Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Hero's Journey - Tests, Allies and Enemies

Thanks to the previous entries of the Hero’s Journey, the beginning is told – the foundation established, the stakes set, the rules established – now we jump into the middle of the story, where the adventure kicks into high gear and we learn the new rules of this strange, unknown world of adventure that awaits us. A new adventure means new friends, new adversaries, and new trials to overcome. Sometimes these are obvious to us on the Journey and are easily prepared for along the way. Sometimes they come out of nowhere to blindside us. However they present themselves, the bulk of the journey ahead brings with it Tests, Allies and Enemies.

The three elements of Tests, Allies and Enemies combine to introduce the reader to a new mode of thinking and being through the Hero. Cut off from what he’s known to be true in The Ordinary World, our Hero now needs to learn all new lessons, to grow and evolve as the story grows and evolves. This is made evident in stories like the Harry Potter books, where Hogwarts is nothing if not year after year of Tests, Allies and Enemies. Harry makes friends within the school, encounters antagonists among the student body and staff, and is constantly tested both by school work and evil wizards. Robert Langdon and Harry Dresden are always running a gamut of Tests, Allies and Enemies in the course of their investigations. Because of the huge amount of potential that these three elements present, this phase more than any other represents the bulk of the story being told. In movie terms, every stage of the Hero’s Journey up to this one takes place in Act One. This single stage takes up the vast majority of Act Two.

Because of its importance within the structure of the story, it’s crucial that these three elements aren’t wasted. Tests should not be meaningless encounters, they should impart important lessons that will figure prominently in the climax of the story, which we’ll discuss much later. Allies should not be arbitrary, either. Each one should serve an important story function, whether it’s as simple as comedy relief or as complex as a love interest. Enemies as well should not be random bad guys who have no reason to give the Hero trouble. Every manifestation of an element here should serve a function to move the story forward, to challenge the Hero’s previous way of thinking and being so he’ll be prepared for the big finish. This is key – it’s a poor storyteller indeed who will introduce a character just for the sake of working some personal friend or enemy of his into the narrative, or who loves a particular scenario so much that he’ll shoehorn it into the course of events, even though it serves no real dramatic function. Don’t fall into the trap of letting your ego dictate what works or not! The story is everything, and at the end of the day, every facet of the narrative should go toward building the best story possible.

Let’s check in on Rob’s Journey to see this phase at work. When last we left off, he had just gained a new job in the course of working with his Mentor. There’s no time for him to grow complacent, however. The office that he works in is much busier than his previous work, and he needs to learn a new way of operating so he can keep ahead of the curve. Organizing the office is easy – his boss teaches him how to keep their charts and files organized, and he sets right to it. Once he’s got that down, however, he’s taught more challenging tasks, such as checking insurance for patients, keeping patients informed on tests and services, requesting records from hospitals and other doctor’s offices, and all manner of administrative responsibilities to keep the office running. He makes new friends on the job, even earning a friendship with the office curmudgeon, but doesn’t seem to earn himself any enemies… or so it seems. In actuality, his greatest enemy is time itself, as the demands of the office and the demands of spending time with his friends means he has little time to himself for what he really wants to do – writing. He’ll have to deal with that enemy sooner or later, and it might be sooner than he thinks.

Every Journey leads somewhere, and all the Tests, Allies and Enemies will play a part in the following phases. More than half of our story is told, but the climax is yet to come. Strap yourselves in, because next time we delve into the Hero’s Journey, we’ll be making our Approach!

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