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Vogler's Story Structure

 

Disciplines > Storytelling > Plots > Vogler's Story Structure

Act 1 | Act 2 | Act 3 | See also

 

Chris Vogler took Joseph's Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' structure and revised it as below.

Act 1

In which the the scene is set and the hero sets out.

1. Ordinary World

The story starts in the ordinary world where the hero is going about everyday existence, oblivious of the adventures to come. This anchors the hero as a human, just like you and me, and hence we can associate our selves with the hero.

2. Call to Adventure

The hero is next presented with a wrong done, a problem or challenge which they feel they must resolve. Thus the king calls for someone to save the realm from a marauding enemy, a private detective has a client bring a difficult case to them or an attractive other person is spotted in a bar. Thus the challenge is set, to defeat the enemy, solve the murder or win the heart of the other person.

3. Refusal of the Call

The hero may well balk at the thought of the task ahead, perhaps refusing the challenge or having second thoughts. The problem seems to much to handle and the comfort of home seems more attractive than the rough wilderness or dangerous streets.

This would be our own response and we thus bond further with the reluctant hero.

4. Meeting the Mentor

The mentor appears to help the hero prepare for the road ahead. Thus Gandalf, Obi-wan Kenobi and a host of other wise and experienced people teach the hero the skills they need and give them critical knowledge to help them survive.

5. Crossing the Threshold

Eventually the hero is ready to act and crosses the threshold, often literally as they leave the family homestead on their journey into the unknown.

Act 2

In which the main action happens as the hero survives the road and achieves their goal.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Once out in the big wide world, the hero is confronted with an ever more difficult series of challenges that they may face, ranging from minor skirmishes and struggles against weather and terrain to riddles and various setbacks that would defeat a lesser person.

In this way the hero's character is both highlighted and developed. Now bonded to the hero, we feel a vicarious sense of pleasure as these challenges are met.

7. Approaching the Inmost Cave

At last the final destination lays ahead and the hero, battered but wiser from their trials along the way must prepare for the ultimate test. In ancient legend, a typical 'innermost cave' is the land of the dead or a labyrinth. It is the lair of the dread enemy where no help may be found and only deep courage will win through. Another threshold must be crossed here to enter the dragons' den of the innermost cave.

We swallow hard, as does the hero, at the thought of what might go wrong. To approach the innermost cave is to face death and still go on. This pause helps show the hero as still human and helps build the story tension before the high point of the story.

8. The Crisis / Supreme Ordeal

At last the hero must face their deepest fears, typically in battle with the dark villain. This is the ultimate test that the hero takes, where the real story perhaps is the inner battle whereby the hero overcomes their own demons in facing up to the enemy outside.

As observers, we feel scared for the hero and may be terrified that they might fail or die. In so doing we also face and, with the hero, overcomes our own inner fears.

9. Seizing the Reward

In defeating the enemy, the hero is transformed into a new state where fears are vanquished and the new fearless person is born. The reward in the story may be gaining new knowledge, a treasure or rescuing a princess, but the inner reward is in the personal growth that is achieved.

Act 3

10. The Road Back

After the story has reached it main peak, the transformed hero sets out home again. Having gained the treasure they are have no need for more adventure and nothing left to prove and so set out back home again.

Setting out home is reverse echo of crossing the threshold in setting out on the adventure. In contrast to the earlier anticipation of danger, the anticipation now is of acclaim and rest.

11. The Climax / Resurrection

The story has one last trick up its sleeve now, having lulled its audience into a false sense of security, as one last challenge faces the hero. Perhaps the villain was not completely vanquished or perhaps there are other people in need on the way back -- whichever way, we are again plunged into another climactic event, just when we thought it was safe to breath easy again.

In ancient stories, the hero has to be purified before return. After the toil of the journey and the ordeal, they are formally reborn into a new and beautiful form.

12. Return with the Elixir

Finally, the hero returns to the hero's welcome, gives the treasure to the proper recipient and receives their just reward, whether it is the hand of the princess, the acclaim of the people or simply a well-deserved rest.

In this final part, all tensions are resolved and all unanswered questions answered, leaving the reader of the story satisfied and replete.

Coda

Vogler's work has been both criticized and acclaimed. Whilst some say there is nothing new in his writings and recommend the earlier Campbell's 'Hero's Journey' or Propp's Morphology of the Folk Tale, others praise Vogler for his clarification, simplification and placing of classic patterns into the modern genre.

See also

Campbell's 'Hero's Journey'

 

Vogler, Christopher (1992). The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters. Studio City, CA.: Michael Wiese Productions

 

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