song in my head — “Duality” by Bayside
I opened things up with beginnings. Now let’s be devious and skip to the end.
There's a fundamental idea prevalent in modern storytelling which coincidently finds its origins in ancient forms of storytelling. Hollywood, in particular, loves this structure, and I'm sure you've experienced it, even if you think you haven't.
It’s called The Hero's Journey.
In short, if you've seen Star Wars, you've seen The Hero's Journey.
There are many steps on this path of the proverbial hero, and they go by many names. I’ll expound on them all at one point or another of this there is no doubt. However, today I want to focus on the last step: Returning With the Elixir. In other words: The End. The journey is complete. The hero has succeeded.
But what does it mean for the hero to return? And what exactly has she returned with?
It’s no big secret that storytelling in its many traditions has often been used as a proxy for real life, that the journeys and growths of fictional characters mirror our own lived experiences, and that by investing in their telling, we can come to understand ourselves better. In other words, if you’re breathing, you are the hero. You are on a quest, as uneventful an adventure it may sometimes seem. This life is your story.
Writers and creators hopefully understand this better than most, especially in regards to our craft. We set out on a quest from our Ordinary World into a New World, the world of our imagination, embarking with little or no idea as to where we are headed. We face dragons and obstacles and Resistance; we make friends with the fictions in our heads, and we fall in love; we reach the Point of No Return or The Dark Night of The Soul, and we press on anyway; we face death and are reborn. And when it’s all said and done, we return with a finished tale (the elixir.)
Now, if your someone who views your work solely as a product (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that), then the physical (or digital) output of your finished tale is most likely your elixir. It's the completed thing, the thing you’re ready to share.
But if you feel as I do that a story can be more, then perhaps the elixir itself is something more, something less tangible. Something magical and medicinal, as the name suggests. Something that helps and inspires others. Something that ultimately saves us all.
In the story (and in life), the hero doesn't always "return" precisely to the place or the community in which they began. But they do come back. They do find their tribe. They do deliver the goods.
For heroes as for writers, you don't always have to go home again. But you do have to return.
Because the world needs what you're bringing with you.