If you've been to the movies in the last 25 years and enjoyed superhero franchises like DC's Batman and Marvel's The Avengers, you might have detected the influence of Hollywood story consultant and author Christopher Vogler in those well-told tales. Inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Vogler transformed that famed analysis of mythic storytelling into a 12-stage narrative structure for screenwriters, based on ancient archetypes, called The Writer’s Journey.
A staple in film classes the world over, Vogler’s influential guide tracks the hero’s path from trials to triumph, a flexible template that has stood the test of time. “Stories are resilient and seem to be adapting to a new age and new realities with the help of writers who are always looking for unexpected ways to put together the elemental pieces,” Vogler says, citing the deaths of major characters in the Game of Thrones franchise as an example.
Now, Vogler has some new theories to share in an updated fourth edition of The Writer’s Journey, released to coincide with the book’s 25th anniversary. In a chapter titled “It’s All About the Vibes, Man,” Vogler recalls experiencing a physical reaction to a great story: “My guts tightened with suspense, my heart pounded with fear or passion, my throat choked up with emotion, my mind soared with inspiration.” That experience led him to identify yet another way to hit an audience’s emotional sweet spot: by aiming directly at the chakras, the seven spiritual centers located along the human spine. “I think there’s a lot of insight there for writers,” he says, “as another way of understanding the emotional triggers in the body and spirit.”
The latest version of The Writer’s Journey also expands on the concept of what makes a good scene and features an in-depth analysis of Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning The Shape of Water, which is examined through the lens of the hero’s journey. With more than 400,000 copies sold since 1995, The Writer’s Journey boasts an audience much vaster than the insider circles of Hollywood. “I once met Jeff Bezos,” Vogler says, “and he told me the hero’s journey eerily described what he went through in building Amazon.”
“I think these ideas are useful for people,” he says, “because they identify some significant turning points in the dramas of our lives.” And with the upheaval people all over the world are currently experiencing, Vogler offers the book as “a kind of orientation device, like a compass or a map,” he says, “that can guide us through tough stuff, by giving us metaphors and models of human behavior to compare with our own situations. It can be a beacon of light in the darkness.”