Solo journeys

As you’re drafting a story, you may find yourself adding characters, combining them, or removing characters. Regardless, at its core, your story has at least one character. I call my framework behind deciding how many characters you need narrative math.

Perhaps the most primal of narrative math is the solo journey. Joseph Campbell is famously known for developing a heroic monomyth. Much of Western adventure fiction and high fantasy draws from Campbell’s hero’s journey, but there are other storytelling traditions around the world that defy those conventions. In particular, Japanese anime and Chinese wǔxiá have lengthy hero arcs that revolve around different narrative beats than those found in Western sagas.

In a solo journey, the story revolves around the interiority of a single character. While the character may have friends, allies, and enemies, the bulk of the story explores the character’s personal growth, rather than the character’s interactions with others. The solo journey can happen at any point in a character’s life and existence. Thus, the Bildungsroman is a classic subtype of the solo journey.

Some examples of solo-journey narratives are:

  • Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) dir. Hayao Miyazaki
  • The Mandalorian (2020–) created by Jon Favreau

Reading comprehension exercises

  1. Name three examples of solo-journey narratives.
  2. Pick one of your three examples.
    1. Identify the protagonist.
    2. Summarize the arc of the protagonist’s character growth.
    3. Explain how the supporting characters help or hinder the protagonist’s journey.