In the first episode of the 1988 PBS series “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers”, Campbell outlines the three types of heroes that you should work into your stories. Joseph Campbell is the father of modern storytelling having taught and studied the subject for at least 60 years. In Malcolm Gladwell’s lingo, that makes him an ‘Outlier’ six times over.
Before I outline the three, I would like to share a paraphrased version of Campbell’s definition of a hero: ‘A Hero is someone who has achieved or experienced something beyond the range of the ordinary, often through self-sacrifice, that is bigger than themselves.’
Type I: The Intentional Hero
The intentional hero is type you most likely imagine when you think of story. This hero sets off on a quest to achieve a specific goal. In the process of attaining the goal, the hero often undergoes a psychological or spiritual transformation that is far more significant than their physical experience.
Type II: The Reluctant Hero (or Forced Hero)
The reluctant hero is forced against his will into a journey. The example that Campbell uses is a soldier drafted into a war. A milder example, repeated frequently in modern cinema, is a child forced into a cross-country road trip with her parents.
Type III: The Accidental Hero (or Serendipitous Hero)
The accidental hero is the middle ground between the intentional hero and the reluctant hero. Using her own free will, the accidental hero falls into an unexpected journey. In ancient stories, this was represented by a person following a magical animal into the forest. The movie “The Hangover” represents a more modern, comical version of this archetype with characters who start out seeking fun but quickly themselves in a far more dramatic adventure.
Try It Out!
To engage your audience, you must tell stories that are vivid, emotional, and personal. Most stories have three acts which Campbell describes as Departure, Fulfillment, and Return. Departure (Act I) takes the main character from their ordinary life through an ignored call-to-adventure and into an inciting incident. The inciting incident leave the hero with no choice but to pursue their quest. Fulfillment (Act II) takes the main character from the inciting incident to the climax. Along the way, the hero has a series of paired trials and revelations that escalate in intensity. During the Return (Act III), the hero shares what she has learned with her disciples and settles into a new, often better, life.
Tell a story in your next speech. Better yet, start with story. Just remember to include a mentor that gives your hero the physical or psychological magic they need to succeed. Every Luke Skywalker needs an Obi-Wan Kenobi and a Yoda.