Posted in Craft, Guest Post, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

The Hero’s Journey for Magazine Writers

Jan Fields.jpgGuest Post by Jan Fields
Increasingly editors are interested in two things in fiction (1) adventure and (2) something a boy might read. But many writers are stuck when it comes to thinking about adventure. What makes up an adventure and can you do it well in 2000 words or less (sometimes a lot less). Sure you can. After all, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is a perfect adventure story in 336 words.
The adventure story is the basis for so many classic myths and legends – so much so that “The Hero’s Journey” has become almost a guidebook for adventure. So how could the circular structure of the basic “Hero’s Journey” help us craft a magazine adventure story? Let’s begin by looking at a simplified version of the Hero’s Journey structure, keeping in mind that for magazine fiction, the story must will focus on the main character (MC):
Ordinary World – Stories begin just before the thing that ultimately changes the MC.
Call to Adventure – A need arises, the MC has a challenge.
Refusal/Commitment – the MC resists the challenge, doesn’t want to undertake the task but ultimately accepts that the challenge cannot be avoided.
Approaching the First Ordeal – The MC begins to understand the size of the challenge and the stakes are raised.
Ordeal – MC faces a serious challenge and overcomes.
Reward – a time of rest for the MC, sometimes a false sense of completion.
The Road/Resurrection – more complications, when things look much worse than expected and the biggest challenge met.
Mastery – The adventure resolves, often a sense of coming full circle. The MC has changed.
Okay, how might that play out in a magazine story? Let’s look at how it could play out in a short story synopsis:
genstore.jpgOrdinary World – A boy heads home from a day at the pool and stops in a store for a cold drink.
Call to Adventure – Unexpectedly, the beloved store owner isn’t there and in his place is a hostile woman whose attention constantly shifts to the backroom door.
Refusal/Commitment – The boy hurries through his purchase to get away from the unpleasant woman. Once outside, he sits down to sip his drink and notices a lot people coming and going through the back door of the building – something he’s never seen before. He begins to wonder what’s going on.
Approaching the First Ordeal – The boy watches the store, even creeping close enough to the back door to hear what sounds like a scuffle. Could the woman be doing something illegal and holding the real store owner prisoner. The boy runs to alert a trusted adult.
Reward – The boy returns to the story with the trusted adult, expecting to save the story owner. But the woman tells the trusted adult a believable story and even opens the door to the backroom, where everything is quiet. The boy has now lost the support of his trusted adult.
The Road/Resurrection – The MC sits outside, determined to find out what is really happening. At first everything is quiet, then someone comes out of the backroom door, sees the boy and chases him away. The boy sneaks back, finding a better vantage point to watch the shop. He’s caught and this time the bad guy decides to hold onto the boy until their goal is met. The boy is locked into the shop bathroom with the beloved store owner (now slightly injured).
Mastery – Because of his small size, the boy can escape through the cramped bathroom window, though not without some minor injury. He runs to his trusted adult, this time with “proof” – the real store owners ubiquitous cap – now with bloodstains. The trusted adult calls the police and the store owner is saved!
In real life, the trusted adult might have stormed over to the store and given the woman some real conflict, not giving up easily. But then the story would have shifted from being the main character’s adventure/challenge to being the story of the actions of a side adult character. To work as a story, the main character has to commit to the challenge and overcome the obstacle on his own.
Author’s Brief Bio
Since my first magazine publication in the 1980s, I have been steadily writing for money in some form. Today I have over twenty books in print and still more in the pipeline – books for children and adults. I’ve also written for magazines, educational publishers and even a toy company! Writing is the only thing I’ve ever done really well that didn’t eventually become more like work than fun.
Read more about Jan at
Photo courtesy of wallyir on

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2 thoughts on “The Hero’s Journey for Magazine Writers

  1. Great article. I appreciated the simplified “Hero’s Journey”. Makes sense. Now I need to rewrite MY story and add a few more elements I see I missed.
    ~Trish Fletcher

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