The Virgin and the Hero are the yin and the yang of story structure. They are very different from each other yet they fit together to make the two halves of a whole.
Traditionally, story structure involves a Hero who is called upon to right a wrong (Beverly Hills Cop), save the village from impending doom by bringing in something needed from the outside world (Blood Diamonds), or stopping evil in its tracks before it reaches the village (the Matrix).
To be successful the Hero must be rugged. He must give up the comforts of home and travel to a place where he is facing unfamiliar danger at every turn. He must also learn to be strong, hold his resolve in the face of psychological and physical tests, and develop skills that improve his chances of survival. You keep loading on the impediments and dangers as the Hero drives towards his goal. We’ve all seen this thrilling movie. It’s a very masculine storyline with a clear destination, and ideal for the mechanistic values of the 20th century.
Rather than being self-sacrificing, the Virgin is learning to be self-fulfilling. This is a fundamentally different journey which requires a playful search for joy, through creative (Shakespeare in Love), spiritual (Avatar and Pretty Woman) and sexual (Brokeback Mountain) awakening. The growth occurs in a Secret World – a sanctuary away from the pressures of time and fear. You need to create this space in a Virgin story before she joins her dependent world and all hell breaks loose.
She doesn’t have a clear idea of where she is going to end up. She just knows she has to be true to herself. There may not be a truly evil force working against her, just a community that fails to recognize her right to be authentic. The community (also the antagonist) often grows out of love for the Virgin rather than gets annihilated. She doesn’t fear death, she fears psychological loss like depression and insanity.
So, when you are facing a life problem, or a story problem (same thing), and you’re wondering ‘Is this a case where I have to dig down and be rugged, tough my way through it’ or ‘Is this a time to find some space to nurture myself and let my natural creativity surface’ the answer lies in the question: are you on a Hero’s Journey or discovering the Virgin’s Promise? They flourish in very different environments.