Resurrection:  the return from the dead.

Although famous authors have played with the idea of resurrection, our protagonists don’t have to turn into zombies.  Neither do our antagonists.

Resurrection is not new life.  It is the reanimation of the old life, the former problem, the continuing central conflict of the entire story.

Stage 11 of the Archetypal Story Pattern is a dual resurrection.

Before we go into exposition, let’s look at three famous resurrection scenes from the world of film.

“What I tell you three times is true.” ~ “The Hunting of the Snark”, Lewis Carroll

Kill Bill

In Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, the bride is buried alive.  Grave-deep, encased in a pine wood coffin.  Her enemies believe she is “dead and buried” with no hope of resurrection.

Yet she wakes, assesses her situation, and implements a plan.  She punches through the soft pine then kicks and crawls out of the grave.  Her resurrection shocks an old man.

More shocks await the audience.

Her enemies have turned on each other.  The Black Mamba (Daryl Hannah as Elle Driver) killed the loyal brother Budd, and soon she is destroyed by the Bride (Uma Thurman as Beatrix Kiddo) in a battle that was voted in 2005 as “Best Fight” at the MTV Movie Awards.

We are shocked when the Bride snatches out Elle’s remaining eye—just as Pai Mei snatched out her first one.

3 Lessons from Kill Bill

Lesson 1:  the Resurrection must shock.

Lesson 2:  the Resurrection, whether for the protagonist or the antagonist, must be parallel to another event in the story.  It should not be deliberately foreshadowed;  however, it should mirror the event.  In the audience’s afterthought, the parallelism will become a logical foreshadowing.

Lesson 3:  the Resurrection must present poetic justice.  Elle Driver killed Pai Mei, whom she hated because he snatched out her eye.  Beatrix Kiddo kills Elle Driver, not only in defense but also because Elle killed Pai Mei, whom Beatrix “loved”.

Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter’s Deathly Hallows part 2 gives us a resurrection of the protagonist after J.K. Rowling played throughout the entire series with the resurrection of the antagonistic force.

Because of the philosopher’s stone, Harry does not die.  In his Reward, he is re-united with Dumbledore and discovers victory is not only possible but nigh.  In the Resurrection stage, he returns to his body.  Voldemort is celebrating.  Hagrid is grieving.  Yet we the audience see the beginning tatters of the Death-Eaters’ collapse, as Draco Malfoy’s mother actually lies to Voldemort.

Her lie tells us that Voldemort is not omniscient.  Those who are not omniscient are also not omnipotent.

The mano y mano battle between Harry and Voldemort is intercut with scenes of Hermione and Ron tackling Nagini, the horcrux-holding python.  Hermione and Ron can seemingly do nothing against Nagini.  Harry seems equally matched to Voldemort, neither able to get an advantage over the other.

Enter Neville Longbottom.
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Neville kills Nagini

Two events are juxtaposed.  Neville’s unexpected defeat of the snake precedes Harry’s expected defeat of Voldemort.  Neville is the surprise in this parallel resurrection scene.  Nagini’s death receives our audience’s exultant shout while we merely celebrate Voldemort’s disintegration.  We glory in Harry’s power overwhelming Voldemort, but we are not punching the air in celebration.

3 Lessons from Deathly Hallows

Lesson 1A:  If the protagonist’s battle with the chief antagonist will contain no shock, then another character playing an unexpected role should step forward.

Lesson 2A:  The parallelism of the resurrection scene can be with other characters besides the protagonist or antagonist.

Lesson 3A:  The poetic justice occurs with Voldemort’s defeat and death.  The best part of this scene is his horrified look at the Elder Wand.  Now, at his end, he realizes it does not answer to him as he expected it would.  His richly-deserved death almost seems anti-climatic:  deserved yet subdued, pitiful while we feel no pity, almost beautiful in his dissolution.

Return of the King

Golem’s re-appearance in J.R.R. Tolkien’s culminating resurrection scene for The Return of the King is a necessary surprise.  The surprise occurs because Frodo and Sam left Golem behind.  Golem’s participation in this scene is a necessity because the Ring has finally corrupted Frodo’s intention.

Like Rowling’s Voldemort, Golem is a “dead” creature throughout the series.  He lived off the dead goblins who fell into the abysses of the Mines of Moria.  His old Hobbity self warred constantly with his evil self until the Hobbity self died completely, letting only the evil self alive.

His disappearance seemingly “removed” him from the immediate storyline.  Then he re-appears to fight Frodo in the lava-filled doom of Mount Mordor (just as Bilbo had his own mental battle with Golem in The Hobbit = parallelism!).

Because Golem once possessed his precious, he understands how to find a wearer of the Ring.  No one else in the series has understood this.  Yet, for the audience, it is still a shock when he leaps upon the invisible Frodo.  They fight, a staggering stumble of pummels and buffets on the edge of the rocky spit over the lava river.  The second shock occurs when Golem bites off Frodo’s finger to get the Ring.  He dances to his death.

And with the Ring’s destruction, Sauron’s entity is destroyed.  The trapped Eye of Sauron’s essence frenziedly tries to tear itself away from the destroyed Ring but cannot.

3 Lessons from RotK

Lesson 1B: Golem’s surprising return, his shocking ability to “see” Frodo as well as biting off his finger (mutilation to the hand is somehow more horrible than other grievous bodily harm).

Lesson 2B: Frodo and Bilbo had parallel battles, physical and mental, against Golem.  Bilbo outwits Golem;  Golem “defeats” Frodo.

Lesson 3B:  Golem dances as he falls to his death.  And with the Ring’s destruction, Frodo is returned to his “pure” self;  his innocent intent is resurrected.  Sauron bonded his essence to the Ring.  He believed in the Ring’s indestructibility.  With its destruction, he discovered he break the bond.

Four Compass Points of the Resurrection

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an old compass rose

The Resurrection requires from us writers four important points as we begin wrapping up our story.

Aim North = 1.

The protagonists face their own mortality, whether it is a brief brush or an imminent danger or an actual death.

How the protagonists confront death is the salient point.  Facing death reveals the extreme importance of the protagonists’ desire to achieve the ultimate goal that set them on this journey.

The goal may have changed.  The original desire has not.  The Dear may have changed—and should have.  The desire that fuels the old and new Dear will not have changed.

Contrast the Bride with Frodo. 

She is fully conscious;  he is under the influence of the Ring.  She is driven;  he becomes aimless.  She visits poetic justice twice upon Elle Driver:  the eye snatch and her presumed death from the viper she used to kill Budd.  Frodo receives no ironical justice:  Golem defeats him then falls to his death.  Frodo is ring-less and ring-finger-less.

Our protagonists’ honor and nobility shine through when they face their mortality and still plunge into the last battle.  Death may occur.  They willingly face it.  Why?  Their desired goal is more important than their own self.

Drive Southward to the Doom = 2

The antagonists face their own mortality.

To kill an antagonist who does not realize he is being killed creates a sense of futility.

And the antagonists’ response to impending death is diametrically opposed to the protagonists’ response.  The antagonists fear death.  Voldemort hid parts of his soul in the horcruxes then hid his horcruxes in a bid to live on and on and on.  Unlike the Energizer bunny, however, his life is more in danger because of his piecemeal soul.

Obsession and Fear

Golem’s obsession with his precious Ring is so powerful that he is blind to his own danger and death.  He “died” years and years before.  His obsession with the Ring gave him purpose.  Its loss restored him to the upper world.  The new ringbearer almost—almost!  What a pitiful word!—resurrected his humanity.  Only in Golem’s last blink does he recognize death is on him.  Then we see a brief glimpse of his terror.  In the next blink he disintegrates.

The death and destruction of Sauron’s Eye, however, gives us the essential realization of impending death.  The Eye’s frenzy becomes more powerful than Golem’s blink.

Head to the Expected East = 3

The Resurrection is both destruction and re-creation.

The antagonist is destroyed.  The antagonistic force is defeated.  The evil is stuffed into a coffin.

Writers who want a sequel need to take lessons from Tolkien and Rowling:  each book must have its own antagonist to be defeated while the series’ antagonist must be completely defeated in the final book of the series.

No hiding additional horcruxes.  Give the story up.

Love your protagonists too much to let them live happily ever after?  Start a new series.  Years on, with a completely different antagonist.

Re-creation is as important as destruction

Harry is his own self and more.  He breaks the Elder Wand and tosses it into an abyssal canyon (the film.  In the book, he restores it to Dumbledore’s tomb, still a severed connection).  Harry refuses to wield the great power gifted to him.  He refuses to allow power to corrupt him.  (Thank you, Lord Acton.)

Frodo’s own self is restored—yet wearing the Ring has also broken him.  He must leave with the last elves.

The Bride is now free to seek her daughter, restoring the connection and creating a future with her daughter.  Her battle with Bill is not titanic although it is matchless.  It allows the Elixir which is the last Stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern.

Skew West = 4

As noted in the lessons, the Resurrection must shock the audience.

Not with gore.  Not with a new twist.  A new twist only continues the story longer.

The shock must be something the audience didn’t anticipate yet in hindsight truly appreciates.  No foreshadowing for the shock.  We have to build the elements in such a way that we logically accept their occurrence even as we emotionally celebrate them.

This shock is particularly hard to write since the early-on Stage 2 set up our anticipation of the final battle.

Neville’s chopping off of Nagini’s head is the shock.  Voldemort ripped Neville’s “soul” away when he killed his parents.  Neville has had to rebuild his “soul”.  How fitting that Neville kills the last holder of Voldemort’s piecemeal soul. 

As for the audience, well, we anticipated Voldemort’s defeat.

Careful with Shocks

Knowing the antagonist will be defeated is not where the shock will occur.  Unless our audience is reading one of the so-called “edgy” new series in which the protagonist is killed.

(Killing the protagonist is not edgy, BTW;  it infuriates the audience.  It’s a cheap way to be edgy.  We writers are better than that.  Find another way.  Keep the audience reading to your next series.)

Quentin Tarantino gives us an unexpected relish with the eye-snatch.

Golem’s reappearance surprises.  The SHOCK occurs when he takes both ring and ring finger from Frodo.

And then we nod, at Neville, at the Bride, at Frodo.  Yes, that is symbolic parity.

Wrapping Up

Remember the 3 Lessons and the 4 Compass Points when constructing the ultimate battle scene of destruction and resurrection.  The expected and the unexpected will satisfy the audience.

Not only will they keep reading to the end of the book;  they will also buy the next and the next and the next.

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.

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