In 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters, Victoria Lynn Schmidt distinguishes the Heroine’s Journey from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Her Heroine’s Journey arc is similar to Maureen Murdock’s arc but delineates several of the stages in a way that encompasses a broader range of topics and experience.
The stages in Schmidt’s Heroine’s Journey include:
- ILLUSION OF THE PERFECT WORLD. Heroine has coping strategies that she believes will work in the world as she or others believe it to be. Such coping strategies can include naivete (nothing will happen to me); men will take care of me; I’m exceptional and will be one of the boys; everything will work out if I can just please father, mother, husband, boss, adult child, etc.
- BETRAYAL OR DISILLUSIONMENT. Heroine’s coping strategies fall apart either because someone betrays her or she realizes her coping strategy is toxic to her, ineffective, or her assumed world is not what she thought and her coping strategies can’t work.
- THE AWAKENING AND PREPARING FOR THE JOURNEY. Heroine may initially become hopeless but decides to do something about her plight. Others may try to discourage her but the force of the betrayal pushes her on. The whole direction of her life is changed. She finds the tools she needs but is still looking outside herself.
- THE DESCENT– PASSING THE GATES OF JUDGMENT. Heroine experiences fear, abandonment, guilt and/or shame associated with giving up old way of being. She may be ashamed of her new identity, guilty about sexual feelings or expression or have fears or shame associated with expressing herself, honoring intuition, or letting go of relationships that aren’t working for her. She must give up control and surrender herself and all of her tools/defenses/”weapons” to move forward.
- THE EYE OF THE STORM. In this stage, corresponding to Murdock’s “Boon of Success,” Heroine experiences a small taste of success which brings about a false sense of security. In “Shero” Journeys (female versions of Campbell’s Hero’s Journeys), the story likely ends here. In the true Heroine’s Journey, the heroine may experience momentary but not sustained success because those around her do not want to be a led by a woman/women for long, or the men around her begin to undermine her, or after the crisis passes she is left trying to fill multiple roles that are inconsistent or impossible for a single person to fulfill.
- DEATH/ ALL IS LOST. In this stage, which corresponds to Murdock’s spiritual aridity/death, the heroine realizes that her original coping strategies are not effective and her new-found skills and tools can not sustain her either, or to remain respected requires constant fighting. Things get worse and she feels there is no hope. Despite her best efforts, she has failed and accepts defeat.
- SUPPORT. The heroine meets someone (which may be a spirit or goddess or muse within) who gives her a hand. She embraces the female aspect of support and accepts that she is not completely self-sufficient or that will alone will not be enough. She embraces the support and her need for it as a positive thing.
- REBIRTH/ MOMENT OF TRUTH. The heroine finds her strength and resolve with the help of support. She “awakens” and sees the world and her role in it differently. She understands that brains, heart and courage will be required and faces her own fear with compassion.
- RETURN TO A WORLD SEEN THROUGH NEW EYES. The heroine sees the world for what it is. Her experience will change others but getting recognition for being a change maker is not her top priority. Changes or affect may extend beyond her lifetime or be “anonymous.” Her reward is spiritual and internal; she knows herself better and is committed to interactions with her world that are mutual. This new outlook brings new strategies for living.
Below is the arc laid out in chart form.