Hero's Journey in the rear view mirror

Dramatica writers, now that you are versed in a better theory, what holes do you see in the Hero’s Journey?

Among other things, I see:

  • A lack of thematic design. It’s all plot.
  • A weak impact character, poorly defined, and spread out between many characters, and most importantly, it’s accidental and not even defined
  • A mandated Change in the Hero
  • A mandated merge between MC & Protagonist, with an Inner and Outer Conflict
  • Judgement & Outcome! Drivers! Consequences!

Anyway, would love to hear your thoughts.


I remembered another, maybe my favorite: the false distinction between the ordinary world and the special world.


I feel like pretty much everything else I could say would fall under that.
-a reason for any given beat to be there
-an authors view of the story - which I guess was covered when you mentioned a lack of thematic design
-anything regarding a holistic approach
-it has poor definitions for everything. I imagine that proponents of HJ, much like proponents of STC, would call this a strength. A “transformation” could be Growth, or it could be Change. An “ordeal” or “belly of the whale” could be anything and for any reason, as long as it looks like bad news for the main character. But if it means everything, it means nothing.


All of these are good points, but I wonder if it’s really a fair comparison. If you wanted to really look at something that’s hero’s-journey based but that has a comparable level of sophistication to Dramatica, I’d think you really need to look at something like John Truby’s Anatomy of Story. (It’s been a while since I read it, so this is from memory …)

In Truby’s case, some of your critiques still hold true (no concept of Steadfast characters or separating MC from Protagonist), while others don’t and/or are more complicated. Truby is all about “inner and outer journey”, and absolutely addresses theme. Some of his thoughts on archetypes would map to Dramatica’s concepts (but not all). As for the influence character, some of that shows up in his concept of Antagonist and/or Ally.

The big negative of Truby is that when you dig in it’s just not as precise as Dramatica. I actually found it more complicated to understand and apply.

On the other hand, while Dramatica-types might find it limiting, it’s possible there’s a certain power and freedom in having an a la carte approach where you can suddenly realize “oh! that character should be a false ally” without getting lost in IC throughlines and handoffs or wondering if that bit you wrote really counts as MC or if its RS. For a lot of people, storytelling metaphors like “ally” might be more user friendly than the clinically precise “influence character”.

I also think he has some useful non-structural storytelling ideas (which Dramatica doesn’t deal with at all). Matt Bird, McKee and others fall into this category as well.


I like Matt Bird for the most part, but the longer he theorized, the less helpful I found his insights, which I thought was interesting.

The false ally is the thing that turned me off so many approaches. An ally is how a character in the story perceives someone, but nothing I read about them ever said, “Make sure they have something they want that is clear and consistent, and it’s only when that want clashes with the protagonist that they are considered false.” The total lack of clarity or consistency bugged me.

That said, I’ve never read Truby directly.

What is an example of this?

I have definitely seen this bandied about as a strength. I think it protects users from calling it formulaic.


When I read the Hero’s Journey (just before or after finding dram), it reminded me of the summer I read my mother’s paperback books, lying around. One of them was Greek Mythology. When I finished Hero’s Journey and put it down, I felt that link to the myths of old. (and my step into teenhood) It was cool. It has its place in keeping writing enthusiasm alive. I remember being a member of some writers’ groups at that time, with a mix of newbies (me) and published writers, etc. I remember one saying to me, “You read the whole book? I never met anyone who read the whole book, before.”

I, always, saw it as a study of classical storytelling, not as a solid system for contemporary, It showed simple steps that money in the industry could understand and point to as what it wanted, entertaining fast production, After three tours for historical fiction writers, I realized that this was a juggling act in the human race since the beginning, I love the industry because it is filled with artists muddling along together. Dramatica nailed the Contagonist, so the theory’s place is history ground breaking. We have been so lucky to be in this time period, for some reasons.


I haven’t read it in a while, but just leafing through, I’m thinking of stuff like thinking about finding the “designing principle” of your story world i.e. is there a central metaphor and/or storytelling approach that best fits your material? e.g. Long Day’s Journey Into Night is “As a family moves from day into night, its members are confronted with the sins and ghosts of their past.” (Realizing that I didn’t do this exercise for my current novel and maybe I should have!). He also talks about developing a “symbol web”. Etc.

Yes, this stuff is great and important

1 Like

I still find useful gems of insight from psychology lecturers on Jung and Campbell, but it is rather grating to hear the average film junkie try to cram ____ into Hero’s Journey when it painfully obviously doesn’t fit.