The Hero’s Journey & The Virgin’s Promise

After some fascinating discussions on Scott Myer’s blog, Go Into The Story, a few weeks back, I invested in a copy of The Virgin’s Promise by Kim Hudson.  I know, I know, it sounds like a Mills & Boon novel, but here’s the subtitle: Writing Stories of Feminine Creative, Spiritual and Sexual Awakening.

So here’s a first for Never Get Off The Bus: a book review!

Essentially, Hudson’s thesis is that there’s a broadly feminine equivalent to the famous Hero’s Journey model of storytelling. This doesn’t necessarily mean stories with female central characters – she mentions many male characters who fit the model –  or even stories aimed at a female audience.  It’s just a model that values traditionally ‘female’ story arenas, values and preoccupations.

If the Hero’s Journey is myth, the Virgin’s Promise is fairy tale: where the Hero goes out into a strange world to prove himself and conquer evil for the good of the community, the Virgin stays home, discovers a talent or facet of her personality that she’s been keeping hidden because of social pressure, and begins to develop it in secret.  Eventually her secret comes out, and traditional, rule-bound society is rocked by this threat – but ultimately the Virgin wins them over, and society changes to accommodate the new, more powerful and fulfilled her.

The films she quotes as adhering to the Virgin’s Promise model include Billy Elliot, Bend It Like Beckham, The Wedding Crashers, Brokeback Mountain, Maid In Manhattan and Sister Act.  She provides step by step breakdowns of the films, detailing how they fit into the thirteen-part structure, and the opening of the book digs into Jungian theory and details twelve archetypes that male and female characters fit into at various stages of their lives, and what their typical stories are, which is interesting stuff in itself.

Is it useful?  Yes, very.  To me, The Virgin’s Promise feels like a model that would work tremendously well for “character-driven” films without a strong plot arc, such as indie dramas or coming of age movies (Hudson discusses coming of age stories in the book, in fact).  It focuses on self-discovery rather than external achievements, emphasizes personal relationships as both a strength and a weakness for the central character, and promotes self-esteem and honesty as the key to changing the world.

It would be fair to say that, for a female writer, I write very “male” stories, in terms of genre, tone and character – and I can still see myself weaving elements of this system into my work from now on.  I can particularly see the value of it for a secondary character (male or female).  While the Protagonist proceeds on the Hero’s Journey, a Sidekick or Attractor character might be exploring the Virgin’s Promise, learning and changing in ways that compliment the Protagonist’s story without repeating beats or interfering with the Hero’s outwards and inwards arc of change.

The book itself does feel a little padded: Part Two, ostensibly a guide to screenwriting, is basic three-act structure with the Virgin’s Promise rehashed throughout it, and Hudson also spends a chapter on the Hero’s Journey itself, which anyone reading this should already be familiar with.  (Though I suppose if you’re not, that makes this book a “two for the price of one”!)

Despite that, I heartily recommend this for anyone who’s mastered all the basic systems and models and is looking for something a little different, and especially for anyone interested in feminist or female-centered stories.


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