Wednesday, July 6, 2011

HJ4W 6 Tests, Allies, and Enemies

Writing Wednesday - The Hero's Journey for Writers

There is a great Sid Harris cartoon that, while it says a lot about science and scientists, also says something profound about middles--both how difficult they are and how, particularly in narratives, we like to skip ahead to the good bits.

Sid Harris, Science Cartoons Plus
With the montage, films have a powerful idiom that conveys the fact that the characters have been occupied for some period of time without boring the audience by showing a sampling of the highlights or representative moments of those activities.

In the sixth phase of the hero's journey, Test, Allies, and Enemies, "the hero is tested and sorts out allegiances in the Special World."*

In Star Wars (Episode IV), for example, Luke finds allies in the cantina, tests his skills on the way to Alderaan, and meets his enemies on the Death Star. Of course, even that narrative is more complex because that sequence can be seen as a series of tests and training to prepare Luke for the final confrontation. The important observation in terms of the hero's journey is that Luke starts as a farm boy very much out of his element and ends, as they battle the Tie fighters before they can make good their escape, as a budding hero (who still needs to be reminded not to get cocky).

Unfortunately, life and narrative diverge because in real journeys this phase is the part that takes most of the time. We have to live through all the moments that end up on the cutting room floor when the editor makes the montage.

That's not to say that the phase of tests, allies, and enemies is something tedious we must endure. It is, in fact, the substance of what we learn and how we transform ourselves on the journey.

As writers, this is the time when we actually produce a draft. Our skills as wordsmiths and storytellers are tested, we find allies--whether figurative or literal--that help us write, and enemies that block us.

And most importantly, unlike our protagonists who only have to go through the narrative highlights, we need patience and faith to do the all the actual hard work of passing the tests, developing our skills, finding allies, and identifying enemies required to produce a manuscript.

* Kim Hudson, The Virgin's Promise

Image: Simon Howden /


  1. I LOVE that cartoon. That's the editorial letter in a nutshell.
    Thank you.

  2. Amen.

    Sid Harris touched either genius or a vein when he came up with that cartoon. I've found applications for it all sorts of projects.


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