This is an activity to help people tell great stories, based on “the hero’s journey,” This is important because the stories we tell can invest our lives with meaning and purpose.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • None


  1. Introduce the idea of the story spine, explaining the following elements of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” to everyone.At the beginning of a story, the routine of life is happening: Once upon a time… (the participants will complete each one of these italicized sentences) And every day… Then there’s a challenge – a disruption of the routine. Campbell often called this, “The Call to Adventure.” This is when an obstacle appears. Notice that in all great stories, there is some conflict or danger. (We try to live our lives in very different ways from great stories. Most of us want lives that are comfortable and easy, free of conflict. But the best stories have drama, turbulence, and conflict!) But one day… Once the hero or heroine follows this call to adventure, a number of consequences follow. This is the action in the story. Because of that…. Because of that… Because of that… And then comes the climax of the story: Until, finally… And then the resolution, or the moral of the story: Ever since then…
  2. Have participants fill in the end of each of the following sentences. It will probably take them 5 to 10 minutes to complete their own stories. Once upon a time… Every day… But one day… Because of that…. Because of that… Because of that… Until, finally… Ever since then…
  3. After they have written their stories, have them share with each other in small groups. This could take another 5 to 10 minutes. Participants can give each other feedback: Is this a compelling story?
  4. Finally have some of the participants who are willing to share their stories in front of everyone.
  • Some students (and many adults) might argue that they aren’t leading a life of heroism; there is no great call to adventure; there is no dramatic story in their life that fits this template. Yet the point that you can make is that we all have faced conflict in our lives. And the essence of all great stories is growth, development, and change. Whether it’s a breakdown of a relationship (divorce of parents; or the students’ own breakup), or doing poorly in school, or struggling with financial issues, we all have faced struggles. That’s a human universal. What the Story Spine exercise does is to help us come to resolution. It helps us to become a major actor and protagonist in the story, rather than a helpless victim who is at the mercy of forces beyond his/her control.
  • You might notice that this is a template that many Hollywood films follow as well. Indeed, there’s a popular screenwriting manual in the film industry called, “Save the Cat.” It essentially sticks to this same formula. You may wish to point this out to the participants: that even the greatest movies follow the same structure. That’s how universal it is/
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Again this activity is often quite powerful. The volunteers usually share quite powerful stories. Ask them why they think this activity worked well. It will be interesting to hear different theories.

After hearing and validating the participants’ ideas, you can tell them about the archetypes that transcend cultures, eras, and epochs. You can even analyze how this “hero’s journey” is present in Harry Potter, and other popular books and films that they probably know. Indeed, these narratives appeal to us precisely because they are universal!

And what do you do if this exercise didn’t work well? I guess you improvise! J Or, building on the lessons from previous activities on resilience, you learn from failures, and adopt the growth mindset!


This activity is based on the idea of the “Hero’s Journey,” a storytelling template that transcends cultures and nations. The late Joseph Campbell, an expert on myths, found that stories tend to follow the same pattern throughout all epochs and all places.


Kenn Adams

Additional Readings

Campbell, The Hero’s Journey