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