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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Shefski

The Heroine’s Journey vs. The Hero’s Journey in Screenwriting


Clockwise: Wild, Eat Pray Love, Under the Tuscan Sun, Julie and Julia


The Hero’s Journey (Joseph Campbell) and the Heroine’s Journey (Maureen Murdock) are two distinct narrative frameworks that represent the paths taken by the main characters in stories. While both share some similarities, they also have key differences.

Here are five differences between the Hero’s Journey and the Heroine’s Journey in storytelling:


Gender and Perspective:

  • Hero’s Journey: Traditionally, the Hero’s Journey has been associated with male protagonists and their adventures. It often reflects a more masculine perspective on storytelling.

  • Heroine’s Journey: The Heroine’s Journey, on the other hand, is specifically centered around female protagonists and their experiences. It explores themes and challenges that are typically associated with women’s journeys.

Motivation and Goals:

  • Hero’s Journey: The hero often embarks on a journey primarily driven by external goals, such as saving the world, defeating a villain, or achieving a specific quest. The focus is on achieving a tangible objective.

  • Heroine’s Journey: The heroine’s journey often revolves around inner growth and self-discovery. Her goals may be more internal, such as finding her identity, reclaiming her power, or healing emotional wounds.

Relationships and Allies:

  • Hero’s Journey: In the Hero’s Journey, allies and companions are often important for the hero’s success, but they typically serve as secondary characters or mentors who guide and assist the hero.

  • Heroine’s Journey: Relationships, particularly with other women, play a significant role in the Heroine’s Journey. Female friendships and mentorships are central, and they often provide emotional support and empowerment to the heroine.

Conflict and Antagonists:

  • Hero’s Journey: The hero frequently confronts external antagonists, such as monsters or villains, and the conflict is often physical and action-oriented.

  • Heroine’s Journey: The conflict in the Heroine’s Journey can be more nuanced and internal, dealing with issues like self-doubt, societal expectations, or personal trauma. Antagonists may include oppressive societal norms or personal demons.

Resolution and Transformation:

  • Hero’s Journey: The hero typically undergoes a transformation and returns to the ordinary world, bringing back some external prize or boon. The focus is on external change or achievement.

  • Heroine’s Journey: The heroine’s transformation is often more focused on internal growth, self-acceptance, and empowerment. She may not necessarily return to the ordinary world but instead finds a new place or way of being that aligns with her authentic self.



Now let’s take a look at the breakdown of the Heroine’s Journey in the screenplay, “Wild.”

“Wild” is a screenplay and film based on the memoir “Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. The story follows Cheryl Strayed, played by Reese Witherspoon, as she embarks on a solo hike along the Pacific Crest Trail to heal from personal trauma and find herself. Cheryl’s journey in “Wild” aligns with many aspects of the Heroine’s Journey, as follows:


Internal Struggle and Wounding: At the beginning of the story, Cheryl is emotionally and psychologically wounded. She’s grappling with the loss of her mother, the breakdown of her marriage, and a spiral into self-destructive behavior, including drug addiction and promiscuity. This inner turmoil represents the initial state of wounding, a common element in the Heroine’s Journey.


The Call to Adventure: Cheryl’s decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail is her response to the call to adventure. This call is not about external events or a grand quest but rather an internal longing for healing, self-discovery, and transformation. It’s driven by her desire to find herself and make sense of her life.


Female Relationships and Allies: Throughout her journey, Cheryl encounters and forms bonds with other women hikers. These relationships play a significant role in her growth and healing. Her interactions with other women, especially her encounters with fellow hikers, provide emotional support and connection, reflecting the importance of female relationships in the Heroine’s Journey.


Encounters with the Feminine Divine: In the Heroine’s Journey, there is often an encounter with the feminine divine or a source of feminine power. For Cheryl, this is symbolized by her memories of her mother and her reflection on her mother’s strength. These memories and her connection with her mother’s spirit serve as a source of guidance and inspiration.


Self-Discovery and Healing: Cheryl’s journey along the Pacific Crest Trail is not just a physical trek but also a journey of self-discovery and healing. She confronts her inner demons, faces her past mistakes, and learns to forgive herself. Her transformation is about reclaiming her identity, shedding her self-destructive habits, and finding self-acceptance.


Integration and Return: While Cheryl completes her hike, she doesn’t return to her old life in the same way. Her return is not a simple restoration of the status quo but a new beginning. She has integrated the lessons learned on the trail into her life, demonstrating personal growth and empowerment.


Inner Fulfillment: The Heroine’s Journey often culminates in inner fulfillment rather than external achievement. Cheryl’s journey is not about reaching a specific destination but finding inner peace, strength, and a sense of purpose.


In “Wild,” Cheryl Strayed’s journey closely aligns with the Heroine’s Journey as she navigates her inner world, forms meaningful relationships with other women, and ultimately finds healing and self-acceptance. The screenplay and film effectively capture the essence of her transformative journey from pain and loss to self-discovery and empowerment, which are central themes of the Heroine’s Journey.


Read the screenplay for “Wild” here.


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