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

“Can you do addition?” the White Queen asked.  “What’s one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one and one?”

“I don’t know,” said Alice.  “I lost count.”

~ Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll

Writing Story: Crossing Thresholds

With the Mentor Meet, Crossing the 1st Threshold stands between the protagonist’s ordinary life and the transformation that will occur.

The first three stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern belong to Separation and Departure, events driven by danger to and sacrifice of the dear (see the May 20 blog).

Initiation & Transformation

This segment begins with Meeting the Mentor and has six stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern.

Initiation can be ceremonial, a purification ritual performed by a shamanic mentor before the protagonist launches into the journey s/he is forced to take.

Most often, however, the initiation is the first major difference that the protagonist must adapt to.  This difference forces a new perspective on the protagonist, opening her/his eyes to culture or deeds or concepts that s/he never considered before.  The door of the threshold has opened;  now the protagonist must step through–and s/he now encounters the first true death-dealing danger.

S/he Crosses the 1st Threshold.


Fantastic dual threshold
Old clashes with New when the 1st Threshold is Crossed.

In the world of symbols and archetypes, a threshold is a transitional moment.  Death is the greatest transition.  It is the door threshold, when we move from this existence to an after-existence.

Crossing the threshold means the protagonist completely leaves the known.  S/he enters an existence never contemplated while in the Ordinary World.

Similar to Alice’s plunge into the Underworld, the protagonist encounters rules and ideas and items and people who are radically different.

When contemplating story, writers do not often consider that which must be completely different in the protagonist’s world.  Yet the challenge of this conflict is a crucial opening step for the transformation.

A diamond must be cut and polished before it shines.

Whether starting a new job, entering a new relationship, re-planning a life that had to be abandoned, or changing old ways that failed in the old world, the protagonist has the new to force her/his adaptation.

Rules, Ideas, Items, People: 4 Newbies

The Latin Interrogatory 7 is helpful when examining the 4 Newbies.

What has changed?  Who has changed? 

  • Does the Newbie maintain any trait that it once had?
  • Have the old traits become tricky? That is, does the Newbie veer between old and new without explanation? 
  • Have the changes created a wall that blocks any attempt to use old understandings about it?

How is it/are they different?  Discovering this can take time.  No one can scan the new, especially the completely new, and understand it immediately.

Those differences might be masked, only appearing when the protagonist triggers something.

Where & When?  Is the change random or in a completely new pattern?  Will it follow the newly established pattern until another trigger changes it?

By Whose Aid?  If someone or institution or other major element forces the new, the protagonist may not at first divine that influence.  The discovery of the mastermind could be a slowly unveiling process.  Or it could be a traumatic flash that causes the protagonist to retreat.

Retreat, however, is not a possibility.  The threshold is crossed.  Return is not possible, not at this time, and maybe never.

Why is a crucial question which may take a good section or even the entire story to answer.

The Dual Threshold in The Hob’s Bargain

Patricia Briggs' novel containing dual thresholds
Available on Amazon Kindle and other major book dealers

In Patricia Briggs’ Hob’s Bargain, the protagonist Aren is shoved out of her old life into a new one.  Widowed and orphaned in one event, she fights against accepting the change, only doing so when she is compelled to help others survive against raiders.

Aren crosses her first threshold on a journey to a neighboring village.  She survives an attack by a strange creature that embodies the beauty and the danger of the new world.  Her survival depends upon an even stranger creature, the Hob.  However, Briggs is smart:  she reveals the Hob a step at a time, increasing our suspense and anticipation.

When the Hob is mostly revealed, he becomes a means to help Aren cross the second threshold to even more of the strangeness of her transforming home.  Each revelation changes Aren herself, as she learns about her innate powers that she had kept hidden and unpracticed in her old world.

Because of the dual threshold, Aren becomes the heroic protagonist, saving everyone because of the unique powers she first understood in her second threshold, taught to her by the Hob who is revealed in her first threshold.

Click here for Hob’s Bargain on Amazon

Crossing the Threshold

The key to a writer’s examination of this stage is to consider the necessary elements of the threshold.  We should not dash through this stage.

And we must remember:  this is crossing the FIRST threshold.  More will lie ahead.  Indeed, more thresholds must occur.  To survive the darkest stage of the journey, the protagonist must learn from multiple crossings.

The old ways do not have to die.  New ways, however, must be understood and adapted to.

To slam totally strange newbies at the protagonist is unfair for both character and audience.  Do plunge your Alice across a threshold into an Underworld.

Coming Up ~ Tests, Allies, and Enemies

TAE may look like only one stage of the Archetypal Story Pattern, yet it contains multiple sections of story.  Watch for 4 blogs on this stage as we battle the heat of summer.


Classic Alice long past her thresholds
Alice betwixt the White and Red Queens, both slumbering in safety

Remi Black is finally publishing the first novel

in her epic fantasy series called The Enclave.

Weave a Wizardry Web will be out at the end of this month.  Look for an update on this blog post when the cover comes in from the gifted designer at Deranged Doctor Design.

For now, here’s a blurb about the first offering from Remi!

Least becomes great.  Greatest becomes least.

Two wizards travel sharp-bladed roads in Weave a Wizardry Web.

“Wizard against sorcerer.  Fae against dragon.  Wyre against Rhoghieri.”  As children in the Wizard Enclave, Camisse and her niece Alstera recited that catechism daily.  Yet the war against sorcery seems far from the Enclave, and the current leaders have forgotten that childhood chant.


Camisse hasn’t forgotten.  Commander of an outpost, she defends the border against the sorcerers and wyre of Frost Clime.  Her greatest fear is Dragon Rising, the day banished dragons will join Frost Clime.  The Enclave’s forces are not strong enough to repel a triple alliance.

Faeron recently forced a renewed alliance on the Enclave, which angered the hidebound leaders.  Her mother the ArchClans had promised to renew an alliance with the Rhoghieri.  Camisse is appalled that the Rho haven’t been approached.

Then the wyre slip into the Enclave and kill wizards.   Camisse recognizes the evidence of wyre attack, but her leaders won’t accept it.  She may be a successful border commander, yet she fumbles when working spells.

With the aid of a Fae masquerading as a wizard, Camisse discovers she wields Fire.  With Pearroc’s help, she no longer muddles her spells. 


Granddaughter of the ArchClans, Alstera is the greatest Enclave wizard.  Frost Clime and Dragon Rising drive her to investigate ways to increase the powers of wizards.  Her search leads to a forbidden spell called the Nexus.  This taboo linkage funnels power from enthralled wielders to a single wizard, a slavery that breaks a tenet of wizardry.

When Alstera meets Sanglier, he invites her to join a sharing circle.  Wielders can link power, each one sharing, each one wielding.  Even her cousin Faone, a Naught, can work spells in Sanglier’s circle.

Yet Sanglier is a sorcerer disguised as a wizard, intent on undermining the Enclave.  Killing the commander Camisse will wreck the border defenses, allowing Frost Clime’s invasion.  Decimating the Enclave in its very heart will ensure victory for his mission.  His spells hide the wyre pack from the wizards.  Sanglier plots to insert a wyre in the ArchClans’ own house.  He commands the wyre Arctos to turn Faone.  And he tricks Alstera into using blood spells as well as practicing the forbidden linkage.


Camisse learns that her scheming mother, in a political maneuver to become ArchClans, was the one who shackled her Fire powers.  Angry at her family, she turns to Pearroc—but he is a protégé of her mother’s chief opponent.  Can she trust him with her powers and her heart?  And can she believe anything he says when she discovers he is a masked Fae?

Alstera’s friend Nevil, for dabbling in the taboo Nexus, is spell-shackled, reduced to less than a Naught.  Devastated, he commits suicide.  Alstera knows the sharing circle is a type of Nexus.  Even though she risks the same punishment as Nevil, she refuses to stop her investigation.  The opportunity to increase a wizard’s power is too close.

Then Sanglier sends the wyre pack to kill Camisse and Pearroc.

And Alstera practices the sharing linkage one time too many.

Will they survive the sharp blades on their chosen roads?