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The Heroine Makes A Journey

I’m currently reading a great book by Gail Carriger, called The Heroine’s Journey – for Writers, Readers, and Fans of Pop Culture. What is the heroine’s journey, you ask? You’ve heard of the hero’s journey, so this must be the female version, right?

It’s a little more complicated than that. For precise details, I recommend you read the book for yourself, as it explains very succinctly (and quoting some great examples) the difference between the hero’s journey and the heroine’s journey – and it isn’t necessarily to do with biological gender.

It’s more to do with the style of journey than who is undertaking it. Where the hero’s journey is more about achieving success through solitude, the heroine’s journey is about achieving success through social networking. Anyone of any gender can go on either journey. It doesn’t matter what the quest is, whether it’s about inner development (achieving self-knowledge) or an external adventure (attaining an object/glory/beating the villain).

If your protagonist goes it alone – separated from family/loved ones/community, is unable to trust anyone, and must battle for the object of their quest, probably becoming an outcast in the process, you pretty much have a hero’s journey.

But if your protagonist builds friendships and social networks, is trusting, and it takes a team effort to secure the object of the quest, you have a heroine’s journey.

I found it interesting to read about this in depth, and then go over all the storylines I have written down for my novels-in-progress. Nearly every one of them is a heroine’s journey! I’d learned about the hero’s journey long ago, and to tell the truth, it didn’t impress me that much as a template for my own style of storytelling, though some really amazing stories have been told by other authors who have used it well.

So, an aha! moment – it made perfect sense. Most of my stories, no matter the gender of the protagonist, followed the heroine’s journey template. And as I’m currently working on my Atomic Goddess trilogy, I had a good think about how I (unknowingly) utilised it there.

But hold on! I made it clear early in the first book that Ange is a loner, an outsider. She has moved away from the family home – where she wasn’t on good terms with her parents – to another town. She is close to her sister, but Karen lives on the other side of the country. She keeps to herself and doesn’t make friends easily. So there’s a lot of separation going on there. Ange is on a hero’s journey at the beginning of the trilogy.

But after the inciting incident, Ange finds herself reaching out to others – friends, family, spirit guides – and starts building solid networks that she can rely on for information, support, and assistance. Throughout her various journeys, she builds a team to help her on her quest, and learns leadership skills and how to delegate to people’s strengths.

Throughout the trilogy, she makes allies – including some rather unlikely ones! She makes mistakes, she learns, she grows – and she keeps reaching out, once she realises that her greatest strength lays not in her goddess powers but in her support networks.

Looking at the other story ideas I’ve outlined or worked on, whether traditional or historical fantasy, they are nearly all heroine’s journeys. I do have a couple of hero’s journeys to write in the future – but they are either stand-alones or historical mystery stories.

Perhaps the most interesting realisation I’ve had from learning about the difference between the hero’s and heroine’s journeys is how they relate to real life. We all have times in life when we have our hero’s hat on, when we have to be brave and go out into the world alone to achieve something. And we all have times in life when we wear the heroine’s hat, reaching out to others for help and support when needed.

There are all sorts of situations where one is more suitable than the other, but in the end, I think balance is the key. Neither is better or worse than the other – they are both equally important. And so is knowing when to put on each hat, when to go it alone or to reach out for help, no matter what gender you identify with.

The saddest thing is how society has tried to restrict the hero’s and heroine’s ideals to an old-fashioned, rigidly enforced association with biological gender. Thus, males were portrayed as strong, silent types, macho to the last, who would rather fight than talk, lest they appear ‘weak’. And females were portrayed as weak, manipulative, in need of rescue, trophies to be won, and easily cast aside if we didn’t live up to certain societal ‘standards’ (read domestic martyrdom).

I’m glad we live in a time when society’s portrayals of gender are finally being challenged and given new depth and meaning. Instead of ‘male’ meaning ‘strength’ and ‘female’ meaning ‘weak’, we are now in an age when the heroine’s journey can be just as accepted and embraced as the hero’s – whether in real life or in fiction.

From Lana Lea and her time-travelling muse


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