
- Frodo doesn't want to leave. (Here is a slightly sticky point--Gandalf is the mentor, but he is also the one giving Frodo the call...so it's not perfect, but what is?)
- Frodo crosses the threshold when he leaves the Shire (we'll stick with the movie rather than dragging Hobbiton into this).
- Frodo is chased by the wraiths (another sticky point--some of his allies are here by this point, and the wraiths are his enemies, so he meets them all before or at the same time as that first trial)
- Gets to Bree, meets another ally (Strider/Aragorn)
- First success would probably be making it to Rivendell
- By this time we are well into the "Extraordinary World," but it isn't until Frodo agrees to be the ring bearer and leave Rivendell for a fun little trip to Mordor that he really discards his old self.
The chart progresses, but I think that you get the point. Frodo is a hero, he has a call to action--something he must do and doesn't want to. He has a mentor (Gandalf), allies (the 7 companions), and enemies (wraiths, orcs, etc.). He has trials and successes, and has to eventually accept his role.
He crosses over from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world, and his acceptance of his role in that new world is what makes him a hero.
There are hundreds of versions of this chart, each a little different from the next, but they all have the same basic steps in roughly the same order. Because it works. This is what heroes have to do. If they decided right at the beginning "I'm going to be a hero!" it would be more of a comedy (which isn't a bad thing). And if they never accept it...well, I guess I'm not sure what happens there. But the examination of antiheroes is for another day.
After examining The Fellowship, I looked at my novel The Talented in this light. Adrienne is an ordinary soldier, and she doesn't fight the call, but it is not something she would have volunteered for if her captain had not told her to go. She has no mentor after leaving the camp, which abets some of the conflicts in the story. She has an enemy (or false-allies) in the commission, and friends who support her along the way. She achieves goals, and often achieving those goals leads to the next conflict. Where, exactly, you would say she stepped into the extraordinary world and when she accepted her role are not clear cut.
It's not a perfect fit, not nearly as close a fit as LOTR, but there are shared elements.
Since The Talented is the first in a series, I could stretch the Hero's Journey out past the first book. In that case, Adrienne wouldn't really be accepting her role until the end of the first book (although the elements would still be found in the first book), and the Journey would fit much better spread out across the series. Either way, Adrienne's journey does align with the Hero's Journey.
And looking at Adrienne in this light, I wonder what areas I should shore up and what areas I should maybe drop more (should her lack of mentor be a bigger deal?). It's not necessary to closely follow this Journey, not even suggested if the story does not naturally fall across those lines, but it does provide a new way to analyze my story.
And a new way to plot the sequel.