Monday, January 4, 2010

Story Structure Part XI: Resurrection

Fantasy-Angel-Wallpaper-jpgThis is the eleventh in a series of posts talking about the story structure known as “The Hero’s Journey.” I’m borrowing heavily from“The Writer’s Journey: A Mythical Structure for Writers 3rd Edition” by Christopher Vogler. This is my interpretation of it, and I’ve tried to highlight some pitfalls I see writers falling into. Click here to review other installments of Story Structure.



At last, we’re at the Climax of the story. The Stakes are at their highest, and everything the Hero has fought for and sacrificed for is coming to a head. As the name “Resurrection” implies, your Hero must not only face death, but in some way, he must die and be reborn anew. Some Heroes actually physically die. Some appear dead or hopelessly lost, only to return miraculously saved. Your Hero must risk everything. This is the make-or-break moment of the story. This the “The Point” of the story, the moral, the lesson you wanted to impart to your readers. This is where nothing get left unsaid, and souls get bared.

Elements of Resurrection

  • Everything hangs in the balance. There is nothing left on the table, and every character is “all-in.”
  • Your Hero makes a major sacrifice for the greater good.
  • Your Hero learns something about himself he didn’t know, remember, or care about that changes everything.
  • Your Hero transforms into something greater, even if just for a moment.
  • Your Hero is forever changed by the experience.
  • The Villain is defeated, because he doesn’t learn or transform like the Hero does.

FootballScoreboard Now for our Benchwarming Quarterback. He has fought hard, but time is running out. His team is still losing. His Enemies have tried everything. Blitzing. Sending in bad plays. Calling penalties. Illegal hits. His body is bruised and aching, he can barely stand up, yet he keeps fighting, knowing his father could die any second. It’s the final seconds of the 4th Quarter, and they’re down by five points. They have time for one more play, but our Hero is suddenly struck by something.

What is he doing? Why is he playing football? Shouldn’t he be by his father’s side? He realizes that by returning to the game, he’s still running from responsibilities, running from himself. He hasn’t changed. He’s only tried harder. Here’s the critical piece of the whole Hero’s Journey. Here’s the one takeaway I’d like you to have from all of these posts. Your Hero must change. Otherwise the whole entire story has been a waste of time. Our Benchwarming QB is about to die. He hands the ball to someone else and leaves the field. The entire crowd is stunned. He grabs his girlfriend, and they go to her car. There’s time for one last play, one last chance to win, but he’s gone. To everyone on the field, it’s as if he just up and died. It’s a race to see if he can get back to the hospital. His Resurrection occurs during this car ride, and when he steps back out, he’s a new person. He may never play football again, but he’s no longer that irresponsible benchwarmer he started out as.

Resurrection Goals

  • Something your Hero holds dear must die.
  • If you have anything left to reveal, do it now.
  • Your Villain is pulling out all the stops as well. To him, victory is at hand.
  • Demonstrate the reason why you wrote the book. Make your point.
  • Find out what the most important thing to your Hero.
  • Your Hero must face his Worst Fear.

Non Goals

  • Your Hero can’t win unless everyone wins. Sometimes a Hero even needs to lose to win. What does he gain here?
  • You don’t have to tie up everything. Just the main threads. Sub-plots finish here as well. Leave something for the sequel. ;)
  • Change is not the same as trying harder. That means it’s not enough to be “better, stronger, or faster,” because that’s really just More of the Same.

How does your Hero change? How does this let him overcome his final obstacles on his path to Resurrection? What was the critical lesson?


  1. Hmmm... The villian fails because they don't change/grow like the hero does. What a great way to put it! And thinking of it that way is a cool technique to make sure you know what the villian wants and what makes him tick... Flushing out the villian to know those things will make for a much better story!

    Also, I don't know if I think something close to the hero has to die for him to succeed... though perhaps it needs to at least SEEM like something close to him dies (be it a person/idea/etc)... as though he feels like he's lost everything/something significant...

  2. Yep, Villains, just Try Harder. They never think to themselves, "hey, maybe I should just stop being such a dick and then maybe people will like me." They just think, "I really need to be more of a dick."

    Interesting point about Death.
    You can't have Resurrection without Death or some facsimile. In a lot of movies, the MC will actually leave the screen for a moment, with the audience not knowing if he's alive/dead/gone/in the potty. He is now in the Netherworld, in the Crucible of Change. When he returns, he is reborn. If anyone's seen Avatar, this moment is glaringly obvious.

    But for your thoughts, here's an example. In Cars, this moment comes during the final race when a car crashes, and our Hero Lightning McQueen dies (stops the race and loses), has to travel into the Land of the Dead (goes off the track) and literally brings this car back to life to finish the race, and by doing so, resurrects himself. Nothing actually dies, except McQueen's dream of winning the Piston Cup. This was his Worst Fear, and after he faces it, he's changed.

  3. You've made this section of the story much clearer to me. Thank you, thank you!

  4. Good point. The Hero must change. For sure. I love the example you used with the quarterback. I understand. This is the point too when the reader gets the impression that the Hero may loose too. But of course he/she wins in the end, and grows :o)

    Great post!

  5. I love that you're discussing the concepts in the book from your own interpretation. I read this a few years back and really enjoyed it, and so this is a great reminder of the stages of the HJ!

    Thanks so much!

  6. Wonderful point.

    I hate how it makes me really think about my books! So afraid to fail and all. My brain just doesn't process books in such an abstract way. Maybe that's why my Honor's Professor got so frustrated with me...

  7. Thanks!

    @cat- what irreversible change happens to your character during the story? What does he learn? What does he decide to do differently from now on? That's the essence of the Resurrection, the rebirth of the character into someone greater than what he started the book as. You can find it! :)
    But before you answer, you might want to read next week's installment as well...

  8. Yes. The hero must change. You are so right. Hate that Know it All do it all character. So unable to relate. Find myself rooting for the bad guy just because his flaws are more relatable. Great post!

  9. Oh, I know. I have those. They learn independence. They can stand up for themselves. They accept the way they are, flaws and all. Etc.... My characters have growth. I just don't know if they die and resurrect!

    Who knows: )

  10. @JD: In my latest WIP, my Hero pretty much goes over to the Dark Side before she's resurrected..

    @Cat: Do you read your own stuff? In "Treason", "...Missy plunged into the ocean and sank below the surface..." Umm...if you look at my comment above, I say "the MC will actually leave the screen for a moment" which is what happens with Missy. That's your Resurrection. Good job! :)


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