Explaining The Hero’s Journey, as illustrated by the Potty book, by Leslie Patricelli


The Hero's Journey is a tried-and-true storytelling structure that came to be after a man named Joseph Cambell spent a great deal of time analyzing the stories of ancient mythology-or, beloved stories that had stood the test of time. He found twelve key stages which fit within a standard 3-act storytelling structure when, if followed and executed well, almost always leave readers feeling satisfied with the story. This storytelling format evolved over eons and in many different corners of the world, and simply seems to be how the human brain is wired to want stories. As writers, this structure should not only be studied and understood, but should be followed and respected.

However, Google The Hero's Journey and you'll come up with something like this: 

A nightmare of complex, scary, make-me-want-to-run-away-and-hide gobbly-goop jargon that will take even more coffee than I have on hand (and that's a lot) to get my head wrapped around. So, thanks to my twin toddlers, who are currently potty-training and are obsessed with Leslie Patricelli's Potty book, I'm going to break this down for you Barney-style.

The three stages of The Hero's Journey, and their corresponding location within the standard 3-act play structure, are as follows:

Act 1 : (1)The Ordinary World, (2)Call to Adventure, (3)Refusal of the Call, (4)Meeting with the Mentor, (5)Crossing the Threshold

Act 2 : (6)Tests, Allies, and Enemies, (7)Approach to Inmost Cave, (8)Ordeal, (9)Reward, (10) The Road Back

Act 3 : (11)Resurection, (12)Return with Elixir

The beauty of this structure is that if you hit most of these in roughly the right order, your story will probably feel satisfying to most readers. But, even in this format, it feels complicated-it feels like it would take an epic-length novel to fit it all in. So, let me show you how this structure can work in a simple kid's book that contains a whopping word count of 65. If they can do it, so can you.

Act 1

(1) The Ordinary World

In this step, the goal is to meet our Hero, learn about their normal world and their place in it. Our Hero is a gender-ambiguous baby in a diaper, and he lives in a colorful world with minimal backgrounds.

(2) Call to Adventure

In this step, our Hero faces a delima that threatens the comfort of his ordinary world. We learn what the Hero wants, and what the obsticles are to him getting it. Our Hero has to go potty. The obvious solution to this problem is for him to go in his diaper-that is the thing to do in his ordinary, comfortable world.

(3) Refusal of the Call

Fears and doubts plauge the Hero in this step. The problem seems far too great and the comforts of the Ordinary World far to tempting to leave. Our Hero is facing an exostintial crisis: he does not want to go in his diaper.

(4) Meeting with the Mentor

Here the Hero meets with one or more mentors who give him something he needs. This could be an object, wisdom, training, or advice. The mentor(s) give the Hero the strength and confidence needed to move forward. Our Hero meets a cat and a dog, who show him how they go potty. Our Hero realizes there are many ways to go potty, and he decided to look for alternatives.

(5) Crossing the Threshold

Step 5 is the transition point between Act 1 and Act 2. This is a crisis point for our Hero, and at this point he must make the decision to accept the Call to Adventure from earlier. He may commit to the journey willingly, or he may be pushed, but after this point, there is no turning back to the comforts of the Ordinary World. Our Hero can't hold it any longer, and decides to try going in his potty.

Act 2

(6) Tests, Allies, and Enemies

The hero must be presented with an ever-increasing series of challenges on the road to his adventure. He will suceed at some, he will fail at others, he will come up with plans and have to change them as his situation changes. Along the way he will discover allies and enemies-those he can trust, and those he can't. Our Hero forgets to take his diaper off when he first sits on the potty and must correct that error. Things for our Hero don't go as planned when, after sitting on the potty, nothing happens. He gets a book to read, but still nothing happens. The cat and dog come to lend moral support.

(7) Approach to Inmost Cave

A giant ordeal is coming, and the Hero begins to doubt himself. Tension mounts. This will be the Hero's biggest obsticle yet. Our Hero is getting very frustrated with his inability to go potty.

(8) Ordeal

This is the biggest challenge the Hero has ever faced, and it's do or die time. In fact, the Hero must die, either literallly or metaphorically, so he can be reborn in a way that somehow gives him the strength or wisdom needed to suceed. Our Hero falls asleep.

(9) Reward

The Hero defeats the enemy, completes the challenge, and is victorios over his greatest ordeal! He emerges from this experience a stronger, better person, often with new wisdom. Our Hero goes potty!

(10) The Road Back

The Hero journeys back towards his Ordinary World, but may not know how to fit back in now that he's a new person. The mood of this stage is joyful, with hopes of acclaim and vindication. Our Hero rejoyces with Mom, Dad, Cat, and Dog.

Act 3

(11) Ressurection

The Hero faces a final and unexpected battle. This battle represents something far greater than the immediate goal, however, and the entire point of the journey will be lost if the Hero fails. Everything the Hero had worked for and cares about is at stake. Untilmately, the Hero prevails. Our Hero's potty-training is inferred at this point, but not explicitly shown. This is the only step of The Hero's Journey not spelled out in the Potty book.

(12) Return with Elixir

This is the "things will never be the same again" stage. The Hero returns with new swag, new knowledge, or new wisdom that permanantly alters the fabric of his Ordinary World for the better. Something that makes us believe his adventure was all worth it. Our Hero obtains undies, symbolizing that his potty training is over, and he will never have to wear diapers again. Our Hero returns victorious! 

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