Developing Your Hero's Journey Story


If you haven’t watched it already please watch I highly recommend you watch my short 3-minute video on YouTube: Why Storytelling that explains 5 of the key-reasons storytelling is such an important tool (yes, it’s in the course as well).

Here’s the link:

“The stories we tell literally make the world. If you want to change the world you need to change your story.” - Michael Margolis


Why should we listen to Michael? He’s the CEO and Founder of Get Storied where he’s worked with hundreds of organizations, 15 countries, and trained 60,000 leaders including Google, Bloomberg, Greenpeace, and the UN Foundation – leaders like you who are interested in making the world a better place. He does it with storytelling.

Masterful storytelling is quite frankly one of the most powerful tools you can use to help change hearts and minds and turn harmful behavior into positive ones. 

The Best Stories for You to Craft are Hero’s Journeys

 They uplift and encourage. Think of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Harry Potter, Black Panther, Cinderella, Beauty & the Beast – it goes on and on.

Of the 7 classic story arcs of all time, 5 of them are Hero’s Journeys. That’s right all stories that have stood the test of time fall into these 7 classic story arcs.

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 Greta Thunberg’s Hero’s Journey

16-year-old Greta Thunberg is a young woman from Sweden who has launched a world-wide movement of school children taking Fridays off to strike for climate change.

Greta’s struggle and overcoming is that she suffered a huge depression at 11 when she realized climate change was real, and not much was being done to combat it. She lost 40 lbs (so much she stunted her growth) and didn’t start to recover until she decided to do something – taking Fridays off to strike outside of her own parliament.  Tens of thousands of school children are now joining her.

This screenshot is from Greta’s Twitter recently with her sharing a quote from a new article on her in the Financial Times. Within 1 hour of it being posted it had been shared over 400 times.

Your Mission if You Want to Transform Your Work

Is to discover your own Hero’s Journey stories, those of your network, and those you serve, and develop them into short compelling pieces you can then share in your communications and presentations. Like the one I just shared. It will transform your impact.

To find your first story start with your why. (Download the questions here)


One) What’s your official “polished” origin story you tell about this work you do?

Two) When did biking, walking or taking public transit most memorably give you a sense of freedom, independence and fun?

Note: This can be childhood memory.

Three) When did active mobility transform your life for the better?

3-A) Was it an easy or a tough choice?

3-B) What challenges did have you had to face?

3-C) How has it surprised and delighted you?

3-4) How has it helped you see the world in new ways?

Take the time to write out your answers to these questions as part of your rough draft.

Now let’s look at the step-by-step process to craft your rough notes into a story.

The Hero’s Journey is a Story

The Hero’s Journey always has a beginning, middle and an end. Without this it’s not a story. It’s usually shaped like a triangle, which we’ll use for our course.

The Hero’s Journey Follows a Narrative Arc

This is the structure of the plot, how things unfold in the timeline. The stories that we humans find most interesting (for thousands of years) follow a similar pattern to this. To make your own stories truly compelling you need to map them to this narrative arc.

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1)     Exposition, setting the scene: Often this tells us of a “normal” that gets disturbed, but not always. Sometimes things begin bad, with a longing for something better. Greta Thunberg is a smart young woman growing up in Sweden, but she’s the sort no one notices. She sits at the back of the class.

2)     Rising action, or inciting incidence: This is your hook to catch your audience’s attention. Something happens to challenge the hero – Greta learns climate change is real and becomes depressed.

3)     Climax (also known as the turning point): This does three things A) It’s the height of the story’s action B) It answers the story’s biggest questions C) It marks the beginning of the story’s decent into resolution. Greta begins to overcome her depression by leaving school on Fridays to strike outside of her parliament.

4)     Falling action: This is when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, but at least one more twist in the road brings a challenge. Leading scientists agree we only have ten years to cool down our planet’s temperature or face dire consequences, the clock is ticking.

5)     Resolution:  All Hero’s Journey stories must have an ending that wraps up the story. It doesn’t have to be happily ever after, but it is for today. Tens of thousands of school children from around the world are joining Greta’s call to action, as well as journalist and world leaders.

You Must Include Your Struggle & Overcoming

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Consider this: without kryptonite there’s no Superman. You must be authentic enough to share what you’ve struggled with and overcome in order to make people care, and for them to see themselves in your story.

Alchemy Begins…

Turning your story into gold when you map your stories to this narrative arc. Make them short and compelling. A good rule of thumb is:

  • 1-3 paragraphs for email newsletters,

  • 3-5 paragraphs for blogs

  • 3-5 minutes for spoken word stories for conversations, presentations, and interviews.

The Magic Unfolds When…

You do the following three things:

1)     Frame your story for impact

2)     Tune into sense memory

3)     Drop your jargon

Frame for impact

Even using the narrative arc to map out your Hero’s Journey it’s easy to fall into the trap of sharing too much extemporaneous “fluff” that isn’t interesting to anyone but ourselves.

By framing our story, we step back out of the weeds and recognize that the stories that engage the most people jump in very close to the action. You can do the same. Don’t give lots of back story just set the scene.

Tune into sense memory

Master storytelling coach Bobette Bruster in her fantastic book on storytelling “Do Story” recommends you zoom in on one sense memory that stands out for you and amplify that. What did you hear, see, smell, taste?

And focusing on that sense memory sets you up nicely to…

Ditch your jargon

Replace every acronym, piece of jargon, and any insider baseball talk with easy to understand and interestingly description language. Don’t leave people out because they can’t understand what you’re talking about.

Keep in mind that most television is written so that it’s easily understandable to a ten-year old.

Greta Thunberg’s Inspiring Children Around the World

Tens of thousands are joining in. Each Friday more children join in. More than students are starting to listen.

What project or program can “Hero’s Journey” stories help galvanize your own advocacy and help it inspire fresh audiences?

Think of these stories of your own, your team, your network, who you serve, as a key part of your new communications strategy.

Begin to layer them into your conversations, blogs, newsletters (email + print), articles, and live presentations.

Again, a good rule of thumb:

  • 3-5 minutes for a spoken story

  • 3-5 paragraphs for a blog

  • 1-3 paragraphs for a newsletter

Why Storytelling Matters

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Our brains are wired for storytelling. It turns out storytelling is literally wired into our human DNA. Let’s look at 5 key reasons why:

1)   Neural coupling: When listening to, reading, or watching a story, the part of the brain activates that allows us to turn the story into our own experience.

This is why so many of us feel the “force” within for Star Wars.

2)   Mirroring: When listening to, reading or watching a story we have similar brain activity to others engaged with the same story – and when it’s a live event – to the storyteller themselves.

Storytelling breeds compassion.

3)   Dopamine: When our brains encounter an emotionally charged event such as a story it releases dopamine which makes it much easier for us to remember it. Emotion drives giving, especially of our attention spans.

4)   Cortex activity: When we’re engaged in a story it activates more parts of the brain than when our brains are processing facts alone. An activated brain means a more engaged heart. Emotion trumps logic.

5) Storytelling quiets your audience’s inner critic: According to Robert McKee, one of the world’s most respected screenwriters and storytelling coaches, the problem with sticking to the facts in your presentations is that while you’re sharing your data your audience is likely arguing with you in their heads.

A story instead, relaxes your audience, allowing them to pay much better attention.

Why storytelling?

Masterful storytelling is quite frankly one of the most powerful tools we can use to help change hearts and minds and begin to change harmful behavior into more positive ones.

And it’s also one of the best ways we can get a great return on investment, even when we’re working with limited budgets.

Sources and further reading:

One Spot Infographic:

Robert McKee on storytelling: