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.

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

 Stages

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.

Confirmation

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.

Shapeshifter

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.

Shadow

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, 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. 

Writing Story: Tests

Tests.  Trials.  Tribulations.

In School

Tests determine what we know and don’t know and how well we are surviving a course.

90% level:  we’re great. 

75%:  hanging in there. 

60%:  barely getting by. 

35%:  Are we even trying?

Some students naturally excel, and don’t those of us who are struggling envy them?  Some students are distracted or unprepared.  Others seem blithe and carefree to hide their angst.

public domain image
How do we judge our work? Our life’s progress? Anything long-term when we see no immediate results? It’s not as easy as a scantron test.
In Life

Our tests in life are more intangible than 50 questions covering Rationalism.  Are we working well enough, creatively enough to earn that pay raise or promotion?  Have we met the clients’ expectations?  Did we play a hand in the healing?

We face trials with family and friendships, with finances and life spaces.  We face trials in the daily grind and the major passages of life.  And we face tribulations that scare us and scar us, that drive us to our knees and measure the mettle of our backbone.

Read that last sentence again.

We face tribulations that scare us

and scar us,

that drive us to our knees

and measure the mettle

of our backbone.

  • This sentence is the directive for our writing.

“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

Examinations

In the 12 stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern (ASP), we must remember that each stage is not a single scene with its seque to the next stage.

The Tests Stage is the clearest example of this.

The very name of the stage clues us in that we are dealing with a plural.  In the Tests, we “measure the mettle” of our protagonists as they encounter allies and enemies (the focus of our next blogs).

The greatest Tests in the ASP will not occur in this stage.  The Ordeal (Stage 8) is intended to be the moment of greatest difficulty for the protagonists.  Two remaining stages present the last, crucial challenges (10 and 11).

What, then, is the purpose of these Tests?  Training?  More sacrifices?  Or something even greater?

Initiation and Transformation

Tests, Allies, and Enemies falls as the 6th ASP Stage, 3rd of the Initiation and Transformation segment.

The Destruction of the Dear at the Call to Adventure propels the protagonist into the journey.  However, change does not occur at that point.

Change only occurs when people accept that they must adapt to a difference.  The protagonists enter the difference when they meet the mentor.

The Threshold Crossing causes the first adaptation by preventing an easy return to the Ordinary World.  From that stage onward, protagonists are on a journey they actively pursue and will not retreat from.

Thresholds are Tests

crossing the threshold means encountering such tests
Chinese temple fu dog, a terrifying guardian

What are the tests?  How do the protagonists overcome them?  Why are they placed in the protagonists’ way?

Each test has three parts.

  • The Threshold into the Test
  • The Encounter with the Threshold Guardian
  • Acknowledgement of the Lesson(s) of the Test

The Threshold is the Testing Gate, not a mere event to be overcome.  Each threshold should build suspense.

Now, I’m going to say something obvious.  Each testing gate has a path to it and from it.  Don’t skip over that.  We often skim the obvious and move on, not realizing its importance.  Our protagonists should not bounce from event to event.  Create a lead-up with its blindness or stress, the event, and a leaving with its new sight or relief.

The Lessons of the Test

Coming after the defeat of the guardian and before the next test’s gate appears is the protagonists’ acknowledgement of the test’s lesson.

When our protagonists reel from one event to the next, we remove the audience’s emotional connection to them.

The protagonist can refuse to acknowledge any lesson—which is itself a test to be overcome.

Without acknowledgement of a lesson, the protagonist remains static.  Protagonists should be dynamic—unless you are writing post-modern absurdism.

We can have our protagonists acknowledge that the path requires too much sacrifice and try to abandon the journey.  However, the journey should and will pull them back.  They can question and re-think approaches to their journey.

Look at what they have sacrificed, at their accumulating scars.  Is the journey worth it?  Is an easier path available?  Will the easier path lead to an equivalent or greater treasure at the end?

Yes.  No.  No.  These MUST be the answer to those three questions.

Our protagonists may not achieve their short-term goals without connections with allies and enemies, both secret and obvious.

How Many Tests?

Each lesson leads to knowledge necessary to overcome the Ordeal.

And this is the reason that writing is a recursive process.

We may set up all the tests that we think are necessary only to reach the Ordeal and realize additional knowledge is necessary.  Will that knowledge come from the mentor—to be followed or not—or from the tests with their lessons?

Or we may reach the Ordeal and realize some of our tests are superfluous.

Add or cut, as necessary.

Every scene in a story must have a purpose.  Every test must have a purpose.  Like puzzle pieces, tests should foreshadow the Ordeal.

One of the first great tests for the fellowship
A threshold that foreshadows: Moria in Tolkien’s first book of his great trilogy

In Tolkien’s Fellowship of the Ring, the great battle against the orcs and goblins in the Mines of Moria foreshadows the huge battle of the Pelennor Fields at the foundations of Minas Tirith near the end of The Return of the King.

The lessons Aren learns from the Hob about taking pieces of power from the various magical creatures helps her to understand how to defeat the corrupt mage at the end of Patricia Briggs’ The Hob’s Bargain.

Understanding that love is more enduring and powerful than station or wealth helps Darcy decide to cleave to Elizabeth, no matter his feelings about her family in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Tests link the several stages of the ASP.  They can hark back to the Call2Adventure, the Refusal of the Call, and Crossing the 1st Threshold.  They are part of the run-up to the all-powerful Ordeal, yet they also touch fingers to the Road Back and the Resurrection of the Evil.

Coming Up

10 types of Allies and Enemies fill the arenas of the Tests.

Catwoman is Batman's greatest test
Love Interest Catwoman toying with Batman

Kick back in August as we explore all 10 of the Allies.  It will be September 10 for the Enemies.

  • Threshold Guardian
  • Ally
  • Foil
  • w/ a special word on the Love Interest
  • Herald
  • Blocking Figure
  • Idol
  • Trickster
  • Shapeshifter
  • Villain
  • Shadow