Story Design Patterns — alternatives to The Hero’s Journey

How to take advice about writing stories— one size does not fit all.

An open book floats in a circle created by all the other books
Photo by Jaredd Craig on Unsplash

I read a lot about writing fiction, and often the advice given is follow this one structure and your story will be good. But a solution is only applicable to the problem that it is trying to solve.

As a software engineer for over a decade I learnt the value of Design Patterns.

Design patterns are typical solutions to commonly occurring problems in software design. They are like pre-made blueprints that you can customize to solve a recurring design problem in your code.

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Can this idea be useful in considering story design patterns? The important thing with relation to storytelling is that a pattern will not always be applicable. They are designed to solve a particular problem and it is important to decide if the problem you are facing is the one being addressed.

Consider The Hero’s Journey. This is a very well-known pattern in story telling. Let’s look at how The Hero’s Journey might be presented as a Story Design Pattern.

Pattern name and classification

The Hero’s Journey, story level pattern


Provides a structure to stories about how an individual can navigate an unfamiliar world by becoming self-reliant.

Also known as



You want to tell a story about a hero, a chosen one who is called to complete a quest. The quest is to defeat an enemy or retrieve an important object. The hero is increasingly isolated until they are transformed and so sacrifice belonging in order to defeat the enemy or retrieve the object and achieve heroic status.


When the point of your story is self-reliance and individualism. It gives the story a clear journey into the unknown and return structure. It may resonate particularly with western, male, non-marginalised audiences.



Hero, Mentor, Helper, Herald, Trickster, Shapeshifter, Guardian, Shadow


The hero’s journey appeals to readers looking mainly for excitement who identify with the ideals of self-reliance and individualism. It is less appealing to those looking for comfort who identify with the ideals of friendship and finding belonging.


See this discussion or read the book The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.

Known uses

Wonder WomanStar Wars: A New Hope

Related patterns

The Heroine’s Journey

I think it is important to remember that any advice about writing a story is not going to be universal. You need to consider whether the story you want to tell fits the type of story the advice was aiming to tell.

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