Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Virgin's Promise for Writers

The Virgin's Promise for Writers

In her study of the archetypes of storytelling, Kim Hudson* discovered a cycle she calls, "The Virgin's Promise," which is the feminine counter part of the masculine Hero's Journey. Hudson explains the complementary character of the patterns as follows:
"Although they are both stories about learning to stand alone, the Virgin story is about knowing her dream for herself and bringing it to life while surrounded by the influences of her kingdom. The Hero story is about facing mortal danger by leaving his village and proving he can exist in a larger world. The Virgin shifts her values over the course of her story to fully be herself in the world. The Hero is focused on developing his skills to actively do things that need to be done in the world. The Virgin is about self-fulfillment while the Hero is about self-sacrifice."
Hudson is careful to point out that the gender association of each cycle is a matter of common experience, not necessity: men and women go through both patterns at different times and places in their lives. The determining factor is whether you are already a part of a community and immeshed in its web of expectations or whether you must leave your community and make your way in the world.

Like the Hero's Journey, there are thirteen beats or phases in the Virgin's Promise:
  1. Dependent World - "The Virgin's journey begins with an introduction to the world upon which she is dependent, in which a part of her is lying dormant."

  2. The Price of Conformity - "The Price of Conformity is the suppression of the Virgin's true self. When the Virgin subscribes to the views of the people around her, she experiences a loss of self."

  3. Opportunity to Shine - "The Opportunity to Shine is the action that leads to the first expression of the Virgin's potential."

  4. Dresses the Part - "Dresses the Part provides the viewer with a fun and pleasurable sense that perhaps dreams can come true and life is meant to have joy in it."

  5. The Secret World - "Once the Virgin has had a taste of living her dream and has made it a tangible reality, she creates a secret place in which it can thrive."

  6. No Longer Fits Her World - "Through spending time in her Secret World, the Virgin increases her power in the form of self-knowledge, and starts to see her dream as a possible reality. It is also becoming clear to the Virgin that she cannot juggle these two world forever."

  7. Caught Shining - "[R]eality hits and the Virgin must face the fact that she cannot keep her two worlds separated anymore. The Secret World and the Dependent World collide and the feared consequences manifest. The Virgin often finds herself punished, shamed, or exiled."

  8. Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck - "[T]he Virgin must sacrifice some of her past to move into her future. Gives Up What Kept Her Stuck is the major turning point in the psychological growth of the Virgin."

  9. Kingdom in Chaos - "A ripple effect takes place as the Virgin begins to change and the result is chaos in the kingdom."

  10. Wanders in the Wilderness - "[This] stage is a test of the Virgin's conviction and it is her moment of doubt."

  11. Chooses Her Light - "[T]he Virgin decides to trust herself and pursue her dream or passion, whatever happens. ... She would rather shine than be safe or maintain order."

  12. Re-ordering (Rescue) - The Re-ordering "recognizes the Virgin's true value when she is fulfilling her dream; and it reconnects the Virgin with a community."

  13. The Kingdom is Brighter - "The Virgin has challenged the kingdom and thrown it into chaos. They have accepted her back and made adjustments to accommodate her authentic nature or her dream. ... the kingdom comes to realize that it is better off ..."
We'll take a look at each of these beats in more detail over the coming weeks, both to understand the narrative arc they form and to highlight analogous experiences in the writing life.

* Kim Hudson, The Virgin's Promise

Image: Simon Howden /


  1. THIS is totally fascinating. I've heard of the Hero's Journey but NEVER the Virgin's Promise and it is so apt for today's modern writer.

    Wonderful wonderful post. I'm definitely keeping this in my files.

  2. Thank you.

    The real credit belongs to Kim Hudson who identified the pattern in her book, The Virgin's Promise. If my summary piqued your interest, I think you'll find Kim's book well worth your time.

  3. This is super interesting. Sort of an analysis of plot driven versus character driven as well. Great post.

  4. Yes, you could certainly argue that the hero's journey is about plot because the key beats involve external action, where the arc of the virgin's promise is about character because the key beats are internal.

    But there's also an interesting case to be made that the hero's journey is, in the deepest sense, about the development of the hero's character. Similarly, because the virgin's promise is about the process by which she claims a place in her world instead of simply submitting to the wishes and expectations of others, the story is fundamentally about taking action.

    Don't you just love it when clearly dichotomous things curl back and blend together?


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