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Heroine’s Journey? It’ll Help You Write a Book that Readers Love

I can’t believe we’re wrapping up the first quarter of 2024 but I’ve already been on a Heroine’s Journey that you can use, too.

As someone who’s got a December 31st birthday, I’ve noticed I seem to think about the year a little differently than the people around me. For me, not only have we wandered through a 1/4 of the year already, but I’ve also wandered through 1/4 of my current age.

Which somehow always feels a lot more fire-starting than just the year itself.

It really puts everything into perspective… and reminds me to take care of myself and keep working towards my goals because time isn’t endless!

I’m looking at the end of this first quarter and seeing everything I’ve accomplished and everything I want to accomplish, and I’m realizing that I’m exactly where I wanted to be on my Heroine’s Journey.

So now seemed like a good time to dive deep into what the Heroine’s Journey is, and how you can use it in your writing (both fiction and nonfiction)!

Let’s Look at the Heroine’s Journey for Books

The Heroine’s Journey is a narrative framework that outlines a path of personal growth, transformation, and self-discovery.

It was originally proposed by Maureen Murdock, an accomplished psychologist and student of Joseph Campbell’s, but it’s evolved since then. Notably, Gail Carriger brought it up to date with modern media and pop culture with her book The Heroine’s Journey. Another acclaimed scholar, Maria Tatar, has also written a wonderful book on it (along with many other accomplished authors, of course!).

But here’s the Holly Ostrout take.

Unlike the Hero’s Journey, which often focuses on external achievements and conquests, the Heroine’s Journey delves into internal development, emphasizing emotional depth, relationships, and the reconciliation of conflicting internal and external worlds.

I like to say that while the Hero gets a quest (alone), goes off on the road to adventure (alone), meets a mentor (who then dies, leaving him alone), and fights the villain (alone), after which he’ll probably still die at least metaphorically, the Heroine takes a more reasonable approach.

For Heroine’s, we’ve got a community-focused cycle of descent into darkness, a search for identity and understanding, followed by ascent and integration of learned lessons into a balanced, fulfilled life. She goes through some tough stuff, too, but she doesn’t push away everyone who loves her while she’s doing it (cough cough, action movies).

And it’s non-gendered.

Harry Potter, for example, was a heroine, not a hero. So don’t let the wording put you off!

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The Heroine’s Journey for Novels & Nonfiction Books

For Fiction Writers:

  • Character Development: Use the stages of the Heroine’s Journey to craft more nuanced, relatable characters who experience significant internal growth alongside their external adventures, without turning into unlikeable characters that readers are always yelling, “WHY did you DO THAT?!” at.
  • Plot Structure: The journey offers a strong framework for plotting your story, ensuring that the narrative arc aligns with your protagonist’s emotional and psychological development. It creates an emotional arc that makes sense and doesn’t feel rushed or like the character makes decisions out of nowhere.
  • Theme Exploration: The Heroine’s Journey allows for a deeper exploration of themes like identity, resilience, transformation, and the power of vulnerability, making your story resonate on a more profound level with readers. You want your book to have disappointed it’s over when they read the last page.

Check Out: The Ultimate Guide to Quickly & Easily Outlining Your Novel

For Nonfiction Writers:

  • Personal Narratives: If you’re writing memoirs or personal essays, or adding these into your business-building nonfiction book, the Heroine’s Journey can structure your experiences into a compelling narrative arc that highlights personal growth and transformation. It helps readers relate to you.
  • Self-Help and Development: For authors focusing on self-help and personal development, the journey provides a blueprint for guiding readers through their own process of self-discovery and improvement. Like with fiction, the Heroine’s Journey makes the transformation of the character (you, and them) make sense.
  • Universal Themes: The Heroine’s Journey taps into universal themes of struggle, discovery, and renewal, which can help nonfiction writers connect with readers on a deep, emotional level. This builds Know-Like-and-Trust for your reader, which is how your book creates a top-of-funnel entry for potential new clients and customers.

Check Out: How Do You Change the World with Your One-of-a-Kind Book?

Stages of the Heroine’s Journey

The Heroine’s Journey is broken down into 3 phases (Descent, Search, and Ascent), each with 3 steps, for a total of 9 steps. It’s a cycle that looks like this:

Image of the Heroine's Journey Cycle by Holly Ostrout
  1. Forced Adaption (Descent): The initial stage where life demands more than can be given without loss. It’s the status quo but strained, the beginning of awareness. Maybe without even realizing it, she’s adapted to a life that demands more from her than she can give without suffering—physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and financially. She keeps on keeping on, and it’s just not serving her.

    Use It: Writers start here to show the protagonist’s or reader’s current state of discomfort or dissatisfaction, setting the stage for their journey.
  2. Too Much (Descent): This is where the heroine realizes her efforts to live up to unrealistic standards are unsustainable. In this stage of the Journey, the Heroine works hard to live up to the requirements of a Hero—things like working herself into the ground, going it completely alone, striving for success over happiness and wellbeing, and choosing her Goal over the potential ruination of her life. She achieves and has success, but the cost is high. Eventually, it becomes too much.

    Use It: A key narrative moment for introducing the main conflict or challenge, offering a catalyst for change.
  3. Shattered Glass (Descent): A crisis that shatters the heroine’s worldview, forcing her to acknowledge that change is necessary. In the Heroine’s Journey, the heroine experiences a crisis that shatters her worldview and ability to cope. It’s a breaking point. But just because it’s a breaking point that’s made her realize something has to change, doesn’t mean she’s accepted HOW MUCH has to change. Instead, she makes an effort to change a little, but for the most part, she hasn’t truly committed to what truly needs to be done. She’s testing the waters of trying something new, while still holding onto her Old Life. Mirrors the 2nd Turning Point.

    Use It: Writers use this to deepen the conflict, highlighting a pivotal moment of realization that drives the narrative forward.
  4. Cut Fingers (Search): Attempting to piece back together her life, the heroine faces setbacks, illustrating the difficulty of her journey. The Heroine tries to pick up the pieces, and sometimes it works; other times she cuts her fingers. She begins trying to fix things with external guidance. A mentor. A virtual assistant. An automation. ChatGPT. It could be anything. The point here is that she’s trying. But this is still a big setback. What is she TRULY up against? We’re starting to see just how hard this will be. Mirrors the 2nd Pinch Point.

    Use It: This step allows writers to explore the heroine’s trials and errors, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity.
  5. Who Am I? (Search): The heroine questions her identity and the authenticity of her path, leading to introspection and self-discovery. On the surface, the Heroine’s achieved a lot by this point, but inside, it doesn’t feel that way. It feels like everything is hard and she’s an imposter who has betrayed herself. She’s been hiding who she really is by trying to perfectly fit her square peg into all the round holes in her life. But now she encounters a crisis that forces her to finally see herself for who she truly is. She must change, or her story will end a tragedy. And here, in this moment, she sees that truth for the first time. This is the Midpoint of the Journey. She sees it and she accepts that it’s true. This is the moment the Heroine will see herself for who she is and make the decision to truly, actually, really do the work she needs to do to get where she needs to go. This is her first real commitment to Change. Mirrors both the 1st and 2nd Turning Points—like the apex of a see-saw.

    Use It: A phase for character development, where writers can delve into internal conflict and the process of self-questioning.
  6. The Underworld (Search): The heroine’s lowest point, where she must confront her deepest fears and insecurities to find her strength. In the Journey, the Heroine has a big setback and we’re reminded again what all of us are up against in our own quests to reach our goals. But the Heroine doesn’t give up. She heals her wounds and listens to trusted advisors to create a plan, but she uses her own skills to enact it. She has descended to the Underworld and reconnected with the Goddess—herself. Now that she’s gone through this and come out the other side, she can do anything, and more importantly: she believes it. Mirrors the 1st Pinch Point.

    Use It: Writers can use this moment to create tension and drama, showing the heroine at her most vulnerable before she begins to ascend.
  7. I Understand (Ascent): Gaining new wisdom from her trials, the heroine begins to see the path forward with clarity. The Heroine returns with the wisdom she gained from her time in the Underworld, and begins to use it for the betterment of herself and others. She puts on her own oxygen mask first because she now understands that she can’t operate as a Hero forever; that just isn’t sustainable. She learns better delegation, compromising, and balancing of her masculine traits and feminine traits. The only thing standing between her truly becoming the Heroine is embodying and actualizing the wisdom she’s received. Mirrors the 1st Turning Point.

    Use It: This revelation moment is crucial for shifting the narrative towards resolution, showing the application of newfound knowledge.
  8. Balanced Adaption (Ascent): The heroine finds harmony between her internal desires and external reality, embracing her true self. In the Journey, the Heroine finds true balance between her masculine and feminine traits, and creates Flow for herself—allowing all things to work easier for her by stepping into her masculine energy when needed, and smoothly flowing right back to feminine after. She can be a Hero when she needs to be—in short bursts and sparingly—but she doesn’t need to hustle so hard anymore because it all fits now.

    Use It: Writers illustrate the heroine’s growth and transformation, demonstrating how she integrates her experiences to move forward.
  9. The Heroine (Ascent): Fully transformed, the heroine uses her journey’s wisdom to impact her world positively. In the Journey, the Heroine has achieved her self-actualization and can now effectively change the world, as has been her goal all along. She stands in her power as a Heroine. She sees the world for what it is, and more importantly, sees herself for who she is. She is truly the Heroine and she creates other Heroines wherever she goes. Whatever she sets her mind to, she can now achieve. Mirrors the Hook.

    Use It: The concluding step where writers showcase the heroine’s or subject’s development, emphasizing the journey’s impact on her and her environment.
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By structuring narratives around these stages of the Heroine’s Journey, you can create compelling stories of transformation that resonate with your readers and your audience. It’s a framework that makes it so much easier to illuminate insights, create change, and bring out growth in both yourself as the author and your readers, too.

Most importantly, the Heroine’s Journey reminds us of the importance of our fellow human—both as sidekick characters and as real, live parts of our own community.

Share in the comments ways you’ve seen the Heroine’s Journey used in books or real life transformations!

Let’s change some lives,

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PS — 🩵 When it feels right, here are 3 ways I can help you turn the page:

  1. The Book Map. Imagine having a GPS for your book-writing journey, guiding you from “I think I have an idea!” all the way to “OMG, I did it! I wrote a book!” That’s what the Book Map can do for you. It’s a supercharged roadmap for your writing journey. It’s not just about outlining chapters; it’s about diving deep into what you want to say and the best way to say it, ensuring every word pulls its weight. You’re not just writing a book; you’re crafting a masterpiece that feels as if it almost writes itself. Ready to make your book dream a reality? Let’s Book Map it!
  2. One-to-One Book Coaching. I have a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching world-changers to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey. I see a future where we build trust in our words, worlds, and work with our books, and where the world becomes a better place because of the books we write. My commitment is to bring to life books—fiction and nonfiction—founded on integrity. I’ll bring the map, and you’ll take us on the journey. If you’re ready to change the world with your book, your quest awaits. Apply for a free discovery call here. It takes 3 minutes.
  3. Listen to the Podcast. The Book Coach Chronicles: A podcast for writers of books, people who want to be writers of books, and y’all in the back who’ve been thinking about it but don’t yet consider yourself a writer. Listen on AppleSpotify, or Everywhere Else.

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Holly Ostrout is a book coach with a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching big-idea entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers, and authors to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey.
Holly Ostrout

Hi I’m Holly. If you’re going to change the world with your book, fiction or nonfiction, I can help you do it.

I'm a book coach for high-achieving, creative coaches, consultants, service providers, speakers, and authors who want to build a sustainable business around their book—whether that’s fiction or nonfiction.

I help you share your wisdom, ideas, and gifts by writing & publishing a life-changing book that helps you streamline your business, bring in more money, and change more lives.

I believe books are the most important human invention. And yours can change the world.

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Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

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Joyful, Easy Writing Can Be Yours

Writing Ritual Tracker from Books & Alchemy

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout
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If You Want to Change the World with Your Book, You've Got to Write It.

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Creator & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.