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The physical and emotional threads of the archetypal hero's journey: proposing common terminology and re-examining the narrative model

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This article will discuss how, in mainstream film screenplays, the protagonist undergoes both an actual, physical journey and an internal, emotional journey, pulled together by the invisible hand of the screenwriter in order to create the complete narrative experience. Central to the article is an evaluation of how character transformation (arc) is positioned against physical action (plot), arguing that the two can be mapped out as individual yet symbiotic threads of a narrative: the physical and the emotional journeys.

After mapping the territory of what is already written on this subject, the works of Joseph Campbell and his protg Christopher Vogler (Clayton 2007: 210) will be drawn together to offer a re-examination of the model of the Hero's Journey. Assessing these two narrative threads (physical and emotional) as both distinct and symbiotic, it will be clear that a special relationship exists between plot and character, where character transformation is encouraged to take place within the frame of the physical action of the plot. The substance of such a transformation, the emotional core of the narrative experience, is what lives on in the audience, post-text; the physical action of a film story may frame emotion, but emotion has the power to break the frame and take on a life of its own.
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Keywords: character arc; emotional journey; narrative; physical journey; story; structure

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: The Media School, Bournemouth University.

Publication date: May 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Screenwriting aims to explore the nature of writing for the moving image in the broadest sense, highlighting current academic thinking around scriptwriting whilst also reflecting on this with a truly international perspective and outlook. The journal will encourage the investigation of a broad range of possible methodologies and approaches to studying the scriptwriting form, in particular: the history of the form, contextual analysis, the process of writing for the moving image, the relationship of scriptwriting to the production process and how the form can be considered in terms of culture and society. The journal also aims to encourage research in the field of screenwriting, the linking of scriptwriting practice to academic theory, and to support and promote conferences and networking events on this subject.
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