Only a fool, standing on the tracks and seeing a train approaching, will not jump out of the way.

Seeing danger approach, suffering the consequences of that danger:  for most, these encounters will cause a retreat back into the cocoon.

“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

from Wikimedia Commons
Monarch emerging from cocoon, an image from Wikimedia Commons

Butterflies emerge from cocoons.  They don’t refuse the Call to Adventure.  And they aren’t fools.

They have sacrificed the caterpillar to become a winged glory.  But they had to spend their transforming journey in an ugly cocoon form.

In story, the Refusal of the Call to Adventure is just as necessary as the C2A itself.  The protagonist enters the journey because to remain is to die in smothering winter.  The trials of the protagonist’s journey are like the ugly cocoon.  At the end, s/he will emerge a new creature.

The Refusal of the Call demands that the writer engage all aspects of the protagonist:  intellectual, physical, emotional.

The RoC

If you’ve done the work in Ordinary World and Call to Adventure, then staging the Refusal of the Call is a bare hesitation.

In Taken and Velocity (see previous blog), the RoC barely skips through.  The writers get away with this omission because they presented the protagonist’s earlier trauma that steels them to confront the evil.  Few stories, however, have a protagonist already primed to accept personal destruction.

from The Hobbit, 2012
Bilbo Pushed & Tempted

Bilbo rejects Gandalf’s and the dwarves’ Call to Adventure.  One side of him likes his comfort too much.  But we have also glimpsed his desire for adventure, and his decision to journey with the dwarves is understandable.

If the dearness of the cherished sacrifice was omitted in the first two stages, do it now.

The RoC gives protagonist the opportunity to grieve over the destruction of the dear.  The protagonist should also recognize that something even more cherished is now at stake.  Or make plans to recover the dear one. 

Any consequences (especially personal) that arise from the sacrifice develop in the RoC.

  • A lie revealed has consequences far beyond the moment of revelation. How far reaching are those consequences.
  • A broken relationship is not the end of the world. This revelation can bolster the protagonist as s/he starts to rebuild her/his world.  Now is the time to hint—but not unveil—the better relationship to come.
  • The destroyed sacrifice should not have an easy replacement. Various replacements can be tried, only for the protagonist to realize their inadequacy.

Don’t Neglect the Evil

The antagonist must also be considered in the RoC.  Defeating the antagonist must seem impracticable or even impossible.

Development of a worthy antagonist pays off here.  Defeating this conflict-creator will requirement even more sacrifice from the protagonist.

Jobs Not Yet Done

The RoC must also foreshadow the first step on the journey.  Now is the time to hint at the driving force that leads to the journey’s first step.

Remember the dual aspect of the protagonist?  These positive and negative aspects need to come into balance as they propel—or coerce—the protagonist into the transforming journey.

The conflict of the Dual Self—the yin unbalanced with the yang—can be clarified when we consider the protagonist in relation to the 5 Psychological Stages of Maturity.

While these are originally geared to present the maturation of an individual from birth to senior citizen, they are applicable to the hero’s journey.

Remember, the journey is the development of a new identity separate from the collective, a self emerging from the group, distinct and totally individual.

Each level of the 5 Psycho Stages also provides rich ground for character development.

5 Psycho Stages

1] Identity / Infancy: Who am I?  Who do I belong with?  Who is in my group, and what is the reason I identify with them?  What are my good and evil traits—even though I may not want to admit them?

2] Training / Childhood: Acquisition of necessary skills.  The child plays at adult jobs.  The child also learns rules, like sharing which turns the little barbarian savage into a member of the larger community.  Learning the basic requirements of her/his culture is also essential.

3] Responsibility for Self / Youth: At this point, the protagonist does not need others to take care of her/him-self.  The stage’s hero is greatly uneasy when circumstances for her/him back to being tended by others.

This is an important stage for a young adult, and inability or unwillingness to perform the requisite duties and responsibilities is a flashing sign that a character is still in Stage 2.

4] Duties & Responsibilities for Others / Adult: Whether the protagonist performs these duties happily or sourly, willingly or begrudgingly, with great anticipation or with trudging depression, the maturing adult will meet these obligations.

5] Altruism / Maturation: the great mark of the fulfilled soul.  Giving up what is held most dear for the benefit of others can be the impetus for change and is the realization of maturation.

Do the Work

Whether we use the information we discover about our protagonist with the 5 Psycho Stages, it helps us to comprehend their heights and depths.

“A Man Called Horse” by Dorothy Johnson presents these 5 Psycho Stages through the conflict of a white upper-class culture with Native American culture in pre-Civil War America.


OW:  A young man of excellent social and economic standing has left his home.

C2A: He wants to be considered a king, which tells us much about his personal esteem.  Seeking a new identity for himself, he travels to the western frontier where he thinks white men are kings.

movie still from “A Man Called Horse”, based on Johnson’s much more wonderful short story

RoC: Captured by the Crow while bathing and blooded by their abuse, he enters the Crow society as a babe enters the world.  His new identity is slave.

Training & Responsibilities for Self

Tests / Allies / Enemies & Beyond:  He must learn his new group and their ways, their language, their social structure, and the jobs appropriate for a slave and a male in that society.

Responsibilities for Others

He climbs from being a slave to being the cherished husband of a young woman.  All he wants to do is escape—but he cannot.  His new wife is pregnant with his child.  He has a duty he cannot abandon.

Ordeal: Then a miracle occurs—the horrible kind that pairs the cherished dear with death.

Road Back: With the deaths of his wife and baby, he can escape—or he can stay and care for his mother-in-law, the woman he was enslaved to, until her death.


Resurrection: He achieves altruism when he sacrifices three more years of his life until his mother-in-law dies.  Only then does he return home.  He had anticipated that he would brag about his exploits;  we find that he merely says he lived with the Crow for a while.

Return with the Elixir:  He achieves the great truth:  that he is the equal of any man on earth.  He knows this because he is equal to anything that he must endure.

A Mortal Apotheosis

He rushed into an adventure.

He faced transforming threats.

And he sacrificed his cherished dear.

To became noble.

This is something we all want to achieve: a standing far above the ordinary collective.

Coming Up

As the protagonist embarks on her/his journey, s/he needs wiser eyes.  Join us on the 20th for an examination of the Meeting with the Mentor.

Writing Story: Destroy the Dear

The Call to Adventure


The rain it raineth on the just

But also on the unjust fellow;

But chiefly on the just because

The unjust stole the just’s umbrella.

~ Charles Bowen, Lord Bowen

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

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

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

Starting the Story

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

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

Not quite.

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

1st Look at the C2A

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd of the C2A

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs ranks our functioning levels.

Consider Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

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

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

Let’s Take Taken.

Taken presents a near-perfect C2A.

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

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

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

All this is Ordinary World.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three More Takes on Dear Destruction


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Reap the Rewards of Destruction

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

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

Our readers will thank us.

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

~ M. A. Lee

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