Only a fool, standing on the tracks and seeing a train approaching, will not jump out of the way.

Seeing danger approach, suffering the consequences of that danger:  for most, these encounters will cause a retreat back into the cocoon.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the cat. “We’re all mad here.”  ~~ Lewis Carroll

from Wikimedia Commons
Monarch emerging from cocoon, an image from Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies emerge from cocoons.  They don’t refuse the Call to Adventure.  And they aren’t fools.

They have sacrificed the caterpillar to become a winged glory.  But they had to spend their transforming journey in an ugly cocoon form.

In story, the Refusal of the Call to Adventure is just as necessary as the C2A itself.  The protagonist enters the journey because to remain is to die in smothering winter.  The trials of the protagonist’s journey are like the ugly cocoon.  At the end, s/he will emerge a new creature.

The Refusal of the Call demands that the writer engage all aspects of the protagonist:  intellectual, physical, emotional.

The RoC

If you’ve done the work in Ordinary World and Call to Adventure, then staging the Refusal of the Call is a bare hesitation.

In Taken and Velocity (see previous blog), the RoC barely skips through.  The writers get away with this omission because they presented the protagonist’s earlier trauma that steels them to confront the evil.  Few stories, however, have a protagonist already primed to accept personal destruction.

from The Hobbit, 2012
Bilbo Pushed & Tempted

Bilbo rejects Gandalf’s and the dwarves’ Call to Adventure.  One side of him likes his comfort too much.  But we have also glimpsed his desire for adventure, and his decision to journey with the dwarves is understandable.

If the dearness of the cherished sacrifice was omitted in the first two stages, do it now.

The RoC gives protagonist the opportunity to grieve over the destruction of the dear.  The protagonist should also recognize that something even more cherished is now at stake.  Or make plans to recover the dear one. 

Any consequences (especially personal) that arise from the sacrifice develop in the RoC.

  • A lie revealed has consequences far beyond the moment of revelation. How far reaching are those consequences.
  • A broken relationship is not the end of the world. This revelation can bolster the protagonist as s/he starts to rebuild her/his world.  Now is the time to hint—but not unveil—the better relationship to come.
  • The destroyed sacrifice should not have an easy replacement. Various replacements can be tried, only for the protagonist to realize their inadequacy.

Don’t Neglect the Evil

The antagonist must also be considered in the RoC.  Defeating the antagonist must seem impracticable or even impossible.

Development of a worthy antagonist pays off here.  Defeating this conflict-creator will requirement even more sacrifice from the protagonist.

Jobs Not Yet Done

The RoC must also foreshadow the first step on the journey.  Now is the time to hint at the driving force that leads to the journey’s first step.

Remember the dual aspect of the protagonist?  These positive and negative aspects need to come into balance as they propel—or coerce—the protagonist into the transforming journey.

The conflict of the Dual Self—the yin unbalanced with the yang—can be clarified when we consider the protagonist in relation to the 5 Psychological Stages of Maturity.

While these are originally geared to present the maturation of an individual from birth to senior citizen, they are applicable to the hero’s journey.

Remember, the journey is the development of a new identity separate from the collective, a self emerging from the group, distinct and totally individual.

Each level of the 5 Psycho Stages also provides rich ground for character development.

5 Psycho Stages

1] Identity / Infancy: Who am I?  Who do I belong with?  Who is in my group, and what is the reason I identify with them?  What are my good and evil traits—even though I may not want to admit them?

2] Training / Childhood: Acquisition of necessary skills.  The child plays at adult jobs.  The child also learns rules, like sharing which turns the little barbarian savage into a member of the larger community.  Learning the basic requirements of her/his culture is also essential.

3] Responsibility for Self / Youth: At this point, the protagonist does not need others to take care of her/him-self.  The stage’s hero is greatly uneasy when circumstances for her/him back to being tended by others.

This is an important stage for a young adult, and inability or unwillingness to perform the requisite duties and responsibilities is a flashing sign that a character is still in Stage 2.

4] Duties & Responsibilities for Others / Adult: Whether the protagonist performs these duties happily or sourly, willingly or begrudgingly, with great anticipation or with trudging depression, the maturing adult will meet these obligations.

5] Altruism / Maturation: the great mark of the fulfilled soul.  Giving up what is held most dear for the benefit of others can be the impetus for change and is the realization of maturation.

Do the Work

Whether we use the information we discover about our protagonist with the 5 Psycho Stages, it helps us to comprehend their heights and depths.

“A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy Johnson presents these 5 Psycho Stages through the conflict of a white upper-class culture with Native American culture in pre-Civil War America.


OW:  A young man of excellent social and economic standing has left his home.

C2A: He wants to be considered a king, which tells us much about his personal esteem.  Seeking a new identity for himself, he travels to the western frontier where he thinks white men are kings.

movie still from “A Man Called Horse”, based on Johnson’s much more wonderful short story

RoC: Captured by the Crow while bathing and blooded by their abuse, he enters the Crow society as a babe enters the world.  His new identity is slave.

Training & Responsibilities for Self

Tests / Allies / Enemies & Beyond:  He must learn his new group and their ways, their language, their social structure, and the jobs appropriate for a slave and a male in that society.

Responsibilities for Others

He climbs from being a slave to being the cherished husband of a young woman.  All he wants to do is escape—but he cannot.  His new wife is pregnant with his child.  He has a duty he cannot abandon.

Ordeal: Then a miracle occurs—the horrible kind that pairs the cherished dear with death.

Road Back: With the deaths of his wife and baby, he can escape—or he can stay and care for his mother-in-law, the woman he was enslaved to, until her death.


Resurrection: He achieves altruism when he sacrifices three more years of his life until his mother-in-law dies.  Only then does he return home.  He had anticipated that he would brag about his exploits;  we find that he merely says he lived with the Crow for a while.

Return with the Elixir:  He achieves the great truth:  that he is the equal of any man on earth.  He knows this because he is equal to anything that he must endure.

A Mortal Apotheosis

He rushed into an adventure.

He faced transforming threats.

And he sacrificed his cherished dear.

To became noble.

This is something we all want to achieve: a standing far above the ordinary collective.

Coming Up

As the protagonist embarks on her/his journey, s/he needs wiser eyes.  Join us on the 20th for an examination of the Meeting with the Mentor.

Writing Story: 7 Questions to Start

Every man has three characters: that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has. ~ Alphonse Kerr

We start life as a tabula rasa.  Then we transform ourselves as we mature.

Who we are . . .

is not who we want to be . . .

and not who we should be.

All of us struggle with a duality, positive in conflict with negativity and only rarely in balance.  While we strive to improve, we are also tugged to wallow in a morass.

In the ancient monomyth, the Hero’s Journey did not just exhibit how an ordinary person became extraordinary.  It also developed how a shallow community member became a strong individual, a leader who inspired others to change.

The first stage of the Hero’s Journey—the Ordinary World—presents who we are before the transforming journey occurs.

Start with Duality

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (my favorite Tolkien) is complacent, self-absorbed, content

but certainly not satisfied.  He must be pushed and tempted into the journey There and Back Again.  This trailer shows the strength of a well-written Ordinary World and Call to Adventure.


Frodo in Lord of the Rings certainly feels his dissatisfaction, but he lacks both the impetus and will to take the first brave steps alone.  Thus, we have the necessity of his friends at the onset of the journey, each who have their own individual transformation to come.

A character’s dual nature can be two sides of the personality, can be two sides of the genetic inheritance (as it is for Bilbo), or can be two of the Tripartite Being in conflict.


from The Hobbit, 2012
Bilbo Pushed & Tempted

Take care when presenting the primary characters during the Ordinary World.  The primaries should not become so arrogant that the audience can’t stand them.  Any bad trait should be counterbalanced with a good trait.

The Ordinary World (OW) stage of the Hero’s Journey—however brief—is necessary to show the unchanged primaries.  Obviously, the protagonist is necessary to introduce.  Presentation of the other primaries is necessary only if their transformation is key to the protagonist’s.

In The Hobbit film, Thorin Oakenshield’s OWie is presented in flashback, a story recounted in heroic fashion to Bilbo.

The problem with flashback and the reason it is kept for limited use are that it disrupts the story flow.  In film, this disruption traps the audience—unless we control the remote and skip ahead.  In a book we can skip it or skim it—although we rarely do.  Flashback used to present OW information becomes info dump, which is always to be avoided.

How do we write an Ordinary World start to our story without turning it into info dump?

Marion Zimmer Bradley said often to start a story at the first onset of trouble.

However, we need a bit to set up how that onset came in as trouble.

So, find the moment right before the onset of trouble.

1st Story Stage: the Ordinary World

Build the OW with the Latin 7.

WHO is here?

The protagonist, of course.  The actual question should be who else is here?  Any primaries?  Are these primaries allies?  How will the antagonist enter this scene?  Who else do we need?

WHAT is the sacrifice?

The What can be person, thing, object, place, and idea.

What thing needs destruction in order to start the protagonist on the journey?  How is that thing cherished by the protagonist?

The destruction, which is the 2nd Story Stage, is an explosion, literal and figurative.  Our job in the OW is to start rolling toward that destruction.

For example, if the destruction is the revelation of a lie, what dream will the lie destroy?  That dream becomes the protagonist’s OW focus.

The cherished thing to be sacrificed should be so strong that the antagonist can’t just turn away.

WHY is the cherished thing so dear?

Know the reason.  We may not write the reason into the 1st Stage.  We should certainly state it by the end of the 3rd Stage.  Yet we need to know it now, as we start.

HOW will the sacrifice occur?

Writers also need an early knowledge of the How, for we must set up for it.


This is a two-sided question.

1st: The sacrifice needs to be important to the protagonist and another (one or more).  This increases the need for the protagonist to embark on the difficult Hero’s Journey.  Whether the genre is contemporary mainstream, historical romance, fantasy adventure, or another one, the destruction of the sacrifice should shock more than the protagonist.

2nd: The other side of “by whose aid” focuses on the participants in the destruction.

Know the reason that the antagonist is able to focus on the sacrifice.  This may come out at any point in the story, especially if the antagonist has a moment to gloat over the destruction of the dear.  The antagonist should also “know” the protagonist well enough to understand how the destruction will hurt the protagonist and other primaries.

Sidestep to a Side Character

A side element is the character who conveys information about the sacrifice to the antagonist.  This character needs to be familiar with the protagonist:  the degree of this side character’s perfidy is up to us writers.  And the revelation of the perfidy—that is also up to us.


The last two of the Latin 7 seem simple.

WHEN is a moment when destruction is least expected.  A moment of happiness is typical:  wedding, family gathering, holiday celebration.  Try to break the typical.

Pick an ordinary moment: driving home, going to a restaurant, Saturday errands.

WHERE should be a place of security for the protagonist.  Then the sacrifice of the cherished thing becomes even greater, for security is sacrificed as well.

Just as with the WHEN, the destruction’s occurrence in an ordinary place destroys the semblance of security.

Start the Story

“Begin with the end in mind,” Stephen Covey said in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  As it works in business, so it works in story.

From Hero with a 1,000 Faces
Campbell’s Keys to the Monomyth, from which the 12-Stage Hero’s Journey is derived by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey

Writers should start by knowing where the story is going, so we can lay traps for our protagonists.  And our first traps start in the Ordinary World.

Here are the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey.  We are working our way through them, two stages per month.  Join us for the next stage on the 20th of May ~~ and a promo for one of my books on the 1st.

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meet the Mentor
  5. Crossing the 1st Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  8. Ordeal / Dark Moment
  9. A Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

~ M. A. Lee