Even if you seek to create the most original story of the year, the hero’s journey and archetypes can help.
Yes, I realize that sounds like a contradiction: “if you follow a pattern, the story cannot be that original,” you say.
Here’s the thing: there is plenty of room within the hero’s journey for originality (just look at the stories I’ve been using as examples in my previous posts—they cross genres and show incredible diversity). Additionally, the journey is universal and you probably want your story to touch upon universal themes of the human condition.
In fact, I’d suggest that being familiar with archetypes will help you break the mold. Why? Because the more you know the “normal story,” the easier it will be for you to avoid it, take a new turn, and enter truly original territory. You can play against our expectations!
No matter your genre, the first steps of the hero’s journey will help your story get started. After all, readers will always need to know basic information about the setting (ordinary world) and the character’s life. Your protagonist will need a goal and will strive to achieve it (the call). You will also need to establish the stakes of that goal. As your story progresses, your protagonist will face obstacles and challenges that will change or influence him/her (transformation and journey).
Just using that basic template will catapult your story forward. You want to get to the call as quickly as you can, establish the goal/motive, and make the stakes of success or failure clear.
When you have writer’s block, look to the hero’s journey for inspiration! What is the next step in the journey? How can you get there? Or what can you do that will take the story in an unexpected direction?
Figure out which types of archetypal characters you can fit into your story (hero, lover, mentor, traitor, etc.). You can then have fun playing against type.
As a creative exercise, I suggest trying to put in as many elements of the hero’s journey and archetypal characters as possible, and then have fun twisting things around. You might surprise yourself as well as your future readers!