You may have never heard of the Hero’s Journey before, but it’s a framework for story structure that writers and screenwriters use when crafting their breakout novels and blockbuster movies.
It puts an unlikely hero through a three act structure. There’s the setup and buildup (first act), the reaction, realization, action, and a renewed push (second act), the recovery, and climax (3rd act).
As a writer, it’s both a delight and a distraction knowing all of this story structure stuff, because it’s the lens that I can’t help but read every novel and watch every movie through as the story unfolds.
If I had to choose my favorite part of any story, it would be what writers call the first plot point — the thing that happens at around the 25% mark of any good story.
Everything in act 1, the first part, is all backstory. It shows the protagonist in their ordinary world doing ordinary things. It’s what makes us care about the character and what happens to them.
And it’s the part of the story that represents you and me in our average, normal, everyday life.
But at the first plot point at the end of act 1, right around the 25% mark, that’s where life is turned upside down and triggers the real story to begin in act 2. And it’s what I look forward to the most.
The reason it’s my favorite is because this is where the protagonist of the story is given a choice, much like you and I are often given: go back home to life as you know it, or enter a new world. And that choice is what will define the protagonist, show us his character, and create a good story.
And it’s only in this new world and the decision the protagonist makes to step through the door that starts the adventure into the unknown and puts him on the path to becoming the eventual hero.
In life, sometimes the choice is ours. Like in Cars when Lightning McQueen tears up the asphalt and after doing his time to fix the road, he’s given the opportunity to leave, but decides to stay.
But we’re not always given the choice in life. Sometimes we’re forced into a new, unknown world and we have to fight to get things right, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz when she talks to Glinda. Dorothy has to find the wizard if she wants to go home, she can’t just turn around and leave. She has to follow the path to adventure and take a step in faith, one step at a time.
Stories are metaphors, they help us make sense of our world and what’s going on in our lives. So what’s important to focus on when we find our world turned upside down and we have to make a decision about what we’re going to do about it, is to realize that we’re really at the 25% mark of what could be a great story. Life might never be the same, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.
Accept the call to adventure. Walk through the doorway. Enter your second act. Choose the path that will make for the best story. Because life’s too short to stay in the comfortable, ordinary world.