As mentioned in my last two posts, I’m going through 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. In addition to the list of character archetypes the book contains what might be considered two plot archetypes, based on the stories of two Sumerian gods, Inanna and Gilgamesh. These are referred to as the Feminine Journey and the Masculine Journey.
The Masculine Journey is based on the epic of Gilgamesh, one of the oldest recorded myths in history. In it the hero gathers allies and tools and sets out toward a goal. He faces death and either endures a transformation to become reborn and victorious, or he rebels against inner growth and finds failure. (Compare this to the Feminine Journey, discussed in my last post, which is modeled around the descent to the underworld of Gilgamesh’s wife Inanna.)
The basic outline of the Masculine Journey is given as this:
Act I: Challenge
- The Perfect World
- Friends and Enemies
- The Call
Act II: Obstacles
- Small Success
Act III: Transformation
- Death – a Fork in the Road
- Awaken or Rebel
- Victory or Failure
I find a few things interesting about this journey:
- The hero starts on his journey by choice. Maybe something bad happens, but the choice to stay the course or get involved is all up to him. The dissatisfaction is internal. A woman leaving an abusive marriage is setting off on a masculine journey.
- There’s a lot of trial and error on the masculine journey. (You could say it is all trials and errors!) There are many decision points, including points at which the hero is invited to depart on a Feminine Journey in order to transform himself into the type of person who can accomplish his goal.
- At the climax of the story the hero is given an opportunity to “choose poorly.” He is forced to choose between something he holds dear (some element of his identity, a cherished belief, a close friend) and his goal. The result of that decision determines whether he accepts transformation and achieves victory or refuses to change himself and fails at his quest.
Be careful not to fall into the B movie trap. Low budget films abound with tough guy heroes who run along a plotline, killing and fighting without a shred of remorse, who get the girl and all the glory in the end. These stories take a hero who has chosen failure and give him rewards.
In addition to the Gilgamesh myth the author uses several well-known stories to illustrate the Masculine Journey, including Star Wars and Moby-Dick.
The Masculine Journey requires character development and transformation of the hero, but the focus is more on external events than the inner struggle. I find this more satisfying (more explosions!) but I don’t see any problem with having a Feminine Journey embedded in the story as well. Let the hero save the world along with saving his own soul.
My posts have only very lightly touched on the Feminine and Masculine Journeys, but I hope I’ve helped you get a sense of what each is. What is your preference? Do you prefer the inner struggle of Chick Lit, or the driving suspense of James Bond? Do stories have to have some deep meaning to be good? What do you think are good examples of each type of journey?