Wednesday, June 29, 2011

HJ4W-5 Crossing the Threshold

Writing Wednesday - The Hero's Journey for Writers

On January 10, 49 BC, Caesar led his legion across the river Rubicon and started the civil war that would end the Roman Republic. Once he moved his army across the provincial boundary, there was no going back: he would either triumph or be destroyed.

To, "cross the Rubicon," is to go past the point of no return* and commit to a course of action. While I don't know that I would go so far as to say Caesar completed a hero's journey to become Dictator of Rome, when he crossed the river he enacted the fifth phase of that journey: Crossing the Threshold.

Kim Hudson** characterizes Crossing the Threshold this way:
"By this point in the story, any barrier the Hero felt to accepting the adventure is outweighed or removed, and the Hero selflessly commits to the adventure for the good of his village. ... At this juncture, there is no turning back for the Hero until the village has been saved."
The hero's journey doesn't truly get underway until the hero passes the point of no return. This is simply because prior to Crossing the Threshold there is little or no cost in turning back. Once past the threshold, turning back becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible.

In classic stories, this point is often a literal threshold where stepping across to the other side changes everything. This discontinuity makes the threshold magical--almost sacred--though that quality is often clear only in retrospect.

When writing, particularly in the long form, there is a time where we commit to the story. You may not be able to point to a specific event, but your concept of the project changes from, "Can I do it?" to, "I can do it." Indeed, the commitment usually takes the stronger form of, "Now I have to do it."

Perhaps you told all your friends and family you were writing a book and can't face the shame of saying you gave up. Perhaps you've fallen in love with the story and need to know how it all ends. Perhaps it's simply the realization that the time and effort you've already spent on the project will be wasted if you don't finish. Whatever the reason, your journey into the unknown begins in earnest when abandoning the project is no longer an option.

Now you've left behind the safe realm where you know how things work and are striding into the wild lands where anything is possible. Welcome to the undiscovered country of the writers.

* The "point of no return" in navigation is the point in the course when you no longer have enough fuel to go back where you came from and your only choice is to continue on to your destination.


** Kim Hudson, The Virgin's Promise


Image: Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net