Heroic stories boil down to a common template called the Hero’s Journey, or Monomyth. In short:
A hero goes on an adventure, triumphs in a crisis, and returns transformed.
Does this describe the story that you want to write? If so, read on…
“The real structure of any good story is simply circular,” says Dan Harmon, creator of the NBC comedy Community. Harmon adapted the monomyth into a circular plotting technique that he calls the Embryo.
Let’s break down the Embryo’s 8 Plot Points.
Establishes your hero. They are in their comfort zone…
…but their normal world isn’t perfect. They want something.
They cross the threshold to an unfamiliar situation…
…and adapt to it. This is their Road of Trials.
Both Joseph Campbell (creator of the monomyth) and Harmon call this point “Meeting the Goddess”. Your hero finds what they wanted…
…but they pay a heavy price for it. For example, this is where Luke’s mentor Obi-Wan dies in Star Wars.
They return to their familiar situation…
…having changed. Congratulations, this is where your hero saves the day!
The Embryo also addresses the hero’s Internal Realm (their mind) and their External Realm (the story world which they traverse). The hero moves from external order to chaos and back again. They cross from mental ignorance to enlightenment. Indie author Rachael Stephen has vlogged extensively on the Embryo, and her videos address the deeper implications of these Realms.
The savvy reader will instantly see that not all stories can or should follow the Embryo. For example, tragedies do not follow the monomyth, as the hero cannot be victorious. Furthermore, the Embryo’s 8 Plot Points are super vague, and some writers require more structure. However, the Embryo is so generic that you can make it your own. The circle and its quadrants map well with other story structures, e.g. anything with four acts or seven milestones.
Harmon’s Embryo is a visual, flexible, and simple method to plot heroic narratives. I recommend it most to pantsers, who write from intuition but wish to craft a compelling arc. If in doubt, try it out!
Dan Harmon’s original Embryo blog
Rachael Stephen’s Plot Embryo vlog series