Writing Story :: Allies and Enemies, II of III

Neither Ally nor Enemy but Something Else Entirely

Alice in Wonderland ~ “The different branches of Arithmetic:  Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.”

Herald.  Idol.  Blocking Figure.  Trickster.

Those characters certainly fit Alice’s different branches of Arithmetic, don’t they?

These four are categorized with the Tests, Allies, and Enemies (Stage 6 for the Archetypal Story Pattern).  However, they don’t really fit the classification of ally or friend.  They are neither.  Perhaps they are something else entirely.

Let’s call them “Stumbling Blocks”.

Neither Yet More

In the first of the Allies and Enemies post (August 10), we discussed three types of allies.  Threshold guardians present tests.  Classic allies buttress the protagonist.  Foils foreshadow what will happen if the protagonist doesn’t learn the lessons of the tests.

We also mentioned that the Love Interest should not be an objectified reward or elixir, but should enact one of the 10 roles of the allies/enemies.

The four characters in this blog are stumbling blocks for the protagonist.

Herald = Ambition = the goal to be achieved.

An announcer of information, the herald seems a brief, walk-on character important only for that information.

A stumbling block

How can the herald be a stumbling block?

Many writers use the herald to inject humor and quirkiness or edginess and doom into their stories.  The herald can be a casualty of random evil or of the antagonist’s directed evil.

Understanding the herald’s message can form the test.  The message often comes as a riddle.  Riddles can misdirect or mislead the protagonist.

When the message is a simple truth, the protagonist can be tricked into ignoring it.  Worse, s/he may overlook its significance.

IDOL = Uglification = the blingie wonder that turns the protagonist from reality to fantasy

The Buddha seems of peace but merely teaches of apathy and nothingness, controlling all emotion to experience no emotion.
A golden idol may seem like a dream, but it hides the reality in glittering falsehoods.

The Idol may create a golden dream for the protagonist.

Realizing the Idol is merely human is a lesson for the protagonist.  The idol’s “uglification” process may even descend to walking in mucky mire.  And the protagonist will never have imagined the soil that begrimes the erstwhile Idol.

While the realization alone can be a sufficient test, it helps if the protagonist does not at first believe the idol’s begrimed state.  Three reactions occur when idols fall:

  1.  When faced with the reality of the fantasy, people will deny the reality and cling to the fantasy.
  2. Then they willfully blind themselves.
  3. When they do accept the truth, they are dejected or become apathetic.

The Idol is a noun: person, place, thing, or idea.

Disappointment alone is not a strong test.

As a writer, tally up the multiple ways that people become disgusted with what they once held aloft.  The following link gives 9 options for the uglification of the idol:

Click here for a protagonist’s responses to an idol’s “uglification”.

Blocking Figure = Distraction = the sidesteps that divert from the goal

Like the Herald, the Blocking Figure causes the protagonist to stumble on the heroic journey.

BFDs can take away what the protagonist expected to use.  They can supply wrong information.  They can literally stand in the way.

Block.  Deflect.  Divert.

Their intervention causes the protagonist to stumble, start again, go around, or plow through.

Trickster = Derision = laughter or ridicule, a balancing act

One of the most misunderstood characters is the Trickster.

The Trickster is more than a simple ally or enemy.  This character is an archetype.  I first discussed the Trickster in the “Last but not Least” blog of April 20: http://writersinkbooks.com/2017/04/

1956 film
Danny Kaye in “The Court Jester”.  The Fool seeks the audience’s ridicule to build them up while tearing himself down. The Trickster learns to manipulate the audience and thus outwit them.

This archetype has two sides:  Fool and Trickster.

The Fool makes mistakes and never learns.

The Trickster learns.

The Fool, like a court jester, plays to an audience.  He doesn’t care about the audience’s derision.  All he wants is laughter.  His actions are actually reactions, a cyclical feeding off the audience.

The Trickster acts.  He thinks of a thing to do.  Next, he half-anticipates the result (usally, only the best result).  Then he does the thing.  The consequences are not his concern.  He does care about derision.  That derision is the very reason he begins to change.

A protagonist can start as a trickster, as Odysseus did.  The trickster who never cares about the consequences to others cannot be a true protagonist.

Wrapping Up

Sept. 10 will focus on the Enemies of Stage 6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies.

Enemies oppose the protagonist.  Does that make them evil?


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


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