Monday, September 28, 2009

The Call to Adventure

We've started looking at The Hero's Journey for our fantasy writing. This formula works for any genre, of course, but we're mainly talking about fantasy.

According to my book, the Journey has 12 stages.

1) Heroes are introduced in the ORDINARY WORLD, where
2) they recieve the CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3) They are RELUCTANT at first or REFUSE THE CALL, but
4) are encouraged by a MENTOR to
5) CROSS THE FIRST THRESHOLD and enter the Special World where
6) they encounter TESTS, ALLIES and ENEMIES.
7) They APPROACH THE INMOST CAVE, crossing a second threshold
8) where they endure the SURPEME ORDEAL.
9) They take possession of their REWARD and
10) are pursued on THE ROAD BACK to the Ordinary World.
11) They cross the third threshold, experience a RESURRECTION and are transformed by the experience.
12) They RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

We've talked about the Ordinary World and Physical/Inward Journey. Christopher Vogler's book The Writer's Journey, breaks down these 12 steps, adding more detail. Vogler says, "The Hero's Journey is infinitely flexible, capable of endless variation without sacrificing any of its magic, and it will outlive us all." It is a map we can follow, taking our own turns and making what we want of it.

Let's look at the second step of THJ: The Call to Adventure. This is where the hero is presented with a problem, challenge or adventure to undertake. I like to call it a "quest." This mean he/she cannot remain in the Ordinary World. The Call to Adventure establishes the stakes of the game and makes clear the hero's goal.

Let's talk about The Call. How long do we spend there? How do we bring it about? Is The Call clear in your writing? Is The Call unique? If so, how can you give it a twist to make it less typical?


  1. I'm still working on this part. It's hard for me to convey what the true danger is, since it's not literally the end of the world. So much easier to say, "Sauron will destroy everything! We must stop him!" than to deal with something that is a little more subtle.

    But I'm tired of "{insert bad guy} will destroy everything!"

    For one thing, what's the point of destroying everything? There won't be any donuts left. And what's the point of ruling the world if you can't have a donut?

  2. You have a good point, Christine. Everyone fantasy novel I've read has the bad guy destroying everything and the good guys have to stop him.

    I believe we don't have to do that, but then there's the "so what?" factor. If the evil dark lord is only going hurt the hero or the hero's puppy, who cares? The stakes HAVE to be SO high the hero HAS to go on the quest and the reader WANTS them to.

    Does this make sense?

    So, I guess it's our job to get real creative and see what else we can come up with. I have to admit, my evil dark lord, if not stopped, will destroy everything that is good. Now, I'm wondering what else I could do about that because it would be great to be fresh.

  3. I have to agree with both. In one of my books, Destiny's Warrior, the villain, at first i isn't really out to extinguish every living thing in his path, but is set and determined to destroy a certain herd of Horse-Kind to avenge the death of his son. Eventually, he turns to 'complete extermination' mode, but that's after he give into black magic.
    I always think there room for the insanely evil villain, though. ;) Always fun to kick the bad-guys and not have to regret it!

  4. Oh yeah, I've got an insanely evil villain. But, he doesn't think he's evil, he just thinks that he's been cheated out of his rightful place in life. He just wants to be loved and adored.

    While having absolute power.

    So, he's not out to destroy everything, but his twisted priorities would end up ruining life for everyone else.

  5. Amanda Bradburn Author of The Keepers of ElenathOctober 1, 2009 at 4:23 PM

    The Call . . . is a hard question to answer. Basically, the definition of the call is the REASON that your character goes and does what he is meant to do. With the "Bad guy desrtoying the world" delimma, I think that you both have sufficiently explored both sides of the coin. There must be something that our intesely evil character wants that he cannot have or else the lives of our protagonists will drastically change. But finding what that is (so often power/ respect/ revenge . . .) without seeming to fall into the cliche of evil destroying all (even our donuts) is a delicate matter. A balance is needed; authors-- go find it!

  6. For me, the CALL is similar to what I am still experiencing in my life.

    19 years ago, my husband and I were thrilled to find out we were pregnant. We were told we may not be able to since I had a bad case of endometriosis. While I had a son from my first marriage, my husband did not have any children.

    A mere 36 weeks later, we had a daughter, Anna.

    Anna has autism, seizures, some CP, mental retardation, vonWillebrand disease and several other bothersome problems. This was not what we expected or wanted.

    It's the same with the CALL TO ADVENTURE. Our hero is in their ORDINARY WORLD when they get the CALL. They resist. This isn't want they wanted out of their life. This can't be what God has planned! They fight and struggle, finally give in and set out on their quest.

    The thing is, while on the quest, they experience a back and forth, fighting with themselves over the CALL. Should they keep going? Should they simply forget it and do whatever they want? But there's no getting out of the CALL. The hero MUST accept and go forward.

    Such is life for the rest of us, huh?

  7. I've been told that there are tow kinds of fantasy - High Fantasy and Low Fantasy.

    In High Fantasy the fate of the world is in the balance - at least the known world.

    In Low Fantasy the stakes are more personal to the hero - His town, his family, his nation.

    I think the 12 steps we've been talking about are for High Fantasies.

    The story I'm writing is a low fantasy. The people of Maple Grove may loss their way of life and perhaps their lives. For a low fantasy I think the call is even more important because this is where I have to make the reader care. Instead of being a quest that the hero can't turn down, it has to be something that motivates them to be a hero, and at the same time makes the readers want the character to succeed.

    When there is less at stake, there must be more reasons to care.

  8. Danielle here . . .

    Hmm, I think that would put most of my ideas at low fantasy, then. It actually seems like a stronger book to write -- easier, at least plot wise. Like, if your family is in danger, the form of refusal is probably fear or denial, not actual refusal. While when the world's at stake -- especially if it's a fantasy world -- it's easy to convince yourself that is isn't happening.

  9. Besides high and low fantasy, there's also a category called urban fantasy, which is set in contemporary/modern times.

    I've also heard in high fantasy there are more mythical/fantasyish people. Like, in my WIP I have fairies, dwarves and two groups of people I made up, as well as the totally evil Dark Lord and his minions.

    The Hero's Journey works for every story there is. I attended a workshop where the teacher used The Wizard of Oz and It's A Wonderful Life as examples. We went through each step and saw how it worked. It was pretty cool.

    The reason we're using it to talk about fantasy writing here is because that's what the blog is about. Writing fantsy.

  10. I think Doug has a good point, though. If you look at Wikipedia, there is a very detailed breakdown of the different types of fantasy.

    "High" fantasy does pretty much require the end of the world as the characters know it.

    I think my novel falls under the category "romantic fantasy," in the classical sense of a "romantic" being closely tied to the natural world, and having the characters discover their abilities naturally rather than by attaining some kind of secret knowledge.

    Then there are "sword and sorcery" novels, which have to do with "wizards behaving badly."

    Heroic fantasy is described as a" subgenre touching high fantasy on one hand and sword-and-sorcery on the other. A hero is usually the main character, and is usually on a quest, and often is carrying one or more magical items."

    "Low fantasy" is described as stories with fantasy elements set in the real world, such as "The Borrowers."

    Of course, Wikipedia is a subjective resource, so these definitions may differ with others.

  11. Oh, and one of the best documentaries about the Hero's Journey that I've seen is the one about Star Wars. It's a bonus feature on one of the DVD's we got when we bought the original trilogy for Christmas. I've also seen it on TV... the History Channel, perhaps? They do a great job of explaining the call, the role of the mentor, etc.

  12. Danielle

    I think a very interesting villain twist is in "Face Off". You think the villain is defeated but he actually goes into a coma and ends up waking. The twist to it is that the hero 'steals' the villains face, so when the villain wakes up, he steals the hero's face. This ends up with, in one point of the movie, them both being temporarily convinced that they are their enemy. One guy actually ends up smashing a mirror in a panic.

    Just to warn you -- thought it's an amazing movie with incredible acting -- it does have language and bad scenes. With a TV guardian and parents to tell me when to look away, I can reap the benefits without accepting the junk.