The Heroic Journey of the Hero’s Journey, Part 3

The Hero’s Journey, the Storygrid Fifteen/Twenty Core Scenes, and the Conventions and Obligatory Scenes of the Thriller

In the Heroic Journey of the Hero’s Journey, Part 2, I showed how to create story templates that align the milestones of the Hero’s Journey with the fifteen or twenty Storygrid core scenes.

Here is a graphical representation:


Heros Journey Revised Twenty Core Scenes

The blue areas are blanks on the map of the Hero’s Journey.

In this post, I show how to align the Hero’s Journey and twenty core scenes with the conventions and obligatory scenes of the thriller genre.

The thriller conventions are:

  • McGuffin
  • Investigative red herrings
  • Making it personal
  • Clock

The obligatory scenes of the thriller are:

  • An inciting crime and a victim
  • Speech in the praise of the villain
  • The protagonist becomes the victim
  • The hero at the mercy of the villain
  • False ending

Let’s have a look where those fit in:

The Inciting Crime

The Inciting Crime coincides with the rising of the antagonism. At first, the hero is ignorant of the inciting crime. A good example is Kung Fu Panda 3.

The Victim

The moment the hero is introduced to the crime and the victim serves as the Call to Adventure and Inciting Incident of the Beginning Hook.

The McGuffin

After the hero refused the call to adventure, a mentor arrives who explains to the hero what is at stake. This is a good time to reveal the McGuffin.

The writer has three options:

  • The mentor reveals that the hero has the McGuffin and that the villain will chase him down for that. This means that it gets personal right from the start.
  • The mentor tells the protagonist about a tool that can vanquish the villain. That tool will become the McGuffin
  • Neither the protagonist nor villain have the McGuffin and will race for it. In this case, the hero’s tool is negative: preventing the villain from getting the McGuffin. Example: The nuclear warhead in Mission Impossible.

Red Herrings

The test and trials are a good place to confuse the reader with red herrings.

The Villain Makes it Personal

As the hero struggles to meet his tests and trials, the villain becomes aware of the hero. He gets pissed and makes it personal. In case the hero pursues a tool that can vanquish the villain, the tool becomes the McGuffin and the hero the victim. The writer can also delay the moment the villain makes it personal to the First Stand-off.

Hero Becomes the Victim

If the hero did not already become a victim, it happens latest during the First Stand-off with the villain.

Hero at the Mercy of the Villain

A common placing of the hero at mercy of the villain scene is the All-Is-Lost scene, the Resolution scene of the Middle Build.

The writer can also make it part of the Second Stand-off in the Ending Payoff.

Speech in the Praise of the Villain

The All-Is-Lost moment is a good placing for the speech in the praise of the villain because the villain came out on top.

Some writers place the speech in the Second Stand-off in the Ending Payoff.

The Clock

A good placement for the Clock is the All-Is-Lost moment.

The Clock can also serve as the Inciting Incident of the Ending Payoff: When the hero resurrects, he realizes that he runs out of time.

False Ending

The false ending follows the Ending Payoff Resolution scene.

Here is a graphical representation:

Heros Journey Revised Twenty Core Scenes Thriller

As you can see, the story template is well defined and it is clear what the writer has to do. The blue areas leave open space for innovation. Of course, the writer can also innovate by moving components around.

I wanted to apply this to an example, but the only thriller I ever read is Silence of the Lambs. I figured that the Silence of the Lamb does not conform to the Hero’s Journey. The first scene introduces us to Starling and her ordinary world (the FBI academy) and before we know it, she crosses the threshold into the extra-ordinality world (the investigation) and meets her first trial.

I also didn’t recognize a real three-act structure. I believe Thomas Harris used the Hollywood sequence plotting in the anticipation that his book could turn into a movie. Most Hollywood movies have six to eight sequences.

These are the sequences of Silence of the Lambs:

  1. Starling interviews Lecter
  2. Starling pursues and finds the Raspail car
  3. Starling learns about the Buffalo Bill case and pursues the bug cocoon lead
  4. The abduction of Catherine Baker
  5. The Faustian bargain with Lecter and scenes of Catherine in captivity
  6. Lecter’s escape
  7. Starling hunts down Buffalo Bill

More information on Storygrid:

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