Friday, April 16, 2010

The Hero's Journey - The Call to Adventure

O Beloved Blog, my deepest apologies for neglecting you, but a penniless writer has to earn some pocket change for food from time to time. Now, where was I? Oh yes...

Okay, so your audience has been introduced to your main character, and you’ve established the world that he’s comfortable in. Now it’s time to shake things up and get the ball rolling. We need a catalyst, some event that disturbs the status quo or pushes the character out of his comfort zone. Something needs to spur the story on, and that’s just what this phase is – The Call to Adventure.

This stage of the journey takes its name from the time-honored tradition of the Messenger delivering the Call to the Hero in question, or the more modern equivalent of the urgent phone call or text, but this direct approach isn’t the only way that the Call can manifest. It can come from friend or foe, in person or via letter (or email). It might not even be an actual summons to action. It could be a warning to stay away, which provokes the Hero’s curiosity and propels him into action instead of dissuading him. Whatever form it takes, it intrudes upon The Ordinary World and disturbs that comfort that surrounds the main character.

For me, this was a tricky stage to contemplate in terms of my own story. The Call isn’t something you can just toss out there and make the Hero latch on to, it needs to affect him on such a level that it cannot be ignored. Subtle calls can still achieve this by watering the seeds of change laid out in the previous phase, but there must still be some event that makes this Call evident to the audience. The key, I believe, is making it personal. There needs to be some tie between the Call and the character (and, by sympathy, the audience), some sort of impact that makes him want to pursue the grand adventure and draws us further into the story. For Harry Potter, it was that first letter inviting him to Hogwarts. For Robert Langdon, it's someone approaching him for his expertise in symbology. If there’s no good reason for the protagonist and he goes along on the adventure anyway, your audience will wonder why he’s even bothering to begin with. Make it relevant and personal, and your audience will appreciate it.

To illustrate this point, we’ll go back to our young Hero, Rob. We’ve established his life, his routine, now it’s time to shake it up, which his boss does nicely. Due to an influx of new employees who are willing to do the same work for much less pay, he’s released from his job with a professional smile and a promise of a good word to whichever employer he works for next. Devastated because he’s never been fired from a job in his life, Rob staggers back home and drops himself onto his couch to ponder where he’ll be getting his next paycheck.

The Call to Adventure is clear here – there’s a great deal of potential laid out for Rob by the simple act of being released from his job. The comfort zone of his routine, of his existence, is breached and the unknown has been introduced. How the Call is answered, and more importantly if he answers it, remains to be seen.

We’ll discuss the third landmark of the Hero’s Journey in my next entry, Refusal of the Call.

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