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.

Structures
  • 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.

“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.

Protagonists

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.

Persuasion

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!

 

 

Caving

http://oddstuffmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/cave-18.jpg
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.

WHAT IT IS

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.
WHAT IT ISN’T

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

http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/80000/velka/green-labyrinth.jpg
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.

THE INMOST CAVE

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.

THE DARKNESS OF THE INMOST CAVE

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.

PERSONAL DARKNESS

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.

WRAPPING UP

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.

Writing Story :: Allies and Enemies, I of III

Focus on the Allies

A definition encloses a wilderness of idea within a wall of words. ~ Samuel Butler

Dialogue with the protagonist and two allies as they prepare for the enemy (from 13th Warrior) :

Skeld the Superstitious (after Ibn shows off his new scimitar, whittled down from a Viking broadsword).  With a shrug, “He insisted.”

Weath the Musician: Give an Arab a sword;  he makes a knife.”

Ibn cuts through a defensive pole in one blow.  “It works.”  Then he tosses the scimitar in the air, whirls it around, and finishes by holding the blade to Weath’s neck.

Weath: “When you die, can I give that to me daughter?”

—————

The Allies and Enemies of the crucial Tests are the three-legged Stage 6 of the Archetypal Story Pattern, the Hero’s Journey.

Enemies give the protagonist the tests that are necessary to prepare for the Ordeal.  They seem all important (and they are).  Yet in focusing on the enemies, writers might neglect the equally-important allies.

Without the allies, the protagonists lack the bolstering support and information that are vital to continuing the Hero’s Journey.  Allies should not be stock figures, moved around the chessboard by the writer.  Allies—and enemies—are full-fledged characters who play out certain roles that control their actions and reactions.

And the best reactions contain humor.

Three Examples from One Film

13th Warrior was generally panned when it came out.  I encountered it years later.  The film, based on Michael Crichton’s novel Eaters of the Dead, has flaws.  It didn’t help that two different directors jerked the film around before it was finally released.  

Nor did the critics help.  I remember reading one review where the critic blasted the scene where the protagonist Ibn miraculously learns the Norse language.  Here’s the problem:  first, that’s three separate scenes, clearly denoted by a non-rainy campfire scene, a heavy downpour during a campfire scene, and then another non-rainy campfire scene.  Obviously, Passage of Time occurred, and the critic missed it.

Oh well.

My favorite character is the guardian / mentor / ally Herger the Joyous, so-called because he laughs as he kills the enemies.

When Ibn first meets the Vikings, Herger “greets” him and translates the Viking ways to Ibn and his adviser.  Thus, he is guardian of the threshold to the Viking culture that Ibn must interact with.

Herger is not only a mentor/philosopher who warns his ally, but he also stands as Ibn’s shield-friend. ~

Finally, he teaches Ibn the importance of deception when facing an enemy, any enemy, a lesson that translates to the great enemies the Wendol. ~

10 Forms for Allies and Enemies

In broad strokes, Allies and Enemies basically have 10 roles that determine their behavioral responses to the protagonist.  Herger the Joyous hits three of those roles.

Allies and Enemies will test the protagonists.  They will reveal the steel in their backbones.  Most importantly, they will shield them whenever possible on the approach to the great trial that is Stage 8, the darkest story moment, the Ordeal.

The 10 roles of Allies and Enemies are ~

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France
Flying Buttresses are great allies to the roof and walls of a cathedral.
  1. Threshold Guardian
  2. Ally
  3. Foil
  4. Herald
  5. Idol
  6. Blocking Figure
  7. Trickster
  8. Shapeshifter
  9. Villain
  10. Shadow

A special ally/enemy is the Love Interest.

Allies and enemies may continue with the protagonist to and through the Ordeal.  Writers can kill them off at will—and often do, to the shock and horror of the audience.  (Which often provides an author with an annual apology on the anniversary of a great battle.  J.K. Rowling, anyone?)

Allies who reach the last stage should celebrate, drinking the elixir of the gods with the protagonist.

And they might achieve status as protagonist in the sequel.

1. Threshold Guardian

The Threshold Guardian can be at the test gate, before it, or after it.  The guardian should represent the threat that is to come.

In 13th W, the evil the Vikings are being called upon to defeat cannot be named, or as Herger says, “The name cannot be said” (first film clip).  Some evil is too horrible to be spoken aloud or to be seen clearly.  This is a time-honored trope, originating with Vergil’s Aeneid, when the sibyl blocks Aeneas’ eyes so he cannot see punishments in Hades.

Guardians may determine a level of knowledge or of skill.  To pass them, wits with the lessons have to be used, even to the airspeed velocity of a sparrow.

Resisting the guardian’s test (as King Arthur does) is as active as assaulting it.  ⇒ Never forget:  a negative can be as strong as a positive.

In a love story, not giving in to a prior temptation is as powerful as pursuing a need that the chosen other provides.

For a mystery, refusing to follow the easy path of blame is as assertive as finding an important clue.

In the action-adventure genre (including science fiction & fantasy), turning off the immediate reaction can be as frustrating as traveling down the maze into a dead-end corridor.

Whether the threat is external or internal, the guardian prevents crossing the threshold until the protagonist meets certain conditions:  the test is then met and overcome.  The guardian’s test, while intense, is still minor.  It will not have the angst that the Destruction of the Dear (Call2Adventure) or the upcoming Ordeal must have.

2. Ally

Close support for the protagonist, the ally works like a flying buttress, independent of the main building yet reinforcing roof and walls.

Working the metaphor of the flying buttress, the roof represents the protagonist’s decisions.  The walls = how he armors himself against the world.  Some armor is effective;  some, bulky and out-of-date.  An ally would point this out.

The ally, as a flying buttress, is attached to the main building but stands separate, distinct.  He not only supports the protagonist but adds “grace”, improving the protagonist.

The ally performs one of the three team roles:

  • follower / fulfiller,
  • advocate / questioner,
  • and unifier / resolver. 

The team roles give direction for your ally’s behaviorial responses as the protagonist passes the various tests.

The protagonist doesn’t need to have three characters surrounding him in these team roles:  one character can play all three:  questioning a decision, then pushing to resolve a conflict, and fulfilling his part during (or before or after) the test.

3. Foil

A mirror to the protagonist, the foil will have one or more of the protagonist’s distinguishing traits.

That similarity creates a reflection:  a mirrored character trait, a mirrored disposition, a mirrored flaw, a mirrored story path.  The foil’s path should run ahead or alongside the protagonist’s.

The foil is intended to foreshadow.  If the lessons of the tests are not learned, then the protagonist will follow the fate of the foil

In Fellowship of the Ring, Boromir refuses to accept that the ring is not for him and must be destroyed;  Aragorn accepted and fought temptation.

In Pride and Prejudice, Catherine Bingley does not learn that Darcy is more than wealth and rank.

In Ironman, Stane glories in the power of his robotic suit;  Tony learns to appreciate but not celebrate its power.

The Power of Love

The Love Interest is sometimes set out as a separate entity in the list of allies and enemies.  S/he’s not.  The LI actually performs one of those 10 roles.

Often, the LI is a supporting Ally or betraying Shapeshifter, a stubborn Blocking Figure or a simply-there Herald.

Writers who carefully consider the LI’s role will drastically improve their stories.  No character should be a simple cameo—there to admire.  To reduce the LI to mere statue is demeaning to the protagonist for being in love with such a static and simple person.  Nor should the LI be only a simply-there herald, imparting valuable information.

And to reduce the LI to a treasure to be enjoyed as a reward or “consumed” as an Elixir (two later stages in the Hero’s Journey) is to objectify that character as no more than a blow-up doll.

If that’s what you want, go for it.

Yet hopefully, the LI in your personal life is more than that.  The LI should take an active role with the protagonist.

Develop the LI, even if s/he is on stage only briefly.  Explore goals, motivations, and conflicts to determine backstory and directional purpose.  Consider her/his relationship to the antagonistic force that drives the protagonist through the story.

Please, please, please have the LI as much more than a stock figure.  All the details won’t make it into the story proper, but enough should so that the LI is much more than a walk-on.

If the LI is the Dear to be destroyed, s/he definitely must be completely realized. 

Sow the wind of the LI as an Ally or Enemy, and reap the whirlwind of the LI’s effect on the emotional development of the protagonist.

Wrapping Up

Herald.  Idol.  Blocking Figure.  Trickster.  We’ll unwrap these four boxes in our next blog, August 20.  Join us.