We’re driving the Road Back to our protagonists’ Ordinary World.

As we head into the Road Back of the story we’re writing, how are we doing?

Let’s see:  In the past 80% of story, we’ve

  1. Transformed the protagonists.
  2. Changed their goals into new Dears.
  3. Provided a transformed Dear to the protagonists as Rewards.
  4. Given them worthy allies.
  5. Defeated villains and elements of the antagonistic force.
  6. Overcome fears and evils, exterior and interior.

My goodness, what else must we do?  The hardest thing.  We must truly defeat the antagonist.

And then find our way back home—whatever “home” now represents.

Easy enough.

Well, no.

And not because the antagonist is still out there, a maelstrom of chaotic evil.

Here’s our big question:  How do we find the right Road Back?

Driving with the Old Dear

SPOILERS ALERT:  If you have never seen Castawaygo watch it now.  It will be a pivotal and enriching experience in your life.  I am also warning you that I give away many, many crucial details about the end of the film in the remainder of this blog.  Tom Hanks should have won the Academy Award for Best Actor for this film.  This is his landmark role, not Forrest Gump and not Philadephia and certainly not The Green Mile, all great films but not of the caliber of Castaway.

The official Movie Trailer:

The Dear destroyed at the Call to Adventure is not the Dear of the Reward.  This Dear is transformed, just as the protagonist is transformed.

The transformation is clearly evident in Castaway, the film with Tom Hanks and Helen Hunt.  Hanks’ character Chuck survives deprivation and extreme loneliness only because returning to his lost love (Hunt enacting Kelly) became his goal. 

Yet he transformed:  he learned to be in the moment—instead of always working toward a future deadline.  He learned to appreciate the smallest of miracles and to heed obscure signs.The protagonist Chuck needs someone as his Dear who is also open to these hidden yet highly significant realities. 

Kelly is not that person, and we discover that in the scene where he is reunited with her.

Two Story Stages:  Road Back and Resurrection

In Castaway the Road Back begins with the celebration at the airport then continues through his visit to her house.  That visit to her house also launches into the Resurrection, the stage of story where evil recurs that endangers the protagonist. 

Since the two stages are so closely intertwined in this film, I’ll discuss both.  Just know that the Road Back is their attempts at re-connection while the Resurrection is the acceptance of the need to part.

Chuck Doesn’t Match to Kelly

  • At Kelly’s house, Chuck is in the moment of their reunion.
    • >> Kelly can’t face their reunion. First, she is not able to meet him at the airport.  Then, when he comes to her house, she is continually “doing” as a distraction—showing him a car and a map, fiddling with housework.  She is focused on him but also on all the things between
      • Twice she looks hard at him, as if not able to believe that this man before her is her old love returned to her. He is physically changed.  He is also mentally and spiritually changed, although these changes are not as easily observed.
  • Chuck comments on the miracle of her child.
    • >> Her response is a criticism. Children are miracles, not things to be managed.  They are the blessing of the future with the wonder of the now.  Instead, Kelly dismisses any conversation about her child by saying something like “She’s a mess.”
  • Chuck heeds the signs.
    • >> Kelly is blind to them.  She must blind herself to them or abandon the life she had built without him.  She makes her decision.  Yet when he drives away, she still clings to her past and calls him back.  She kept “their car”, another sign of her clinging to the past.

The Problem with Kelly

Kelly is static, stagnant, bitter with the losses, not transformed by them.  She abandoned her greatest goal without saying goodbye to it.

We admire Kelly.  We want her to reunite with Chuck.  They are each other’s “love of my life”.  But they’re not right for each other.  Maybe they never were, even before Chuck transformed.

We grieve with them as they part.

Driving the Right Road Back 

We don’t grieve at the end of Castaway when Chuck meets the Angel-wings lady.  We want him to connect with her.

See, we know he doesn’t belong with Kelly.  Look at his brief yet revelatory encounter with the Angel-wings lady.

Chuck is “in the moment”.
  • She is “in the moment”.
    • When giving directions, she focuses on him, she makes eye contact, and then she flows forward like water and time.
Chuck is connected to the miraculous.
  • She appreciates blissful moments.
    • Art is itself a blissful miracle, and she chose as her mark the double-haloed angel wings.  Her FedEx package marked with the double-haloed angel-wings is the only package that Chuck does not open.
  • Even with the break-up of her marriage (exhibited by the sign at the ranch’s entrance, with the ex-husband’s name obliterated from it), the Angel-wings lady maintains her connection to the miraculous.
    • Just as Chuck’s survival was a series of miracles, their meeting here at the film’s end is another example of a hidden significance that could be easily overlooked.
Chuck sees and heeds signs.
  • She heeds the signs. She recognizes Chuck as being direction-less.  Without giving him a direction, she ensures he “knows” the way. 
    • The broken ranch sign bears witness that she saw the signs of her husband’s infidelity and took action.
  • In a neat circular construction, our evidence of the husband’s infidelity occurs at the film’s beginning.
    • A Russian FedEx worker delivers an Angel-wing package to a man in a cowboy hat and bathrobe.  He, however, has a scantily-clad woman with him.  He even comments that the package is from his wife :: bad cad!
Chuck survived deprivation.
  • The Angel-wings lady has faced a similar devastation—although not as extreme or traumatic as Chuck’s.
    • The ranch sign reveals the anger of her husband’s betrayal and their divorce.  Living on the desolate prairie, she understands deprivation and priorities.  Yet she chooses beauty over bitterness.  Chuck will choose it as well.

Castaway deprives the audience of an extended Elixir ~ but do we really need it?  Our imaginations work just fine.

How to Find that Right Road Back

The task is not as difficult as it seems.

  • In The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry just has to return his soul from the white station to his body in the forest: easy peasy.
  • For 13th Warrior, the Wendol come to the Northmen who have prepared with the same courage as before.
    • We do have that lovely Invocation of Blood as they call on preceding generations of warriors, male and female, to strengthen them and to inspire them.  For a clip with the Invocation—“Lo, there do I see my people, back to the beginning”—you can flip back to the previous blog on Rewards: Click here to open that blog in a new tab.
  • With Return of the King, Aragorn releases the Dead Men of Dunharrow, rejecting arrogance and corruptible power—which Gimli doesn’t understand but Legolas views with awed approval.
  • Pride and Prejudice has Darcy force Wyckham to marry Lydia. Elizabeth has the culminating battle with Lady Catherine de Burgh.
The Road Back starts the protagonists’ journey to the Elixir, the ultimate Reward.  What is necessary to gain that Elixir?

1st Step:  Start tying up the loose ends now.  Determine the best sequence: 

  • What needs to remain until the ultimate battle? 
  • What would provide humor after that battle? 
  • For the secondary characters, what angst can they encounter before the last battle begins?  Or going into the last battle?

2nd Step: Never forget that the antagonist believes his way is the right way.  Audiences who become transfixed by antagonists might need a reminder of their particular evil—as well as that evil’s effect on the protagonists, the team of allies, and the Dear goal.

3rd Step:  Has a secondary character taken precedence and deserves the sequel?  Set up the sequel now with little hints of a driving goal.

4th Step:  The arc of the protagonists should be complete.  Has that transformation been completely shown?  Where is the protagonists’ Dear?  Safe?  Or still in jeopardy?

Castaway Breaks the Mold but still Teaches the Pattern

Castaway packs a lot into the extended scene that becomes both Road Back and Resurrection which then shifts to the culminating scene that concludes the film.  The Elixir also breaks into two parts.

  • The Road Back is Chuck’s workplace reunion at the airport followed by his reunion with Kelly at her home. 
  • The first part of the Resurrection is his rejection by Kelly.
  • In the second part of the Resurrection, Chuck talks with the friend that he didn’t realize was so loyal.  To him, he grieves for his loss of Kelly, and his friend listens and sympathizes and empathizes.
  • Chuck shares that Kelly was his goal.  He lost her, his Dear, when he washed up on that island.  He lost her all over again when she chose her fallback life rather than the difficulties required to restore a life with him. 
    • This presents both 1st and 2nd Steps, the sequence needed to cut the ties to his old life (his Road Back) and the antagonist that deprives him of the Dear he wanted (Resurrection).
  • Then we see Chuck’s transformation:  he apologizes to his friend for not being there when his friend’s wife died of cancer. 
    • This 4th Step (there is no 3rd) shows that he is no longer driven for work.  He had barely acknowledged this information at the beginning of the film.  His transformed self, however, reaches out to the miracle of friendship.

And then Chuck’s on the road, drinking water, heading to his own unexpected and miraculous end where he will have the chance to drink the Elixir of the gods.

The scene with Kelly is Chuck’s Road Back.  Yet it is also the Resurrection of Evil that deprives him of his cherished goal.

For a brief moment, we the audience want Kelly to be with Chuck.  We grieve with Chuck. 

And then Angel-wings lady helps us realize that Chuck and Kelly no longer “fit”.

Wrapping Up

When we consider the protagonists’ transforming journey and the new Dear they now treasure, the Road to bring everything Back home should pave itself.

Like the fabled yellow brick road, the Road Back becomes a curving journey to the Elixir.

Yet a horrible obstacle remains:  the Resurrection of Evil.

Join us on December 10 for an examination of the duality of the archetypal Resurrection.

Endurance Requires Rewards

When Voldemort kills Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows part II, Harry enters a Threshold existence, a “waiting station”.  Dearly beloved Dumbledore is there, and we and Harry discover three things.

  1. Voldemort, the Half-Blood Prince, is half-dead.  His horcrux soul attached to Harry is dead;  only the horcrux in the python remains.  Once that is destroyed, Voldemort’s physical being can be killed.
  2. Death is a transition. Harry can choose to move on or return and fulfill all of his destiny.
  3. Everything that has happened—the tortuous years at Hogwarts and with his aunt and uncle, Hermione’s wiping her existence from her parents’ memories, Dobby’s sacrificial death and the multi-layered loss of Sirius Black—all have purpose. The multiple sacrifices of the Dear will lead to a greater, freer existence.

Friendship, loyalty, and love brought Harry through the battles.  These three are the ultimate reward:  a reward that Voldemort mocks.

Someone said, in reaction to the white station scene with Dumbledore, “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

The Treasure that Helps us Endure

  • For Anne Eliot in Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Frederick Wentworth’s renewed love will help her endure the last few days with her atrocious family. Through the Ordeal, she intellectually and emotionally divorced herself from her old life.  In the Reward, she looks to the potential of the future.
  • In The 13th Warrior, the Wendol Mother is dead. The warriors escaped from the inescapable lair.  They lost comrades;  their leader is dying;  they must still battle the Wendol leader.  But they can taste success, and they begin to reap the rewards.  This is especially true for Ibn, who did not understand the Warrior Code.  He understands it now.  When the culminating battle approaches, he now fully understands the purification prayer he was taught and the Northmen’s Invocation of Blood.

As audience, as writers, we relish the moment of the Reward even as we anticipate the last three stages:  the Road Back, the Resurrection (of the Evil and of the Protagonist), and the Return with the Elixir.  It’s time, we may think, for this to be over.  We want that first sip of the Elixir.

Hold on.  Stay in the Reward moment.  Our audience, our protagonists, and we as writers:  we all need that Reward.

The Reward requires the same consideration as the Approach to the Inmost Cave: Click here to refer to that blog in a new window.

In Approach, our protagonists acknowledge their increasing transformation as they reject any return to the Ordinary World and their former Dears.

The Last Reward

Here, in Stage 9, our protagonists achieve the last necessary change to themselves, to their goals, and to their desires.

“Achieve” does not mean a change occurs.  Instead, protagonists can grasp their transformed goal, their new Dear.

In Approach, that goal and Dear were merely contemplated as the once-enticing old ones were rejected.

Now, the lover embraces his beloved, the king steps foot in his restored realm, the fighter sees justice again in play instead of trampled under vengeful foot.

The Reward is tangible, a living and pulsing reality that proves “It’s all been worth it;  now we know.”

Ordeal vs. Reward

As the Ordeal was all-out hatred, the Reward is all-out love.  The protagonist basks in celebration at achieving the new Dear.

And the new Dear is welcoming, joyful in contemplation of union with the protagonist.

To continue any conflict between the protagonist and the new Dear is to frustrate the audience.

This is the power of Dumbledore in the Reward of The Deathly Hallows part II.  He proves all points of the juxtaposition of Harry with Voldemort in the Ordeal.

This is Anne Eliot’s return home in Persuasion, in the old world as she anticipates the new and quite happy as she reject completely the old.

13th Warrior gives with one hand as it takes with the other.  One great defeat waits upon the next;  one heroic victory waits on an heroic death.  Buliwye is rewarded—oh, not with King Vortigern’s promised treasures and great funeral bonfire that a hero deserves.  “There is more, Little Brother,” as Herger says.  With the queen’s quick look around at the king’s promise, we know more than gold and weapons will pass with Buliwye through that bonfire into Valhalla.

A similar both-handed Ordeal and Reward occurs in The Return of the King with Eowyn.  As she killed the Nazguhl and its rider, she lost her beloved uncle.  In her Reward, she has wounds to recover from and a worthy man to recover with.

The Difficult Reward

For protagonists (like Harry Potter) who did not defeat the antagonist during the Ordeal, the culminating conflict occurs in Stage 11, the Resurrection.

If the protagonists failed spectacularly in the Ordeal, they are now prisoners of the antagonistic force.

Continuing to live is not the Reward.  Sorry, writers;  it’s not that easy.

The Reward provides opportunities for the miraculous, the foreshadowy magical (hinted at but never seen until this moment).

A beloved ally sacrifices himself to save the protagonists (Dobby).

The stone heart finally cracks; the ice finally melts.

Or information so desperately needed earlier becomes available now.

Or the untrusted Shapeshifter becomes trustworthy;  the trickster’s earlier trick percolates for hours, days, weeks and finally works out, exploding the imprisoning cage.

The impossible escape becomes possible through the others that the protagonist gathered earlier:  the thunder cliffs of 13th Warrior.

To Queen Elizabeth in The Crown, episode 7, the professor reminds her that she studied with the finest Constitutional scholar of England.  “You know all the fine points of our Constitution,” he tells her.  “You know more than anyone else.”  And this young woman, whom the world perceived as weak and lesser and not intellectual, realizes that she is more than anyone imagined, anyone including herself.  Elizabeth reaches an understanding that she had but didn’t comprehend:  “It is not my job to govern, but it is my job to ensure proper governance.”

Wrapping Up

The Reward is for our protagonists, our audiences, and ourselves as writers.

Be in the moment and don’t race through it.

The last three stages belong to the last segment of the Archetypal Story Pattern: Return and Re-Integration.

  1. The key to the antagonist’s ultimate defeat is found.
  2. The protagonists have their Dear and a new resolve and determination to achieve their goal.
  3. The protagonists think as individuals, not as the group taught them to think.

Join us on November 20 for the Road Back, Stage 10 of the 12-Stage Archetypal Story Pattern.  We’re almost done.

First Off:  a new cover for A Game of Spies,

the second book in the Hearts in Hazard series

by M.A. Lee. 

Originally published in November 2015, the cover needed updating after M.A. Lee’s HnH books 4, 5, and 6 came out in Spring 2017.  Here’s a first look at the new cover.

Giles Hargreaves is hunting a French spy who somehow manages to steal government documents.  Josette amuses herself playing whist at salons hosted by her sister-in-law.  When Giles and Josette met, they are attracted immediately. 

But he believes she is connected to the French spy.

And she thinks he will break her heart.

Giles and Josette have their first serious conversation on a settee under a stairway in the Sourantine house.  The cover models perfectly capture that scene from the book.

The cover designer at Deranged Doctor Design combined the old cover with the new in a clever way.  The playing cards and the sealed letters from the old cover along with the dominant color image transfer from the old to the new while the focus is on the couple.

Here’s the former cover image.  I still love it, but I love the new one more.

A Game of Spies by M. A. Lee
After Publishing, What’s Next?

For a writer, it’s freaky hard to go to a site that has THE BOOK for sale, type in the name of the author, and nothing comes up for three or four pages.

A writer with part of my name shows up first in the Amazon Kindle store.  And then, oh the ignominy, the other writer with exactly my name shows up before my books do . . . and this after I did research before my first published book to ensure that no other Amazon writer was using my name.

Oh well.

Okay, all is not lost.  We can do a search for the title.

Digging into Death . . . Bam!  Got it in one.

A Game of Secrets . . . not on the first three pages.

A Game of Spies . . . 2nd page!  Yippee!

A Game of Hearts . . . Wow! 1st page.

The Danger of Secrets . . . 1st page.  Yippee!  Yippee!

The Danger for Spies . . . Success!  1st page, second one listed.  Wait, the first book doesn’t even have The Danger for Spies as a title.  🙁

The Danger to Hearts . . . 1st page, first one listed.  2nd Coming of Happiness!  Bliss Again!

But my author page doesn’t come up quickly unless you find one of my books and then click on my name.

And you can find the Hearts in Hazard series just by typing “Hearts in Hazard”.

Indie Challenges

Indie Writers face many challenges long after they have a story they believe is ready for print.

We want to present the best manuscript, one that is polished and as error free as possible.  100% perfection is not possible . . . so we strive for the highest level that is.

Then we can make a cover for ourselves or find someone who can do it at a cost we can afford.

I knew I couldn’t make a good cover.  I am artistically creative as well as verbally so, but a professional designer knows to look for things and add things in and use balance and proportion in ways that I never thought.

Plus, a professional designer knows the photoshop program they are using.  I would have a huge learning curve.  Shouldn’t I spend my time writing?

It took me 18 months to find a cover designer that fit my aesthetic.  I found Deranged Doctor Design by sheer luck . . . for a “God wink”.  They are life savers, believe me.  During my 18-month search, I worked on other books, which enabled me to put out three books back to back, October and November and December in 2015: my first three books, the first three in the Hearts in Hazard trilogy, a one-two-three punch.

DDD is the BEST!  I love working with them.  Their covers are lovely, no matter in which genre they are working.  They provide options and previews, and they are willing to switch things around.  They are clear in what they can and cannot do.  DDD works within a time frame that I understand.  They have a great template that pulls from the author the information they need to work with.  DDD is brave for working with Indie Writers.


After the writing and the editing and the cover designer, the job of an Indie Writer is not over.  Marketing comes next.  I am still working on this one.

Discoverability is now on my ToBeRead list.  By Kristine Kathryn Rusch, it discusses what a writer needs to know about getting their works to the audience in the current state of the reading marketplace.

Getting the book out there, getting the name out there, attracting attention with the right cover and the right blurb and the right audience, these are the five essentials for all Indie Writers.

But I’ll keep writing, and hopefully the “God wink” will happen soon. 😉

I did drink the water in Greenville, MS!

~ M.A. Lee


“No man can enter the same river twice, for the second time it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus

All-Out Hatred:  the Ordeal

75% of our writing energies have built to the Ordeal.  ¾ of the book is behind us.  Are we ready?

Wrapping up the last blog, I said the Ordeal is all-out hatred: Click here to read.

It has to be hatred.  This Ordeal is the supreme battle.

And the outcome of that battle?  The encounter with chief antagonist must drive our protagonists to sacrifice everything to defeat her/him. 

If unsuccessful, our protagonists will be imprisoned by the antagonist;  escape isn’t possible. 

If successful, remnants of the antagonistic evil remain to twine python-like until Stages 10 and 11.


To this point, our protagonists have struggled through tests—with mixed successes and failures—designed to change and to prepare for the Ordeal (July 20 Blog).

Now, here at the Ordeal, they do not dare fail.  Failure means dire consequences.

The Ordeal is not a proving ground;  it is the battlefield.

Strategies, skills, and allies are all essential for this battle.

However, this is not the ultimate battle;  that comes at Stage 11:  Resurrection.


Anne Elliott has struggled to retain her dream against her obedience to family, her private desire against public criticism.  The daughter of nobility, she fell in love with an untitled sea captain unacceptable to her family and her mentor.  Anne’s introverted personality prevented her from publicly declaring her dream.

In the Ordeal, Anne finally and publicly demands her desire.  She tells her brother-in-law. She exhorts him to ensure that Capt. Wentworth comes to her family’s party.  Her urgency is an open declaration of her love brought into the very circle that rejected him.

In the 1995 film, after her declaration to her brother-in-law, Anne encounters Frederick Wentworth on the street.  Her brother-in-law continues on while Anne and Frederick cleave to each other.  After the kiss we have been rooting for, they stroll through the streets.  They are so engrossed in each other that they don’t even see the arrival of a circus.  The celebratory and exotic circus they care about is the connection of their hearts.

13th Warrior

The Ordeal in this film occurs deep in the lair of the Wendol, the cannibalistic cave-dwellers.  While Ibn and the remaining warriors hold off the Wendol warriors, Buliwye goes to defeat the “Mother of the Wendol”.

Buliwye is conditioned to protect women, from queen to the lowliest servant.  Early in the film, at the Call to Adventure, when Ibn first meets the Northmen, we see Buliwye’s conditioning.  The dim lighting makes the details difficult to see but invest the effort.

The old king is dead;  a new king must be found.  The challenger sits beside Buliwye at the funeral feast.  He wants to attack, hoping to catch his rival by surprise.  He plans to strike as the servant girl offers a tray of food.  Yet Buliwye anticipates his rival’s plan.  When the girl offers the tray, he backs her up with a gesture—getting her out of the way before the battle begins.

At the Ordeal, Buliwye faces the Wendol Mother: a queen with a harem of warriors,  someone who considers human sacrifice as holy worship and who is a cannibalistic predator:  “They eat the dead.”

She is his ultimate enemy.

The unexpected opponent for a hulking Northman
  • He anticipates an old woman;  she is young.
  • He wields a sword;  she has only a claw.
  • He knows women are weaker than he is;  she levels their battle with poison.
  • He expects a woman untrained in battle;  she fights with speed and skill.

She is everything he doesn’t expect—and she cuts him with the envenomed claw because he never expected “her”.

The Antagonists

Wars are not won if the protagonist doesn’t have all-out hatred for the antagonistic force.

Anne Eliot has to hate her family’s hidebound snobbery and illogical relationships to cast off her belief in their “rightness”.  We have seen her change coming.  

  • her older sister’s entitled privilege,
  • her younger sister’s absolute selfishness,
  • and both evils in equal parts in her father. 

Lady Russell her mentor is now also proven in error, by Mrs. Smith’s gossip based on fact, not speculation.  Anne’s inner guide led her to Frederick;  now she understands that her love for Frederick was a leading “away” and not “astray”.

Because he didn’t expect the Wendol Mother, Buliwye didn’t “hate” her enough.  His mortality comes rushing toward him.  He separates her head from her body, defeating her.  But she has already killed him, slow poison with no antidote.

And the Wendol leader still remains.

The Antagonists and their Ordeal

In the Ordeal, good writers consider their protagonists’ hatred of the antagonists.

Great writers consider their antagonists’ hatred of the protagonists.

The antagonist has three shining moments in the story:

  1. When the dear is destroyed, propelling the protagonist into the journey (Stage 2).
  2. This Ordeal
  3. The Resurrection (Stage 11)
Deathly Hallows

The Resurrection is the culminating battle:  Harry and Voldemort, finally mano y mano.  Yet we are in the Ordeal.  The protagonist wants success—he might even achieve it, temporarily.  However, the antagonistic force remains strong until Stage 11;  the Ordeal is Stage 8.

Antagonists despise everything the protagonists stand for.  Their hatred, however, becomes a weakness.

Voldemort in the Deathly Hallows Ordeal gloats over his success in enticing Harry into the Forbidden Forest.

  1. He has won!  Harry cannot escape him.
  2. And the poor deluded fool willingly sacrificed himself for weak wizards and half-bloods.
  3. This deluded fool will die.

But . . .

  1. Harry could never escape Voldemort;  they were connected from the beginning although Voldemort didn’t know it.
  • Harry has realized the connection between them.
  • That connection has to cease, or Voldemort will continue to live.

2. Sacrifice for others is not a weakness, but a strength.

  • Friendship is common caring and loyalty.
  • Voldemort does not inspire friendship.  His followers stay because they hate the opposing side or they delight in evil.  Neither reason inspires loyalty that endures hardship.

3. Harry will not die;  he has the philosopher’s stone.

  • Voldemort’s unknown horcrux will die, weakening him in unexpected ways.
The Deathly Hallows’ Ordeal
is a series of juxtapositions
between Harry and Voldemort.

The Inmost Cave of the Ordeal is more than the location, the Forbidden Forest.  The darkest fear of all is Death, for the audience as well as for this antagonist.  Voldemort, who fears death more than anything else, believes he has conquered it.  The darkest evil is revenge.  Harry counters Voldemort’s revenge against all perceived slights with compassion and loyalty and sacrifice, the ultimate loving gift.

The Ordeal leaves Voldemort thinking he has won and Harry knowing that he has.  The encounter with Dumbledore merely confirms what Harry has discovered and what Voldemort will never understand.

All-out hatred never withstands love.

Wrapping Up

We strengthen our story’s Ordeals by considering both protagonist and antagonist.

We can choose to have our protagonist succeed or fail.

With Persuasion, success leads to greater success.

In 13th Warrior, we anticipate a heroic death even as we screw up tension for the final battle.

Deathly Hallows shows us failure that is success and success that is failure.

Coming up is Stage 9, a Reward.

Without a Reward, few audience members are willing to continue with our stories.  And face it, we writers need a reward as well.

Join us on the 20th!




Into the Cave

Spelunking:  the exploration of caves

Stage 7 of the Archetypal Story Pattern (ASP) is Approach to the Inmost Cave, the focus of our last blog. (click here to read)

The name itself—“approach” and “inmost cave”—clues us writers to the multitude of caves necessary for our protagonists’ transformative journey.


A cave is under the earth.  Yes, I know I am Miss Obvious, but I have a purpose.

Spelunking tools include crash helmet, boots, gloves, drinking water, food, and three independent light sources.

Common inhabitants of caves include bats (who navigate by echolation) and blind fish (who sense the tremors in the water).  Most other creatures stay near the natural light sources, using the cave only for a refuge or a lair.

For writers, “caves” lets us know that we are venturing deep into the dark unknown of our protagonists’ psyche—and our own.  We writers reveal much about ourselves—unknowingly—in our writing, especially our first ½ million words and often twice beyond those.

Caves—in literal fact and in our subconscious—are labyrinthine.  Monsters may lurk:  Who is predator?  Who is prey?  Who is both?

Okay, enough with Miss Obvious.  Here’s Miss Purpose ::

Such caves require hard choices—and our protagonists have been deciding and discerning and distinguishing since they abandoned their Ordinary Worlds and embarked on their journeys.

  • Through the tasks, they have delved deeply into antagonistic levels that revealed their own strengths and weaknesses. 
  • They don’t know who or what the monsters are, and they fear they themselves are one of those monsters. 
  • They don’t understand the means of navigation. 
  • And they don’t have three independent light sources.

The Inmost Cave of story is not a cage.  It’s not a prison.

A well-tended green maze is certainly not a labyrinthine cave.

The Ordinary World could have been a cage, but the protagonists have escaped it.  Even when the Dear One of the OWie returned to lure the protagonist back, they continued on.

The Inmost Cave is not a maze.

It can be labyrinthine, with blocked or twisted passages. 

A maze, though, is a puzzle that can be easily solved.  It lacks its minotaur, half-man and half-beast, waiting to devour the unwary. 

A maze can be an amazing walk, but it needs no thread to guide our Theseus-like protagonists in and out of the unlighted passages.


Joseph Campbell [Remember him?  From way back in mid-January > click here for a reminder] places the Ordeal in the Inmost Cave.

The terminology of “Inmost Cave” requires a series of caves:  the entrance, the journey into, the first vaulted emptiness, more passages, perhaps more caverns, and finally the deepest, darkest location.

We journeyed through these first locations, didn’t we?  The C2A, the Mentor, the 1st Threshold, the Tests.  Now, finally, we are heading down to our Ordeal.

Subconscious fears arise in even the most seasoned spelunker when equipment fails while exploring a new cave.

  • The fear of being lost, of being left alone.
  • The crushing weight of earth
  • The claustrophobia of enclosed spaces
  • The utter darkness that hides dangers:  creatures, projections, freezing water, and abysses.
  • The complete devastation of losing the way and being forever trapped.

Senses heighten in these situations.  Adrenaline kicks in.  Only the most stoic can hide their emotional reactions;  they still have them.

No one escapes emotions.

Not even our protagonists.


What fears plague the protagonists?

Unforeshadowed fears cannot undermine our protagonists in the Ordeal.  Plan for them.

  • Ibn in 13th Warrior suddenly announces his fear of heights as he must slide down a rope from a higher ledge into water.  The audience cannot appreciate his fear.
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark left a snake in Indiana Jones’ seat as he flew away from his first encounter with danger.  The audience, therefore, anticipated and understood his fear as the last torch flickered out in the pyramid.

Fear is not the greatest darkness a protagonist confronts.

Evil is.


The darkness in us all is our greatest struggle.  We have dropped into the abyssal inmost cave that our humanity most struggles against.

And the greatest evil?  It’s the loss of our humanity, the higher and nobler motivations that elevate us above the animal.

How do we lose that humanity and sink into evil?  It’s revenge.

Revenge, rather than justice, is the greatest evil when facing our antagonist.

Revenge is not justice.  The ancient Greeks understood that, when they named justice Themis while they named revenge Nemeis … and the Erinyes, the undeterred Furies … and the Harpies, Zeus’ hounds of Hades.

Medea About to Murder Her Children by Eugène Delacroix (1862)

What can revenge compel the protagonists to do?

The villain in The Incredibles wants revenge based on an early rejection.  Rejection seems a silly motive–until you examine the last Iron Man movie and Girl on a Train and Wuthering Heights and Dido of Carthage and James Bond’s villains and more and more.

In the Hobbit, Bilbo confronts Smaug, intense greed representative of the dwarves’ greed—and mirrored in the greed for the Ring itself that Bilbo and then Frodo (and Golum) must confront.  Smaug wants revenge.  The dwarves want revenge.  Bilbo avoids it.

Medea is rejected, abandoned, and cast out.  For her revenge on Jason, she kills a princess, a king, and her own children.

Hamlet’s father is murdered. He kills Polonius, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (deliberately causing their deaths is murder), and Claudius.  Ophelia, Laertes, and Gertrude are also killed in the maelstrom of his revenge.

Revenge has unintended consequences.  How many superheroes contend with villains motivated solely by revenge? 

Every crime, every terroristic act, and every war—revenge starts all of them.

Remember that as you prepare the protagonists’ Ordeal.


The Ordeal is the greatest suspenseful moment and the darkest action of the ASP.  It occurs at the 75% mark of the story.  Everything has built to this apex.  It is the Crisis, not the Climax.

The Road Back and the Resurrection of the Evil (Stages 10 and 11) are still to come.

How can the Ordeal seed the difficulties in these two stages?  Here’s a clue:

Kindness is the golden chain by which society is bound together. ~ Goethe

Revenge isn’t kind.  Remember that.  The Ordeal will be all-out hatred.

Join us on the 20th for a discussion of the essentials of the Ordeal.

In Spring 2017 M.A. Lee released the second three books in the Hearts in Hazard series, The Danger of Secrets,

the first cover: While we loved it, we love the new one more.

The Danger for Spies, and The Danger to Hearts. 

The first three books in HnH are ~ A Game of Secrets, A Game of Spies, and A Game of Hearts.

All of the books are loosely connected with some characters repeating.  However, the plot is completed within the book rather than carried into the next one.  Readers can finish one suspenseful without having to wait for the publication of the next one to discover the end to the mystery . . . and the romance.

The designers at Deranged Doctor Design developed wonderful covers for the three new books.  At M.A. Lee’s request, they used different models for each one.  Response to these new covers was wonderful.

However . . . .

The new covers didn’t keep the branded look for the first three HnH novels.

So, new covers for the first 3 are a must.

Here’s the first look at the new cover for the first Hearts in Hazard book, the first book published by M.A. Lee. (3 Firsts!)

A Game of Secrets

Hearts in Hazard, 1

M.A. Lee
New Cover, by Deranged Doctor Design! Available on Amazon Kindle.

Tony Farraday and Kate Charteris collide on a street.  Kate continues her flight from a nefarious cousin while Tony stays to receive his orders to find a French spy.

They meet again, without a collision, at the seaside inn where Kate has found a job and he has discovered smugglers who may be working with the French spy.

Soon they are deep into stolen government documents and smugglers’ suspicions as they fall in love.

In the first cover, the designer found an image of a period pistol as well as closely written papers and a feather quill.  The deep crimson background represented the dangerous game both Tony and Kate found themselves in, pretending to be innocent when they were deep in an investigation into smugglers and spies.

The designer used the same images and color for the second cover, bringing in the elements we loved with the models for Tony and Kate. (Isn’t he handsome?)

We LOVE, LOVE, LOVE how the designer incorporated the old cover with the new one.

As always, all Writers Ink Books are available on Amazon Kindle.  Click here to purchase.


With Tests behind and the Ordeal ahead, what is the purpose of this stage called Approach to the Inmost Cave?

Wow, that’s a long question.

And what will this Alice quotation have to do with this stage?

“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.

“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”

“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said.  “The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday but never jam to-day.”

“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day’,” Alice objected.

“No it can’t,” said the Queen.  “It’s jam every other day;  to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice.  “It’s dreadfully confusing.”

~~Through the Looking Glass

public domain
Alice with the Queens, from Through the Looking Glass, illustration by A. Rackham


The Approach to the Inmost Cave is Stage 7 of the broad archetypal story pattern.

The 1st ASP section, only three stages, is Separation and Departure.  Protagonists abandon their former existences then embark on journeys that will change them from members into individuals.

The Approach centers the 2nd ASP section, Initiation and Transformation.

Through the Mentor and the 1st Threshold, confronting Tests and distinguishing Allies from Enemies, the protagonists have survived the Initiation and begun the difficult yet necessary Transformation.

The Approach confirms that the protagonists are changed enough to confront the greatest Ordeal the writer can throw at them.


What does it take to confirm a Transformation?

An encounter with the past.

The “past” is the protagonist’s existence pre-Initiation.

  1. The Ordinary World (http://writersinkbooks.com/writing-story-7-questions-start/) can tempt. After all, it formerly had the protagonist caught in its snare of the safe and ordinary.

We all have moments of nostalgia for our past.  Our protagonists can look back at their secure OWs and remember them with fondness-yet also be willing to continue on.

The hobbits do this in Tolkien’s Ring trilogy.  The memories of their lives increase their determination not only to continue their quests but also to keep that blissfully ignorant world safe.  

In this clip, they have returned to their cherished shire.  It is everything that they remembered . . . and Sam has transformed from the bumbling shy rube he was.

  1. The erstwhile Dear One (http://writersinkbooks.com/writing-story-destroy-dear/) can return—both literally and figuratively.

The Destruction of the Dear (the formally titled Call to Adventure) propelled the protagonists into this journey.

This Dear, however, no longer exists.

In the Literal

The Dear that returns reminds the protagonists of what they once considered a worthy treasure.  To have it return, now, is to have them see and reject their former perspectives.  In the Approach, they assess the Dear as they never did before and see the flaws they previously ignored.

The protagonists may still hold the Dear as “dear”, but rejection must occur.  Turning away from the former Dear will cause emotional pain on both sides.  The protagonists release the Dear as well as their past:  they hope for better in their future.

The Dear’s failed attempt to re-ensnare the protagonist could launch another Transformation :: in the Dear.  Even harder to write is the Dear’s steadfast rejection of any change for the protagonist and the Dear’s own self.  Not changing is stagnation.

In the Figurative

The illusion of the Dear’s return creates false hope for the protagonists.

Just as with the Dear’s literal return, the nostalgia and the dream and the rejection of that old dream must recur.

Yet the Figurative return of the Dear creates an opportunity for antagonistic tricks, another test of the protagonists’ determination to achieve the treasure at the end of this quest.  The old Dear is again rejected for a better, brighter hope.

Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth is for the wrong reasons.  He is drawn to her as an embodiment of his dream;  he has not yet realized she IS his dream, even with all the flaws that are attached to a union with her.

In giving Elizabeth all the wrong reasons, Darcy forces her rejection.  The rejection may not come from him, but he caused it.

Jam yesterday is now abandoned for the hope of Jam tomorrow.

Jam Today

The queen’s proposition to Alice is that the goodness of the bright hope never comes to fruition:  tomorrow never comes.  “Jam Today”, however, is coming.  Stage 9 gives the protagonists a Reward.  Stage 12 is Return with the Elixir, the fruity drink of the gods.

Alice will get her jam.  Our protagonists will achieve their goal.  Whether in the original or a changed or a heavily mutated form, that goal is achievable.  The fruit is falling;  the jam will be preserved.

The Approach serves story as it points both to the protagonists and the goals.  Both are transforming.

Old ways, old perspectives were abandoned and are now rejected.

New ideas, new motivations will continue transforming the protagonists.

Wrapping Up

The title of this Stage 7 is Approach to the Inmost Cave, and I haven’t mentioned the Inmost Cave.

That’s because the Inmost Cave is the location of the Ordeal, Stage 8, the deepest darkness of the entire story.

Appropriately enough, in October I’ll discuss the caves and the Ordeal.

Join us at the 0’s = the 10th and the 20th, as we continue our yearlong journey through the Archetypal Story Pattern.

In the previous blog, I asked a seemingly simple question:  If enemies oppose the protagonist, are they evil?  It’s time to consider the three types of characters who are viewed as enemies.

Shapeshifter.  Villain.  Shadow.

public domain
Alice with Humpty, colorized from the original in Through the Looking Glass

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”

These three characters who provide “Tests from Enemies” have strong associations with evil thoughts and evil deeds, but only one of them is truly evil.  One could be but isn’t–or isn’t considered so but is.  And one will be evil with the wrong choices.

Confused yet?  So was Alice with Humpty.


Shifter characters take one of two forms in order to be considered enemies:

  • 1st = seemingly allied to the protagonist but actually working for the antagonist.
  • 2nd = seemingly supportive of the antagonist but actually not supportive.
Second Form

This form has the angst.  Misread, misunderstood, isolated by perception, and excluded before they open their mouths, these characters may wish to support the protagonist.  Circumstances create a trap.  Relationships may gag the truth they so desperately want to reveal.

Sirius Black escapes in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Building a believable angst for the audience is difficult.  Even when building a story with the omniscient viewpoint, the writer needs to select carefully which viewpoints will inform the audience.  Enemies that aren’t actually enemies don’t need to be viewpoint characters.

Withholding this shapeshifter’s angst until the end creates an even more potent revelation after the antagonist’s defeat.

Snippets of body language convey this trapped situation:

  • The mouth opened to speak only to close with a shake of the head.
  • The aborted gesture to stop.
  • The step forward then back.

These behaviors are minor touches that express a repressed drive.

Think Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film.  Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

First Form

This shapeshifter form is the double agent, back-stabber, hypocrite, secret mole, and two-faced dastardly being who tricks the protagonist.  First form projects total loyalty, an ally—even as s/he fulfills the antagonist’s commands.

Friendly connivers, First Form enemies are wholly trusted.  Until the truth is revealed.

Think Loki in the first Thor film.  Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.  Wyckham, antagonistic to P&P‘s Darcy.

Revelation of the true alliance occurs in the Tests stage or is held (preferably so) until the Approach to the Inmost Cave, the crucial Ordeal, or the Resurrection Stages.

Classic Villain

Totally evil dudes.  Totally enemies.

The best examples in story are the goblins and ogres and trolls of the Tolkien realm.  A true villain, unlike an antagonist, will have no redeeming traits.  Goblins lie and steal and kill even their comrades.

Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyers created their own versions of vampires with redeeming qualities.  The saturnine Louis captured hearts;  Lestat reminds audiences of the vampire’s true nature.  Meyer’s Twilight turned vampires “vegetarian”.  I remember reading the first 50 pages or so of the first book and thinking, “Okay, yes, this is going somewhere” only to have great disappointment as the danger just dissipated.

Hannibal Lechter in Silence of the Lambs has no redeeming qualities—any help he gives is only to help himself escape and resume his evil desires.

After Silence…Lambs came out as a film, enthralled fans clamored for more Hannibal.  The author then proceeded to write Hannibal as a warning of what true evil is.

Never mistake villains.  They have NO redeeming qualities.


First Choice

The Shadow avatar reveals the dark side of the protagonist.  This is the reflection of what the protagonist can become if s/he gives in to evil.

Dark secrets, dark instincts, dark emotions:  release these in the protagonist during a test to have a fall from worthiness.  The protagonist must then deny, overcome, reject, or defeat these self-enemies.

Luke Skywalker has the same potential for evil as his dark father, yet he rejects it and triumphs.

Mary Crawford (L) with Fanny Price in the 2007 Mansfield Park

In Austen’s Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford could be a second protagonist.  (She isn’t.  See below.)  She gives into the dark greed of contemplating Edmund’s advance into his brother’s shoes while the true protagonist Fanny Price thinks only of helping brother Tom recover his health.  It takes a while for Edmund to recognize Fanny’s sweetness, which rewards her long and steadfast love for him. 

Very much antagonistic, the Shadow self struggles with negative forces intermixed with positive ones.  While repressing dark for the light, the destroying aspects will ultimately control the Shadowy protagonist.

This is totally Mary Crawford.  Hints of the negative forces that shaped her are explored in 2007 Mansfield Park (totally missing in the 1999 version, my favorite even as the 2007 fascinates me).  She is alluring, fascinating, witty, assured, sophisticated–but the dark desire of greed compels her.

Recovering standing after collapsing into the temporary satisfaction of the dark becomes a great test for the protagonist.  Unforeseen repercussions ripple outward from that cold, hard pebble.

This is truly Walter Neff in the classic Double Indemnity:

Better Choices

Nevertheless, the best Shadows are antagonistic foils of the protagonist:  “There but for the grace of God go I,” an arrogance in itself but also a truth.  See, Mary Crawford belongs here.

As a character separate from the protagonist, the Shadow needs to tempt and even call up the darkness in the hero/ine (Double Indemnity again, Barbara Stanwyck’s character.  If you have never seen this film noir classic, please do).  The protagonist must reject the Shadow because it treads too closely to the path that the antagonist has taken.

And the protagonist must reject the antagonistic path.  S/he cannot tread the evil ways without transforming into evil.

Wrapping Up

  1. Threshold Guardian
  2. Ally (and potentially the Love Interest)
  3. Foil
  4. Herald
  5. Idol
  6. Blocking Figure
  7. Trickster
  8. Shapeshifter
  9. Villain
  10. Shadow

Not all of these allies and enemies are necessary in stories.  They also need not occur only in the testing stage.

A protagonist who overcomes the tests presented by these characters is more prepared for the next stage:  Approach to the Inmost Cave.

The cave itself is the Dark Moment, the Ordeal.  Before reaching this cataclysmic encounter with the antagonist, however, the protagonist must continue through the Approach.

And after the Ordeal?  Well, it’s still not an easy downhill slide.

Writing Story :: Allies and Enemies, II of III

Neither Ally nor Enemy but Something Else Entirely

Alice in Wonderland ~ “The different branches of Arithmetic:  Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

Herald.  Idol.  Blocking Figure.  Trickster.

Those characters certainly fit Alice’s different branches of Arithmetic, don’t they?

These four are categorized with the Tests, Allies, and Enemies (Stage 6 for the Archetypal Story Pattern).  However, they don’t really fit the classification of ally or friend.  They are neither.  Perhaps they are something else entirely.

Let’s call them “Stumbling Blocks”.

Neither Yet More

In the first of the Allies and Enemies post (August 10), we discussed three types of allies.  Threshold guardians present tests.  Classic allies buttress the protagonist.  Foils foreshadow what will happen if the protagonist doesn’t learn the lessons of the tests.

We also mentioned that the Love Interest should not be an objectified reward or elixir, but should enact one of the 10 roles of the allies/enemies.

The four characters in this blog are stumbling blocks for the protagonist.

Herald = Ambition = the goal to be achieved.

An announcer of information, the herald seems a brief, walk-on character important only for that information.

A stumbling block

How can the herald be a stumbling block?

Many writers use the herald to inject humor and quirkiness or edginess and doom into their stories.  The herald can be a casualty of random evil or of the antagonist’s directed evil.

Understanding the herald’s message can form the test.  The message often comes as a riddle.  Riddles can misdirect or mislead the protagonist.

When the message is a simple truth, the protagonist can be tricked into ignoring it.  Worse, s/he may overlook its significance.

IDOL = Uglification = the blingie wonder that turns the protagonist from reality to fantasy

The Buddha seems of peace but merely teaches of apathy and nothingness, controlling all emotion to experience no emotion.
A golden idol may seem like a dream, but it hides the reality in glittering falsehoods.

The Idol may create a golden dream for the protagonist.

Realizing the Idol is merely human is a lesson for the protagonist.  The idol’s “uglification” process may even descend to walking in mucky mire.  And the protagonist will never have imagined the soil that begrimes the erstwhile Idol.

While the realization alone can be a sufficient test, it helps if the protagonist does not at first believe the idol’s begrimed state.  Three reactions occur when idols fall:

  1.  When faced with the reality of the fantasy, people will deny the reality and cling to the fantasy.
  2. Then they willfully blind themselves.
  3. When they do accept the truth, they are dejected or become apathetic.

The Idol is a noun: person, place, thing, or idea.

Disappointment alone is not a strong test.

As a writer, tally up the multiple ways that people become disgusted with what they once held aloft.  The following link gives 9 options for the uglification of the idol:

Click here for a protagonist’s responses to an idol’s “uglification”.

Blocking Figure = Distraction = the sidesteps that divert from the goal

Like the Herald, the Blocking Figure causes the protagonist to stumble on the heroic journey.

BFDs can take away what the protagonist expected to use.  They can supply wrong information.  They can literally stand in the way.

Block.  Deflect.  Divert.

Their intervention causes the protagonist to stumble, start again, go around, or plow through.

Trickster = Derision = laughter or ridicule, a balancing act

One of the most misunderstood characters is the Trickster.

The Trickster is more than a simple ally or enemy.  This character is an archetype.  I first discussed the Trickster in the “Last but not Least” blog of April 20: http://writersinkbooks.com/2017/04/

1956 film
Danny Kaye in “The Court Jester”.  The Fool seeks the audience’s ridicule to build them up while tearing himself down. The Trickster learns to manipulate the audience and thus outwit them.

This archetype has two sides:  Fool and Trickster.

The Fool makes mistakes and never learns.

The Trickster learns.

The Fool, like a court jester, plays to an audience.  He doesn’t care about the audience’s derision.  All he wants is laughter.  His actions are actually reactions, a cyclical feeding off the audience.

The Trickster acts.  He thinks of a thing to do.  Next, he half-anticipates the result (usally, only the best result).  Then he does the thing.  The consequences are not his concern.  He does care about derision.  That derision is the very reason he begins to change.

A protagonist can start as a trickster, as Odysseus did.  The trickster who never cares about the consequences to others cannot be a true protagonist.

Wrapping Up

Sept. 10 will focus on the Enemies of Stage 6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies.

Enemies oppose the protagonist.  Does that make them evil?