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We Are Drawn to the Monomyth

We are drawn to the monomyth because it makes sense and our lives simply don’t. We’re afraid of our own stories because they are unlike the stories we’re familiar with. These two forces create a feedback loop.

The monomyth is the “only story” there is to tell. It is the hero’s journey: a step into the unknown, meeting a mentor, the darkest hour, then triumph, the return home.

Homer’s Iliad is one of the oldest stories to follow this template. You learn about these intricacies whenever you take a fiction writing class. It isn’t a secret. It is just the mechanics of how good stories work. Do it right, and your audience will feel comfort, cohesion, and continuity.

If only our lives were so tidy.

Our lives don’t work this way. Our lives are chaotic things. We meet characters who end up having no impact on the plot. We assume there is a plot. Horrible and wonderful events befall us, completely disconnected from all other events. Our lives offer no exploding Death Stars or melting terminators to signal that we’ve reached our goals.

I posit that the power of goal setting is that it allows us to live out miniature monomyths. The bigger the goal, the more satisfying and intricate the story. Lacking goals, we’re just tumblin’ birds.

I’m presently enjoying a season in life where, simultaneously, a 20-year, a 15-year, a 10-year, a 4-year, and multiple less-than-three-month goals are coming to fruition.

It feels like I’m on the last few pages of the book. That feeling used to be terrifying and empty. Now, I feel only energy and awe. All these little hero’s journeys are wrapping up. I’m eager to start more.

Since we tell each other stories that make perfect sense, our lives tend to feel like hot messes in comparison. I love a good mystery novel, but the celestial machinery of reality doesn’t issue puzzles with all the pieces included.

Is there a way to tell stories that are satisfying, but more closely resemble life? What would happen if we took a break from the monomyth? What would it mean to tell stories based around community instead of heroism? Threads instead of arcs? Harmony instead of conflict?

I’ve started exploring this in my practices. After all, what is the traditional pop song structure but another manifestation of the monomyth? And what is the expository blog post but the same?

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