The Hero’s Journey, Mystery Style

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Have you heard of the hero’s journey? It’s at the core of the mythic structure. It basically goes like this:

  1. Hero lives in the ORDINARY WORLD
  2. CALL TO ADVENTURE
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL
  4. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD (to some magical or new world, which is entering
  5. the BELLY OF THE WHALE). At this point, there is no return.
  6. TESTS AND ALLIES
  7. ROAD OF TRIALS
  8. ULTIMATE BOON (which is the achievement of the goal)
  9. REFUSAL OF THE RETURN (not necessarily by choice)
  10. RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
  11. MASTER OF TWO WORLDS

The hero’s journey is a fairly typical story structure. With a mystery, however, the structure is slightly different.

  1. The Victim’s ORDINARY WORLD is disrupted when he/she dies! Depending upon the POV of your mystery, the sleuth’s ORDINARY WORLD is also disrupted. Using the amateur sleuth or detective as our hero, he / she lives in their ORDINARY WORLD before the murder happens.
  2. CALL TO ADVENTURE occurs when the murder is discovered.
  3. REFUSAL OF THE CALL occurs when the amateur sleuth feels pulled to investigate, but doesn’t feel qualified or want to dive into the investigation. If the hero is a detective, the REFUSAL OF THE CALL occurs when he/she doesn’t want the case, or, in the case of my first book, Living the Vida Lola, Lola fears she won’t be given the case. Often, the refusal of the call is not the decision of the hero.
  4. CROSSING THE THRESHOLD in a mystery means the hero (sleuth) takes the case and/or becomes an active investigator. There’s no turning back because he/she (or loved ones) may well be in danger.
  5. TESTS AND TRIALS
  6. AND THE ROAD OF TRIALS = LIES, DECEPTION, CLUES, RED HERRINGS, all laid out by the villain (the murderer)
  7. ULTIMATE BOON
  8. Followed by the REFUSAL OF RETURN is the equivalent of the hero figuring out who dunnit. The problem is, either a red herring has led the sleuth astray, or the sleuth/hero is in danger at this point so may not be able to return with the knowledge.
  9. The sleuth manages to get to the right answer (or defeat the killer), thereby RETURNING WITH THE ELIXIR, which, in a mystery, is justice.
  10. Finally, the sleuth can return to his/her Ordinary World, but now he/she is the MASTER OF TWO WORLDS. He/she has solved a murder and will never be quite the same.