Last week I discussed profile writing as an alternative to just printing a regular interview. This week, I want to take that a step further and discuss writing a profile as a life story. Writing a life story might seem a bit daunting, but if you have the right outline you can stay on track and create an original, interesting article. The outline we are going to use is the “Hero’s Journey” or monomyth.
The Hero’s Journey is a storytelling format originally identifed by Joseph Campbell, but one that is as old as stories themselves. Once you are familiar with the pattern, you will realize that it applies to many stories you already know, from the fictional Star Wars to the true story of Abraham Lincoln. As a blogger writing a profile, you will find that you can follow the Hero’s Journey for many of your subjects.
In a fictional Hero’s Journey, you can write and arrange your characters in whatever way best works with the pattern. As a blogger you will be writing about real individuals and so you can only outline your story in this format if you have enough information to track a Hero’s Journey at some point in your subject’s life. It will not work for every person you interview because some people just do not share the type of information you need to follow their journey. But when it does, you will end up with a solid and unique profile that hooks your readers and, if you study the process carefully, can really highlight your writing ability.
The Hero’s Journey is essentially a process of Separation, Initiation and Return. These three sequential occurences are further broken down into somewhere between 8 and 12 steps. As you can already tell, this pattern gives you a clear outline with which to work and you will know very quickly if it can be applied to your subject or not. Here is a brief overview of the eight basic steps:
Step One: The Call
The call is an invitation into the unknown. The unknown can be either physical or spiritual. Physical calls may take the hero away from family, place him* in a strange land and/or overcome a hardship or constriction. Spiritually, your subject may have felt trapped, out of place or like she just did not “fit” anymore. A call can come gradually or be sparked by some sort of crisis or sudden change.
Step Two: The Threshold
The threshold is the line between the known and unknown. This is the point at which the hero must decide whether or not to accept the call, knowing that he will not be able to turn back after making the choice.
This is also the place in the story at which helpers first appear. In fiction, helpers often bring divine gifts to aid them in the challenges to come. However less magical they may be, helpers are just as important in a “real-life” monomyth. Mentors and guides are the most important types of helpers as they usually provide knowledge or focus that the hero would not otherwise have had. In both fiction and in our own lives, helpers tend to show up when we need them. Carl Jung called this synchronicity.
Step Three: The Challenges
Whether outward (physical) or inward (spiritual, psychological), the challenges faced on the Hero’s Journey are menat to build maturity, skill and confidence. As the journey progresses, the challenges generally increase in difficulty. Temptations are some of the greatest tests on the journey, usually brought by someone attempting to pull the hero away from his path. The hero must face the temptations and deny them to continue on the journey.
In nearly all monomyths, the challenges will target the hero’s weakest points. This will enable him to improve those skills, overcome those fears or otherwise better himself in order to successfully pass the challenge. If a challenge is failed, the hero may suffer a minor setback or be forced to end the journey and return home defeated.
Step Four: The Abyss
The Abyss is the greatest challenge of the journey. It comes after the hero has had time to improve upon weaknesses, but usually requires that he give everything of which he is capable in order to succeed. It is at this stage of the journey where the hero must defeat or work past his fatal flaw or risk failing the challenge and, by extension, the journey.
Step Five: The Revelation
The revelation is a shifting of the way the hero thinks or views life. Generally sudden and/or dramatic, the revelation either takes place before or after the hero descends into the abyss.
Step Six: The Transformation
Once the Revelation has taken place and the Abyss is conquered, the hero has completed his change. Having overcome great fears and weaknesses, he is a new person and is nearly ready to complete the journey by returning home.
Step Seven: The Atonement
Before the hero can make his way back home, he must come to terms with his “new” self. The transformation has been fully completed, but it may take some reflection for the hero to fully integrate everything he has learned on the journey. The Atonement is essentially the official rebirth of the hero, bringing harmony and balance back to his life.
Step Eight: The Return
To complete the journey, the hero must come full circle. Because he has changed, he often is able to use his new knowledge or skills to better the world he left when he answered the call. Sometimes the hero returns too enlightened for his old home and either backslides, enlightens others or must again accept a call in order to find balance.
Though a novel or other work of fiction generally focuses on a single Hero’s Journey, in real life we usually go through many. These journeys can be short or long, profound or somewhat mundane. What they all have in common is that we come through them changed. In my lifetime I can think of several just off the top of my head: going to kindergarten, going to college, coming out, my mother’s battle with cancer…the list goes on and on. The point is, nearly everyone has at least one Hero’s Journey in his life. As a writer, it is your job to find it.
The monomyth format can create a unique and unexpected outline for a profile on your blog. While it is not widely used in non-fiction, it is used even less by bloggers. So next time you are interviewing someone, as him about a life-changing experience and see if he will share enough for you to map out his Hero’s Journey. Not only are they fun to write, they are also very interesting and enjoyable to read.
*I used the male pronoun because it was the first one that came to mind and constantly writing he/she or him/her can really ruin the natural flow of an article. I promise I am not sexist.