In part one we dealt with our character’s ordinary world. Part two looked at the ‘call to adventure’, that moment in a story where the main character is given a chance to change their lives, even if they don’t know it yet. This month we’re looking at what follows that stage. Yup, just like when I step on the scales after eating my way through Christmas, these heroes or heroines are often in denial.
At the ‘call to adventure’ turning point, our main characters are often offered a choice: live in the same dull rut they always have, or do something out of the ordinary, take on a new challenge, go on an adventure. Some protagonists leap at the chance. Unfortunately, these are in the minority. Most have a wobble. Why? Because the stakes are often high, and basically, we’re ripping our protagonist out of his comfort zone. Who wouldn’t have a wobble?
Some characters are dragged screaming and kicking into the next part of the story, as extremely reluctant heroes. It’s only by raising the stakes that we can keep them moving forward, giving them strong motivation to accept the challenge they’ve been given. Some characters are unsure but more willing, and with these characters, it’s often the doubts of others that mingle with their own misgivings. Are they really up to the task? Do they have what it takes?
Christopher Vogler calls this phase ‘Refusal of the Call’ and outlines various reactions different characters will have:
- Avoidance: Nope. Don’t want to go there again. Been burned that way before.
- Excuses: often weak, often batted off by their supporting cast.
- Conflicting calls: a second call that tries to pulls the hero into a different course of action.
- Positive refusal: sometimes saying no is the right thing – for now. But when the stakes get higher, the character may rethink his/her position.
- Willing heroes: even if our character embraces the adventure, others around him may waver. Sometimes another character will be sacrificed to show how high the stakes are, that maybe the hero is foolhardy in his confidence.
Which approach you take will depend on your character and the nature of the obstacle they face.
Why do we often need this section in our story structure? Because we’re outlining the stakes for our characters. If the quest seems too easy, a walk in the park, readers will lose interest. To keep the conflict high, we need to show that the goal is not going to be easily attainable. There are going to be obstacles, from both inside and outside your characters, so now is a really good time to sow those seeds and hint at the coming conflict. Spell it out. Blake Snyder calls this phase of the story 'Debate'. It's time for your character, and maybe those around him/her to ask questions, find out what's really at stake, and maybe reformulate their plans. Make sure readers know what your character is risking and they will gladly keep turning pages to see what happens next.
This is also a good time not to just look at the external challenges facing your character, but their internal ones too. What unhelpful behaviour patterns are they stuck in that are going to make achieving their goal more difficult? What character flaws and misconceptions are going to muddy the waters. This is a great spot to show your character in all their 'warts and all' glory before they truly set off on the adventure and begin their process of transformation!
In French Kiss, Kate is an extremely unwilling heroine. She’s already refused to go to France with Charlie, and it takes him phoning up and telling her he’s fallen in love with a French god-dess to get her on that plane. But even then the audience is watching her, not sure whether she’s going to run screaming from the plane before it takes off. And even once she gets underway, we start to see more of her neurotic side. Is this woman really going to be able to prise the spineless Charlie away from a pouting French siren? Probably not. While Kate is sure that all Charlie will have to do is take one look at her and everything will be alright, the audience are less convinced.
Fiona Harper's latest release The Ballerina Bride (US title)/Dancing With Danger (UK title) is available now at Harlequin, Mills&Boon and Amazon.
Prima ballerina Allegra's spent her life on stage. But now there are whispers that the superstar's lost her sparkle… So when she's offered a week on a tropical island, for survival expert Finn McLeod's TV show, she leaps at it!
Finn's frankly unimpressed—how will this fragile-looking girl survive life in the wild? But for Allegra, it's not the island that's the problem, but her all-consuming crush on the unavailable Finn! Gorgeous on TV, close up he's devastating—and Allegra's hours of disciplined dance practice are useless when it comes to resisting temptation….