Wednesday, June 8, 2011

HJ4W-2 The Call to Adventure

Writing Wednesday - The Hero's Journey for Writers

The hero's journey begins when life in the Ordinary World is interrupted by a Call to Adventure. The call, following Kim Hudson*, may be a warning of danger, a wrong to right, or something unsettling: restlessness, temptation, or opportunity.

In terms of story structurally, the call to adventure is the inciting incident, the event that starts the journey. It is the thing that makes it impossible, at least for the hero, to continue life in the ordinary world: either they step up and undertake the journey or they live in terrible anticipation of what is coming or what could have been. When Frodo realizes he must take the ring from the Shire, when Luke stumbles upon Leia's message in R2D2, when Jim Hawkins learns he has a map to Treasure Island--each of these characters is at a point where, regardless of what they do, nothing will be the same.

This is why the first critical skill for storytellers is identifying the inciting incident. Specifically, what out of the mix of setting, circumstance, and character makes it impossible for your protagonist to continue with their safe, comfortable life in the ordinary world?

Those of use who take up the pen experience a similar call to adventure. Perhaps it was the danger of a layoff, the wrong of one bad book too many thrown across the room, the restlessness of a dream too long deferred, the temptation of famous authors laughing all the way to the bank, or a really good idea that simply wouldn't leave us alone.

You may not be able to point to a dramatic (or even specific) event that set you on your way, but there was a point at which you stopped toying with the notion of writing and started writing. I know of several cases, for example, where the author banged out a chapter or a short story to prove to themselves or others that they couldn't do it (and in fact proved the opposite).

The notion that you could do it--not just in the idle sense of declaring a book, "crap," and boasting you could do better, but the knowledge bubbling up from the deeper, behavior-changing well of motivation that you have enough talent, skill, and determination to produce a novel--changes everything: you can no longer be content simply reading other people's work.

Established writers have a similar experience, reaching a point where (for reasons from the practical--like having a contract for another book--to the personal--believing, for example, that you can do better) they can no longer be content with the work they have done.

What is consistent, whether we're talking about your protagonist or your experience as a writer, is that the call to adventure is a heady thing because it is fraught with peril and promise.

* Kim Hudson, The Virgin's Promise

Image: Simon Howden /

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