Writing Story: Destroy the Dear

The Call to Adventure

 

The rain it raineth on the just

But also on the unjust fellow;

But chiefly on the just because

The unjust stole the just’s umbrella.

~ Charles Bowen, Lord Bowen

Second Stage of Story is the Call to Adventure, our C2A.  In this Stage, we writers get to be cruel.  We are going to sacrifice, as mercilessly as possible, the cherished thing.

We are going to Destroy the Dear that the protagonist clings to.

That Dear can be a person, place, thing, object, or idea.

Starting the Story

For the destruction, we already know who and what, by whose aid, why and how, and when and where. We mapped this information before we wrote the Ordinary World (OW).

Now all we need to do is write it, right?

Not quite.

We do have the bulk of our work done.  A couple of other considerations still dangle before us.

1st Look at the C2A

The protagonist is reactive in the C2A.  The contented existence of the OW is being destroyed in the C2A.  The protagonist has no control in this stage.

We can increase the angst for our primary characters when we give the protagonist a small measure of control then take it away.

The angst increases when that tiny ounce of control is protecting the dear thing.  If the protagonist protected the dear, thought it was safe while s/he went to protect some other thing (or went to confront the antagonist), and then we writers destroy the dear, the angst triples in shock value.

Airplane travel
Can we leave? Can we leave? Get outta the way!

No one likes to lose control.  Most people’s difficulties with flying arise from that loss of control.  We can control nothing on an airplane:  not boarding, not seating, not stowing our carry-ons, not our checked baggage, not encounters with our fellow travelers, not the AC or the heat, not the filtering of the air, not the cleanliness of our seats or blankets or dining tray, not take off, and not landing.  And certainly not debarking.

The protagonist’s loss of control could be emotional.  It has more impact on the audience when s/he avoids hysterics and only loses physical control (environment, safety) or intellectual ability to choose, ability to act, and ability to concentrate.

2nd of the C2A

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ranks our functioning levels.

Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

On which of the five levels does the protagonist land while in the OW Stage?  Most of us operate at Esteem or Love.  These are most important.  Few people ever achieve Altruism (self-actualization).

When we destroy the dear, the protagonist will drop down to a lower rung.

Let’s Take Taken.

Taken presents a near-perfect C2A.

For the OW, the protagonist is with his daughter, his cherished dear.

We see his relationship with her, an atypical view of a father not giving his daughter the best gift.  We see his allies and his all-important “skill-set”, and we see how his attempt to control the safety of his daughter is undermined by his ex-wife.

While he manages to maintain a modicum of control, it is further undermined when he realizes his ex-wife and daughter have lied to him about the daughter’s trip:  the daughter and her friend will be in multiple cities, not just one.

All this is Ordinary World.

In the C2A, the antagonist is already in motion.  This Stage starts innocently enough with a phone call.

Then the true antagonists arrive.  First we see the danger to the friend, reported by the daughter to the protagonist.  He knows no secure place is available, so he directs his daughter to give him the evidence needed to track the abductors.

For a brief moment, we the audience are fooled that safety may occur.  Then our willful—& wanting and praying—blindness is ripped away.

Taken 2008
The cherished dear is threatened . . . Taken 2008

The protagonist’s negotiation with the abductor restores a semblance of control—but it is only a semblance.  He is thousands of miles away.  He has very little evidence to work with.  As a final affront, the antagonist crushes the daughter’s cell phone under his heel.

From the Esteem level, our protagonist drops down to Safety Concerns for his daughter.

As the story rolls, he does drop further to Survival, briefly.  By the end, he is back to Intrinsic Esteem.  The transformation needed was not his but his daughter’s and his ex-wife’s, to value what they had previously despised.

The Destruction of his Dear is never achieved (although we see several mirrors of it).  It does come so close that the audience’s adrenaline shoots up and never really drops down until the very end.

Three More Takes on Dear Destruction

Horror

Dean Koontz does the same thing in his 2005 Velocity, pitting a young woman against a twisted serial killer.  Once the C2A occurs, the reader is on a plummeting ride.

Our protagonist holds her friend’s life dear.  When she realizes the friend’s family is dead, she braves herself  to climb into the killer’s RV to save her friend.  Unfortunately, her own safety is destroyed when she is trapped.

The action-adventure genre provides the clearest reading of the 12 Stages of the Hero’s 

Persuasion, 2007: Rupert Penry Jones & Sally Hawkins at odds

Journey.  However, virtually every story follows this archetypal structure.

Satire

In Jane Austen’s Persuasion, the dear was sacrificed long before the start of the story.  It is the return of the dear that presents the C2A, as well as the obstacle that will have the re-acquisition of the dear become nearly impossible.

The loss of Captain (Lt.) Frederick Wentworth left Anne Elliott shattered.  She has rebuilt the semblance of an existence (for she is not living).  When she re-encounters Frederick, she must clutch a chair to stay upright.  Her unexpressed pain is so great even her self-absorbed sister notices Anne’s pallor before her egocentrism re-centers itself.

Tragedy

Shakespeare’s Macbeth holds the kingship as the dear thing.  To achieve it, Macbeth must sacrifice his honor and accept kin-killing and king-killing, all in Act I.  Here is something he has always wanted.  Macbeth is a better warrior than his cousin.  He knows that he has the respect of other thanes and fighters.  He saved the battle for his cousin the king.  Only a sequence of birth prevented the crown from coming to him.

Act II concerns his refusal of the C2A.  We learn the importance of Lady Macbeth in pushing her husband to commit murder.  We see her control over his physical and emotional desires.  And we see the commission of three murders, one of them “perfect”, for without Macbeth’s continued evil in Act III, no one would have had any suspicion that he had killed his cousin the king who was staying as a guest in his house.

Reap the Rewards of Destruction

We writers need to set up the emotional connection of the protagonist to the Dear in the OW.  In the C2A, we must remove the protagonist’s control and have her/him too shocked to do more than react.

Then we must hurt our darlings.  Never hesitate to the Destroy the Dear.

Our readers will thank us.

Join us for the next Stage of the Hero’s Journey on the 10th of June.  On the 1st of each month, Writers Ink will have a promotion for a book by one of a W.INK writers.

~ M. A. Lee

Best Scene
Persuasion, 1995, with Ciaran Hinds and Amanda Root. The Preferred Version

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.

OW

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.

BY WHOSE AID?

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.

WHEN and WHERE

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