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.

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