The monomyth of the hero's journey is very familiar to readers and movie audiences alike. It's so ingrained into our culture that I teach an entire unit on this concept in my popular culture media class. Different sources will divide the hero's journey up into a different number of steps. I have seen as few as ten steps, and as many as fifteen steps; however, the overall heroic journey remains essentially unchanged. For that reason, I teach the ten-step model:
- Hero is introduced in ordinary surroundings doing mundane things.
- A call to action arrives.
- The hero is reluctant to accept the call to action.
- The hero accepts the call to action.
- The hero receives help from an unusual source.
- Obstacles and battles are set before the emerging hero.
- The hero has a "rock bottom" or near-death moment.
- Hero emerges and is ready for the final confrontation.
- The evil is destroyed.
- The hero returns a transformed individual and is reintegrated into society.
Not every story will follow those ten steps in their entirety or in that exact order; however, most hero stories incorporate most of those steps.
Regarding the question of whether or not the monomyth should be known about and used by writers, that is up to the individual. Personally, I think writers should know about it and use it—at least if they want to sell their stories and make money. The monomyth works because audiences have grown accustomed to it. They expect it without even realizing it, and drastic changes to the expected story are always met with friction. Hollywood and publishing companies are filled with stories that have gone out to test audiences that hated the story or ending. These stories are almost always changed before going out to wider audiences. Stories that create happy audiences create buzz, and buzz brings in more viewers/readers, and that brings in more money. Writers that know the monomyth and give the audience the illusion of a "new" hero's journey are often very successful writers. Of course, the Best Sellers list is full of authors that literally write the same story over and over again with new bad guys and new locations (such as Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, Ian Fleming, James Patterson, Vince Flynn, etc.).