[00:00:00] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host, Tim Grahl, and I am a writer and publisher at Story Grid. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne. He is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 30 years’ experience.
In this episode, we dive into Quadrant 4 of the Heroic Journey 2.0. We made a big error several months ago when we just kind of stopped recording for several months, where we’re talking about the Heroic Journey and we talked about Quadrant 1, Quadrant 2, and Quadrant and then we never got to Quadrant 4. We correct that error in this episode. We talked a little bit about the Heroic Journey 2.0 overall, how that interacts and how it’s different from the Story Grid Trinity. Then we go through Quadrant 4 of the Heroic Journey 2.0. If you’re one of the several people that have emailed us about the fact that we left you all hanging, I’m so sorry about that. We are correcting that error in this episode.
Also, I just want to mention that our newest book at Story Grid Publishing is out. Actually, it came out yesterday. It’s The Story Microscope. It’s by Story Grid certified editor, Kimberly Kessler. It’s all about how to use the Story Grid spreadsheet to analyze your novel or a masterwork. If you’ve ever tried to use the spreadsheet and struggled with how to actually fill out all of those columns, this is the book for you. You can go to storygrid.com/books and you can pick up your copy of The Story Microscope. Okay. Let’s jump into this episode and talk about Quadrant 4 of the Heroic Journey 2.0
[00:01:46] TG: Shawn, back in December, we were working through the Heroic Journey 2.0, then we just stopped recording for four or five months or whatever, then picked back up with the Trinity. We had several people who are like, “Hey! You left me hanging. You talked about the first three quadrants of Heroic Journey but not the fourth.” I thought it might be good to just jump in and do a quick overview of Heroic Journey 2.0 and then talk about the fourth quadrant.
[00:02:19] SC: Okay. Let me just frame the concepts. One of the things that came up, we’ve been working on sharing the Trinity seminar that’s coming up in August. One of the questions was, what’s the difference between this Trinity stuff that you’re talking about and the Heroic Journey 2.0 that you’ve already established. Unfortunately, I haven’t really been very clear about that. Let me just clarify that right now, then I’ll get into the Heroic Journey 2.00. I’ll give an overview, and then I’ll get into the details of the fourth quadrant.
If you look at the big picture, the big picture of story structure is generally considered to be called the meta-myth. The meta-myth is all that stuff that Carl Jung was talking about and Corbin, and Paul Tillich and Joseph Campbell. Essentially, it’s the individuation process that has been shared throughout time. So like, for thousands of years, stories have been told and people like Jung, and Corbin and everybody, they examined all these stories. Then they said, “Well, what do all these stores have in common?” They write them all and then they picked out all the elements that were similar. This is what has become the meta-myth.
Carl Jung came up with this idea of the individuation process, which is his conception of the meta-myth. Then Joseph Campbell took that theory, which is very heady, very abstracted and people can get lost in it because you really have to put your thinking cap on to be able to follow it. What Campbell did it is that he took Jung and Corbin’s kind of stuff and he made it more practical. He came up with the procedures of the heroic journey or The Hero’s Journey in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. That’s a great title, because what he is explaining is that there are thousands of heroic figures that all have the same function.
He came up with The Hero’s Journey and famously, George Lucas used that practice to create Star Wars. George Lucas talked to Joseph Campbell a lot and he consulted with him to make sure that he was hitting all those hero’s call, hero’s journey, refusing all the call, all that stuff, which I’ll get into for a second.
The reason why I’m explaining this, this is the meta-myth. It’s the myth from which all stories sort of follow thematically and metaphorically throughout time. A masterwork for example, what we call masterworks at Story Grid, these follow the meta-myth and they metaphorically follow this Heroic Journey structure. What the Heroic Journey 2.0 is, is I’ve taken what Jung did, what Campbell did, what Corbin did, what Tillich did and I’ve tried to synthesize so I could get rid of the archaic stuff. Because my fear is that we’re going throw the baby out with the bathwater because there are a lot of archaic notions in Campbell’s formulation of the Heroic Journey. It’s not really matching what we experience today.
There’s a lot like colonialization. [Inaudible 00:05:42] metaphor in there like, returning with the treasurer after the hero goes to some other foreign place, steals the treasure and comes back home and shares it. That’s not really cool. It’s not accurate for what Jung was talking about. It wasn’t about a result-oriented thing. People confuse Campbell, and I think Campbell was a little confused. Campbell made it a result. Hero’s Journey for Campbell is like, there’s a result at the end where the hero returns with treasure for his or her people, and everybody’s happy. Whereas, Jung was not talking about a result. He was talking about a process. His process-driven individuation process, he called it the individuation process is about leveling up your growth. It’s about becoming better than you were yesterday and constantly aspiring to higher levels of competency across all kinds of domains. It’s really about becoming a better person.
Whereas Campbell’s was more getting a result, and then ugh, and they lived happily ever after sort of. Anyway, that’s the meta-myth. Now, what’s the Trinity. Okay. We have the meta-myth at the top and then we’ve got this thing that I call jara write underneath the meta-myth. Jara are very specific domains of interest and value to us as homo sapiens. We value justice, we value getting along with other people, we value love, we value competence. We’ve got like 23 jaras. That’s underneath the meta-myth, so it’s sort of like, you use the meta-myth to guide you as you’re creating a genre story, which is propositional. Meaning, you have a clear destination in mind. I’m going to write a crime story, so I’m going to use this propositional value and I’m going to show how it changes throughout the story. It’s very like top-down kind thinking.
Underneath jara, there is this stuff. This is the stuff that’s the Trinity and the Trinity comes from the participatory and prospect [inaudible 00:08:04] experience of being a homo sapiens. It’s not in your head, it’s about the way you experience the world. Literally the way you take in sensory information, the way you process it and then what you do about it, the connection between your processing and what the world is giving you. The Trinity is very foundational. We’ve got Trinity at the very bottom, then we’ve got jara and then we’ve got Heroic Journey 2.0. That’s sort of the sandwich.
Now we’re going to talk about Heroic Journey 2.0 to pick up the fourth quadrant, which is, what is the ending payoff in Story Grid terms What happens in the fourth quadrant at the Heroic Journey 2.0? It’s the time when the heroic figure now actualizes their transformational change that they’ve just experience at the end of the third quadrant. Let me just briefly go over the four quadrants and then I’ll turn over the fourth again. In the first quadrant of the Heroic Journey, we have things like the Call to Adventure, it’s the beginning of the story. Our heroic protagonist is called to adventure. Being a human being, being an avatar of a human being, that protagonist is going to do what we would do, which is refuse it. “No, thank you. I’m good.”
[00:09:38] TG: Right. Exactly.
[00:09:39] SC: All right. Then what happens is that their usual way of behaving doesn’t work so well and people are getting — the environment is not giving them the validation that they usually get. So they have to face a choice. This is the crisis of at the beginning. The choice is, do I go on this journey and satisfy the demands of the environment, or do I just stay here and not do anything. It’s sort of like this this red pill, blue pill kind of idea. Take the red pill and go on this journey, and try and discover reality or you can take the blue pill and just be yourself.
Now, obviously this is a heroic journey story so they always take the red pill, right? And they are usually forced against their will to take the red pill. Luke Skywalker is not really interested in going with Obi-Wan Kenobi to save Princess Leia until there’s a very nasty thing that happens, his family is killed and he’s like, “Geez! What am I going to do? I have to revenge the death of my family.” Then he goes on it. All right. That’s the crisis in the beginning and then they make the choice, that’s the climax. Luke says, “Yes, I’ll go with you Obi-Wan.” Then they leave. That’s the first quadrant.
Then the second quadrant is, what happens after they leave. And in the second quadrant, what happens is that things start to get really overwhelming for the protagonist. They go into a brand-new experience, there so much information flying at them that their procedures, the things that the usually do to behave to get what they want start to fail, and they escalate in progression of failure. They fail, fail, fail until they hit a place, which is called the midpoint climax, where nothing works for them anymore. Their engine of operating system in their minds is no longer working so it crashes. It’s sort of this point of no return because now, the engine of their procedures, the things that they do to get what they want isn’t working anymore and it’s not going to work the way it once did. It’s a point of no return. You cannot have knowledge. Once you discover that you’ve been living under falsity, you can’t go back and believe that falsity.
[00:12:05] TG: Right. Yeah.
[00:12:07] SC: That’s why it’s called the point of no return, like I could believe I’m going to be a professional football player like I did when I was 14. Now, I can’t do that because I’m 57. I can’t believe that falsity anymore. When I discovered that I didn’t have the skills to become a professional football player, shortly thereafter, it was a point of no return. Then I had to shift my frame of reference, right?
[00:12:32] TG: Yeah. Once you finally see the truth that this isn’t working anymore, then you’re faced with like, “Okay. Now what?”
[00:12:39] SC: Yeah. It’s kind of what I call terrible knowledge. When what you thought was true and you’ve been building your life around that truth, and you discover that it’s not true, it’s kind of a terrible knowledge situation because it completely undermines you, which brings us to the third quadrant, right?
[00:12:54] TG: I just turned 40. I’m facing that, yeah.
[00:12:59] SC: Once you get the terrible knowledge at the midpoint climax in the Heroic Journey 2.0, then what happens is you go right down. The third quadrant is really about the falling to chaos. The chaotic system is random, it doesn’t appear to have any patterns whatsoever to it. Things happen willy-nilly, and so the character, the heroic figure falls into this well of chaos. It’s sort of like when Gandalf is fighting the Balrog in Lord of the Rings and he thinks that he slayed the Balrog. Then he famously gets that whip around his leg and the Balrog pulls him off the edge. Then Gandalf fall. That’s thematically and metaphorically what happens to the protagonist at the midpoint climax and the third quadrant is all about that dissent.
It’s about the blowing up of the operating system of the hero in the third quadrant until they get all the way down to the bottom of themselves and they have what I call the existential crisis. The existential crisis is this moment when the heroic figure comes to the bottom of themselves and asked themselves this question, what is the point of my existence? I don’t understand why I’m here when everything is chaotic and I have no control. What is the point? It’s a very, very deep dive to the very bottom of yourself.
The only way that you can have a new operating system is for the heroic figure to get all the way down to the bottom. They hit that existential crisis and what happens then is kind of what I call the noumenal event. In the noumenal event, something occurs to them, revelatory moment comes to them. It’s like in the movie, Rocky. The end of the third quadrant, Rocky is about to face Apollo Creed, it’s the night before the fight and he looks and there’s no way he’s going to beat Apollo Creed. He comes to that deep truth, right? He’s like, “I don’t know what to do. There’s no way I can win this fight. I’m going to get destroyed. What’s the point? Should I really fight this fight? Then he has a revelatory moment, when he realizes, “Oh! Well, who am I? What is my special sauce?” He discovers, “Oh! I’m a fighter. That’s what I do” so I can take a beating.
That’s what the revelatory moment for Rocky is like, “I don’t have to win the fight. I just have to last 15 rounds.” It’s a beautiful moment because, yeah, it’s not about the results, it’s just the process. “I have to keep fighting until the final bell. That’s my job.” It’s a beautiful metaphor for life. That’s what we have to do. We have to keep fighting until the final bell. Then now, we’re getting into the ending payoff. The end of the third quadrant, the heroic figure understands themselves and they have a new operating system. The new operating system is just keep fighting for Rock.
[00:16:25] TG: Right, yeah.
[00:16:26] SC: Just hang in there. Take your beating, give as good as you get as the best you can and hang in there until the final bell. You’re not going to win win. What does that mean anyway? All right. So now we go into the ending payoff. What happens is, now the heroic figure operationalizes that new operating system, meaning they proceduralize their new thinking. Rocky goes into the fight and he’s like, my job is to survive. He’s not worried about winning, and guess what happens. At the very beginning hook of the ending payoff of Rocky, he hits Apollo Creed in a very vulnerable place and he knocks him down and he can’t believe it.
But then, so there’s this beautiful moment and that’s the inciting incident of the ending payoff of Rocky. which is the big fight right, it’s a performance story. That’s the inciting incident, and then he really takes his beating because now, he’s woken the giant and Apollo Creed is not wimp. Apollo Creed is far more powerful than Rocky. He has far more skills than Rocky. The first stage of this ending payoff is called, no holds barred, drop-down bubble up of super call to adventure. Now, that’s a very, very long phrase. But it just means a similar thing that happened at the beginning hook that started this journey emerges at the ending payoff.
The beginning hook of Rocky is, he gets the call to adventure, come fight Apollo Creed. Now, in the ending payoff, the call to adventure is, now you’re fighting him. It’s just an escalation of the original inciting incident. That’s what I mean no holds barred. Now he’s like, he’s not confused. He’s full bore, “I’m on my call to adventure. I’ve got a plan. I’ve got an operating system. I believe in myself. I got the skills to do this. I’m just going to survive this fight.” It’s no holds barred. He’s not constraining himself. He’s not constraining his agency at this point he feels at one, he feels like he’s on a mission. He’s operationalizing this new revelatory understanding of himself.
Okay. Then after that, bang, bang, bang. The second is the acceptance of the inevitability of loss. What that means is that the heroic figure, they go into the ending pay off and they think, “Hey! It’s going to be cool. I’m just going to do my thing and we’ll see what happens.” But guess what happens, is there’s always loss associated with the dissolution of an old thing. Rocky gets a lot of physical loss. He gets beaten to a pulp. He lose his eyesight, right?
[00:19:29] TG: Yeah, yeah.
[00:19:31] SC: He loses his eyesight, and so he could have quit. “Hey! I can’t see. I’ve lost my eyesight.” But no, what does he do? He’s like, “I’m doubling down, man. I’ve accepted that I might never see again by cutting my eye open. I’m starting to get emotional because I need to keep fighting. I made a pledge. I have an ethos that says I’m going to go to the end. I’ll sacrifice my eye in order to continue this fight” and he does.
Then what happens is that, the big thing at the end is the crisis, is the net calculation, which results in a greater amount of agency, and which captures the greatest amount of agency. The heroic figure reaches a crisis and it’s just what I explained. The crisis for Rock is, “If I continue to fight, I might lose my eyesight.” That could really constrain my ability to be agentic figure in the future. I’m basically losing a big part of my body for what? Is the sacrifice worth it?” He’s doing a net agency calculation and he is going beyond himself at this point.
He’s thinking — he’s not really thinking this because he’s in the middle of the fight, but thematically in terms of heroic journey, this is the big idea here. He’s thinking to himself, “If I quit this fight, then I can save some of my agency and nobody will be upset about it. But he doesn’t make that choice. Instead, he makes a calculation that says, “But if I can survive, that will make me much larger than I was before I started this fight. I’m going to grow.” Then thematically, all of the people watching Rocky on that stage, watching him fight, watching him sacrifices his eye to continue the fight. What does that do?
That becomes a symbolic representation of the heroic way of being, such that when they face a similar problem in their lives, they might say to themselves, “What would Rocky Balboa do in this situation?” Would he sacrifice a little bit of his agency to make other people agentic figures? Yeah, he would. That’s the big moment in the story. He gets cut, that’s the release. He releases his gift to the world in that moment. It’s painful.
Now, the counter is the anti-heroic figure doesn’t. But what’s beautiful about Rocky is that, Apollo Creed has a transformation simultaneous with Rocky in that final battle. Apollo Creed is sort of the anti-heroic sort of antagonist throughout the story. But what happens is that, he has a transformation in the fight and at the end, Rocky and Apollo Creed hug. Now, Carl Jung would say, “That’s the integration of shadow.” Right?
[00:23:04] TG: Yeah. You know I watch UFC sporadically with my kids and sometimes Candace, my wife is in the room. She’s like, “I don’t understand how after they — like they’re all bloody —” well, even in this last UFC match, a guy broke his arm. Like the one guy broke the other guy’s arm and that’s how the match ended. At the end of the fight, the guy with the broken arm went over and like hugged the guy that just broke his arm with his good arm, his one good arm and like told him he had a great fight and they stood there together at the end. Candace is always like, “How do they that? Like they just beat the shit out of each other for five rounds. Then at the end, it’s like they’re hugging.”
[00:23:52] SC: Yeah. The way I would say that is the reason why people are attracted to those kinds of really life-and-death choices, is because they ascend to a spiritual realm. Because the body starts turning off pain. When you’re in a physical conflict, your body doesn’t even really process the pain. You feel the pain later of course. But in the moment, your body is just trying to pay attention to the horizon of intelligibility in the fight. So you can’t really give energy to the pain mechanism. At the end of the fight, they are both so spiritually transcendent, like that guy is never going to forget that fight and UFC fans won’t either.
This is the ending payoff and you can see how it can produce catharsis, because the heroic figure is literally sacrificing their agentic being in the service of expanding agency for the species. When you do this in a story, extraordinarily well and it’s a masterwork, then the avatar becomes a representative symbol that strangers that you’ve never met place inside of their minds and use as aspirational figures to model their behavior on. This is the importance of stories.
The better we can create these stories such that this heroic journey is really, really perfectly pitched, perfectly signaled, and then we get symbolic representations of the avatars in those stories in the minds of other people, then people will start referring to that model of symbol when they start facing challenges in real life, in their own lives. It’s like that famous thing. What would Jesus do? That’s an internalization so that you can refer to as sage, who will give you advice through their motions that they performed in real life or in fictional life.
You see like how that’s meta-mythic. It’s the big story of what? Having a meaningful life, pursuing growth of yourself across multiple domains and sacrificing illusion, and power and just kind of dumb ideas, so that you can gain agency. As you’re gaining agency, you can become a symbolic representation for other people and they can go, “I don’t know if I want to start a business. Let me read this book by Tim Grahl called Running Down a Dream” and you don’t lie in that book. You’re like, “Here’s the cold hard truth of starting your own business.” I mean, that’s how we wrote that book. I’m like, you can’t lie to the people and tell them it’s easy. The best way to tell the truth is to tell the truth and you’re like, “Really? I’ve got to do that?” And you did and people just really love that book because you’re not lying to them.
You see how the Heroic Journey is a meta-myth that goes beyond categories of genre, categories of nonfiction and it’s actually a really great thing to use in your own life. That was Jung’s point. What Tillich did is, he said, “Once you get your individuation stuff going, once you start leveling up your cognitive capabilities, and your physical capabilities in your spiritual capabilities. Now what you got to do is to that in the world, participate in the world.” You’ve got individuation, then you’ve got participation so that other people can map themselves onto that process.
The ending payoff of the heroic journey is the actuality of participatory procedural movements in the world. Walking the walk, not talking the talk. Literally walking the walk in participation in the arena. That’s why Rocky is so good, because it’s literally a fighting arena. You got to get in the arena and do your thing. Once you have your revelatory moment of after you hit the bottom, like you didn’t quit when you had people knocking on the door saying, “Hey! You owe us money. Did you quit?” You wanted to, but you’re sort of like, “Well, I’m not a quitter,” like you hit that moment and you’re like, “Well, I just can’t quit, so I’m just going to dig myself out of this as best as I can and I’m going to focus on the things I can control.” Then you iterated that in the world and now you know how to run a business and it’s not like a big deal to you like it was before.
[END OF EPISODE]
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