The Plotting Workshop: The Reward

the-rewardAfter your main character has lived through the Ordeal, which involved surviving a life or death situation, it’s time for them to collect their reward. The next part of your story is the time when they reap the consequences of surviving their ordeal.

Often the reward involves a party or some other physical celebration for the MC and their allies. Vogler uses the example of the buffalo barbeque scene in Dances with Wolves that happens after the MC’s first hunt. The characters in my book Rebel Nation have a bon fire after their ordeal.

This is a good place for a love scene if you have a romantic element to your story.

The Reward part of your story is the time for your protagonist to grab and hold on to at least part of their goal. There’s still half a book to go, so they aren’t going to get everything they want or need yet. But they’ll get a taste.

And so will the reader. This scene is the reader’s reward for sticking with the hero through their story to this point. It’s fun. It’s satisfying. It feels good.

There is one assignment in this email. You’ll want to read “The Reward” in The Writer’s Journey.


A Taste of Success

Taking possession of the reward is sometimes an aggressive, physical act. The MC is amped up by surviving their ordeal and defying death. They have a new confidence that will serve them well through the next phase of their story–which unbeknownst to them is leading up to a scene that is often called The Dark Night of the Soul.

Think about what your hero wants and needs. Why did they enter the special world of the story in the first place? After the Ordeal, are they able to see some part of their goal right in front of them? How will they reach for it? Are they willing to steal it? Fight for it?

The MC finding the courage and confidence to boldly take possession of the reward is a good way to show the change that is already taking place inside of them.

Take a look at the “Trickster” character archetype in The Writer’s Journey. It’s possible that there is a character that will emerge in your story who will try to steal the reward out from under the MC. They might hide as an ally. They might be an outright antagonist. If your story has a trickster, they’ll probably snatch at the Reward while making the hero and the reader laugh.

After surviving the Ordeal, your hero might have some sort of epiphany. They might realize something about themselves that they never knew before. Some truth about their parentage or some interior aspect of themselves that eluded them before. They might gain a stronger drive toward their goal. Sometimes their ephiphany causes a major shift, or direction change, for the MC as they move forward in the story.

Get out your notebook, label the next page “The Reward” and answer these questions.

  • What did your hero learn by confronting death?
  • What do they take possession of? Is there a physical reward of some kind? Is their reward entirely interior?
  • What is the aftermath of the Ordeal? Think about both the positive and the negative affects of the mid-point climax.
  • Does your MC have an epiphany? Describe it.
  • Does your story change direction after the Ordeal?
  • Is there a love scene in the aftermath of the Ordeal? How did the Ordeal solidify this relationship?
  • Is there a character who will try to steal the Reward from the MC? What is the Trickster’s motivation?

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The Plotting Workshop: The Ordeal

the-ordealWe’ve reached the part of your story where your hero, according to Christopher Vogler, will die and be reborn. This is the second biggest moment in your whole story and third of five key plot points.

The Ordeal, or mid-point climax, happens pretty close to the middle of your story–usually at the end of sequence four. It’s the mark between the two parts of Act II. The Ordeal is important to the pacing of your story, because it keeps your reader both turning pages toward it, and then turning pages past it to see how the MC copes.

Yesterday I talked to you about the Mid-Point Mirror. It’s important to keep in mind that the tone of the Ordeal is important to the flow of your book.

Go ahead and read “The Ordeal” in The Writer’s Journey, as well as the “Shadow” archetype chapter.


A Big Win (Or Loss)

Of all of the assignments so far, this is the one that is the most pivotal to your story. It shapes what happens before it and what comes after it.

Like I explained yesterday, the tone of the Ordeal mirrors the tone of the end of your story. If you’re not writing a tragedy, the Ordeal results in a win for your MC. If you are writing a tragedy, it results in a crushing loss.

Regardless, this is in someway a life or death moment for your protagonist. Let’s look at Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The mid-point Ordeal in that story is the quidditch game, which Harry wins for his house by swallowing the snitch, all while someone (Harry thinks it’s Snape, but he’s wrong) is trying to throw him off his broom.

The life or death aspect of this ordeal has a couple of parts. There is real physical risk that Harry will fall to his death. That whoever is trying to stop him will succeed. There’s also a sort of social death at risk. This is the first time in the book where Harry has the opportunity to really be heroic. He gets to shine, instead of just having a mythic legacy surrounding him. If he fails, he suffers a social death. When he succeeds, he gets to finally start actually being a hero.

Speaking of Snape, this part of your book is where the antagonist or villain really takes shape. Vogler asks you to remember that the antagonist is the hero of their own story. Their story arc runs opposite the hero’s–when one is up, the other is down. Some antagonists are true villains (Voldemort, Darth Vader, The Wicked Witch of the West.) Others are rivals who often straddle the antagonist/ally line (Snape, Han Solo, the Wizard.)

In many ways, the Antagonist is a shadow of the Protagnoist. Just as the hero isn’t all good, the villian or rival isn’t all bad. The dark side of the Antagonist reflects the dark possibilities of the Protagonist. Think about how close Harry came to being sorted into Slytherin, or how Luke could have followed his father into the dark side.

Get out your notebook, label the next page “The Ordeal” and answer these questions.

  • Are you writing a true tragedy? Make sure you look at yesterday’s post again if you’re not sure. A sad story is not the same as a tragedy.
  • Describe your climactic mid-point scene. Does it result in a win or a loss for your protagonist?
  • Does your story have a true villain or an antagonist? Does your story have one of each? What are their story arcs?
  • In what ways is your antagonist the shadow of the hero?
  • Does your Antagonist have partners or underlings? How do they interact with the Protagonist?

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The Plotting Workshop: Mid-point Mirror

mid-point-mirrorOne more catch up day today, Ninja.

We’re headed toward the mid-point of your story, so I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about a concept that absolutely changed the way I write. When I was first taught about this little writing trick, it was one of those ah-ha, mind-blown-wide-open moments.

The mid-point mirror is simple and once you know about it, you will see it every time you take in a story in any form.

The concept is this: the tone of the mid-point of your story will mirror the tone of the end of your story. As long as you’re not writing a tragedy (more on that in a minute), that means that your mid-point climax is a big win for your protagonist.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, the mid-point climax comes when Harry plays in his first quidditch match and wins the game by swallowing the snitch.

In The Wizard of Oz, the mid-point climax comes when Dorothy and her entourage finally make it past the gatekeeper and into the Emerald City.

The mid-point climax is the second biggest moment of your story. The only climactic scene bigger is the main climax, which is opposite in tone to the end of your story and is often called the Dark Night of the Soul. It’s the darkest moment for your MC. The moment when it seems as if all is lost. That climax is followed by a twist that turns the story around again so that it ends on a much higher note.

The high of the mid-point highlights the low of the main-climax, which makes the high of the end all the sweeter.

See how that works?

If you are writing a tragedy–well, first, lets make sure you’re actually writing a true tragedy. A story can be very, very sad without being a tragedy. The publisher issued tissue packets to people who went to see movie version of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, but that story is not a tragedy. A true tragedy is a story where the only positive outcome, in the end, for the MC is death.

If you determine that your novel is indeed a true tragedy, then your story arc is flipped. Your mid-point climax will be a low point, so that it mirrors the end tone of the story.

Think about the movie Seven. Morgan Freeman plays a detective on the verge of retirement. Brad Pitt plays an energetic young detective. They take on the case of a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as a playbook. The mid-point scene comes when the detectives nearly catch the killer, but he escapes. The main climax comes when the serial killer walks into the presinct to turn himself in.

Contrast that to The Wizard of Oz, where the mid-point happens when Dorothy and her friends finally get inside the Emerald City and the main climax happens when they are all nearly killed by the Wicked Witch, who Dorothy melts with a bucket of water.

The mid-point climax is the third key plot point in your story. It happens at the end of the fourth sequence, the start of the second part of Act II. When we start talking about it tomorrow, keep in mind that what you’re looking for here is a big win for your MC (unless you’re writing a tragedy.)

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The Plotting Workshop: Approach to the Inmost Cave


Remember when I asked you take a minute and think about an adventure you’ve had in your life? Let’s think about that again today. You were living your ordinary life, right? And something or someone came along and asked the cosmic question: do you want to take this adventure? You might have fought it, you might have tried to say no, but at some point you came to the answer that brought you into the adventure. You said, ‘yes.’

What happened next? My adventure was a trip to Costa Rica with my best friend the summer I was fourteen. I had to convince my parents not only to pay for the trip, but to let me travel alone with another ninth-grader to a foreign country to spend time with her family, who my folks had never met. But I did it. I got to yes.

And then I took an airplane and a rickety bus, and I arrived in a little town that was as foreign from Los Angeles as possible. That town, and the house where I stayed in particular, was the inmost cave of this particular adventure (or story, right? Every adventure is a story.)

The Inmost Cave is the heart of the special world, according to Christopher Vogler. He calls it “yet another special world.” This is the place in the story where Dorothy reaches the Emerald City. It’s the place where Luke makes his descent on the Death Star. It’s the moment when Harry and his friends get past Fluffy and through the trap door.

It isn’t just about the arrival at the foot of the special world, though. The journey is important. It tests the MC’s strength and determination and forces them to truly commit to the path they’ve chosen. And it gives you a chance to start throwing rocks.

Your hero needs to prepare for the mid-point climax, which is the second biggest moment in your whole story. This is an intense part of the story. Relationships will be tested and solidified. A romance might bloom. Allies will gather. Enemies will fight to keep the hero from the inmost cave.

You’ll want to read the “Approach to the Inmost Cave” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.


Special World in a Special World

The Approach to the Inmost Cave is important to the pacing of your novel.

It’s the first part of the generally slower-paced second act. It takes place, usually, in the third sequence of your story, so it comes after the big climax of Crossing the Threshold. And, logistically, it comes at a stopping point for your reader. This is a place where they might stick a bookmark in it and go to bed. You have to keep the pace up, so that they’ll want to pick the book up again the next morning.

When your protagonist reaches the heart of the special world of the story, you have the opportunity to write an important climactic scene.

Sometimes this scene is romantic. The MC might consummate a relationship or finally realize that they truly are in love. There might be a run in with the antagonist. The protagonist might have to act like a hero for the first time and find their brave. If they have a tendency to be a runner, this might be the first time they decide to stay and fight.

In this part of your story, the stakes raise. If the MC can’t cross the threshold into the inmost cave, what will happen? Could they decide to turn around and run back to their ordinary world? What would happen if they did that? What’s at stake for the antagonist if they fail to stop the MC?

Take out your notebook and label the next page “Approach to the Inmost Cave.” Answer these questions.

  • Who is your MC at this point in the story? How have they changed already?
  • What obstacles do they face as they approach the inmost cave?
  • What happens to your MC as they head toward the mid-point climax? Make a list of the scenes you know you need to have before your MC gets to that point of the story.
  • Does your protagonist want to turn back? What would happen if they did? What would they lose? What do they have to give up to continue on? What do they stand to gain?
  • Describe your MCs inner demons and external conflicts at this point in the story. How have they changed from the start of the story?
  • Describe the inmost cave. How is it significant to the MC? Are they striving to get there or fighting it? How will they feel when they finally arrive?
  • Will your story have a romantic scene on the way to the inmost cave?
  • Which other characters are important at this point in the story? How does your MC’s relationship with them change?

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The Plotting Workshop: Tests, Allies, and Enemies


A couple of things are on the horizon for your hero, now that we’re moving into the second act of your story.

They’re going to meet some people, both allies and enemies. And they’re going to be tested.

The tests that your protagonist faces as they head into the special world of their story are meant to prepare them for what’s ahead and prove that they are worthy. They’ll meet the people who will support them in this part of the story, as well as those who will try to stop them from getting what they want.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a classic test scene just at the opening of the second act. Instead of automatically putting Harry into Gryfendor, the sorting hat hems and haws, listening to Harry begging silently not to be put into Slytherin. He could have gone either way, but he passed the test and was put into the ‘good’ house.

Dorothy Gale meets The Scarecrow, The Tin man, and The Cowardly Lion as she makes her way through her number one test–walking the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. She also comes in contact fairly soon after taking her first steps down that road with the Wicked Witch of the West.

You’ll want to read the “Tests, Allies, and Enemies” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.


The Measure of a Hero

The purpose of the tests that you’ll be putting your protagonist through are there to both prepare them for what’s to come and prove their worth as a hero. These generally aren’t life-and-death level obstacles. Those come later. They’re more like stumbling blocks as your MC starts to navigate the special world of the story.

This first part of the second act is also the time when your MC will start to meet the people who will be important to the story–or when people he already knows solidify either into part of his team of allies or become his enemy.

Take out your notebook and label the next page “Tests, Allies, and Enemies.” Answer these questions.

  • How does the special world of the story contrast with the protagonist’s ordinary world?
  • How will your MC be tested? Think about what part of their personality or physical self needs to be poked a little, to prove that the hero is ready for the challenge of the story.
  • How does your protagonist cope with the special world? Do they handle change well or do they fight it? What are their go-to coping mechanisims? Will they work?
  • Who will your MC’s allies be and when will they meet them?
  • Who are your MC’s enemies? Think about the antagonists’ stakes and motives. Where d the enemies fit into the special world of the story?
  • Vogler writes, “No matter how many schools he has been through, he’s a freshman all over again in this new world.” Take a few minutes to write about what being a freshman in this new world feels like for your MC. What are they afraid of? Which table do they eat lunch at?

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The Plotting Workshop: Crossing the Threshold


Today we’re wrapping up planning the first act of your story by talking about crossing the first threshold.

A threshold is a doorway, right? As far as your story goes, the first threshold is the doorway between your protagonist’s ordinary world and the special world of the story.

Sometimes I call this part of the story the Lock-in and it’s the second key plot point in your story. If the Call to Adventure is a question, Crossing the Threshold is the answer. And remember, the answer (however grudgingly given) is always, eventually, yes.

Your main character has to cross from their ordinary world into the special world of the story. There’s no way around it. For the next couple of days we’re going to think about how that happens in your story.

You’ll want to read the “Crossing the Threshold” chapter in Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey.


Getting to Yes

Sometimes the MC makes a decision to do something that locks them into their story. Think about Hagrid asking Harry if he’d like to come with him to Hogwarts or Luke Skywalker telling Obi Wan that he’s ready for Jedi training.

Sometimes it’s out of the MC’s hands. Dorothy Gale is literally lifted by a force of nature and placed on top of what might have been her worst enemy in Oz, the magical, special world of her story.

However it happens, no matter how many times or how hard your MC has tried to refuse the Call to Adventure, something is going to happen around the end of the first act that will force them to answer yes. Eventually entering the world of the story will be more compelling than trying to resist change.

Take out your notebook, label the next page “Crossing the Threshold” and answer these questions.

How does your MC cross into the story? Think about the imagery of the moment when the decision to go into the story is made. This is a big moment in your story, one that readers will remember, so make it sensory.
Is your MC willing to cross the threshold? Is there still something holding them back? What are the stakes if they cross? What are the stakes if they don’t? Do they have a choice, or is the choice made for them?
Are there threshold guardians? We talked about these characters before–they want to protect your MC or for some other reason keep them from crossing the threshold. Think about them again now that you’d thought some more about the first act. What are their motivations? What’s at stake for them?
How does your MC deal with their threshold guardian?
What does your MC learn from crossing the threshold? Maybe something about themself or something about their normal world that shows them that it wasn’t what they thought it was. Maybe they learn something about someone important in their life.
Crossing the Threshold is a set piece for your story. One of the major climaxes. It generally happens around the end of the first act. It’s okay to go splashy with this scene, if your story calls for it. Give your readers a strongly visual experience.

The setting might change at this point in your story. Harry Potter goes from the muggle world to Hogwarts. Dorothy goes from her Kansas farm to Oz. Luke Skywalker goes from his aunt and uncle’s moisture farm to the world of Jedi training. Crossing the Threshold represents a major shift or change for your MC.

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The Ninja Writer’s Secret Weapon


I love a new year.

I really do.

I love the feeling of a fresh start. I love the reminder to stop a minute and really think about my goals.

I might have a little planner addiction. No kidding, I use six of them:

  1. A monthly planner (this is like a wall calendar, in book form) that I use for meal planning.
  2. A regular old weekly agenda-type planner.
  3. A month-over-two-pages planner that I use as an editorial calendar for all manner of writing.
  4. A bullet journal for lists, and just for fun because I love it so much.
  5. A Passion Planner for goal setting.
  6. A page-a-day calendar for my daily to-do list.

That’s a lot. And I have a lot going on. Ninja Writers. My own book writing. Three kids. A husband. My parents-in-law living in our basement apartment. I’m a major (and unapologetic) soccer mom. A house that I try to keep from falling into hazardous-waste territory. Plus, I’m getting ready to start my second semester of graduate school.

I’m also super right-brained. Yes. Yes, I know. Right-brained isn’t really a thing according to science. But you know what I mean, right? I’m a creative type. I’m great at starts and suck at finishing anything. I love the planning and not so much with the follow-through sometimes.

Sometimes it seems like getting in over my head is my super power.

So, I had to come up with a way to actually get the things done that are the most important to me.

I call it my Secret Weapon.

It consolidates all of those planners into a system that really works.

It’s not a replacement for a regular weekly or monthly planner. It’s more like an enhancement.

It’s a booster.

In the last 18 months I’ve used it to help me: write two books, lose 120 pounds, and start Ninja Writers (which is the coolest, most amazing thing I’ve EVER done.)

I’ve quit my day job. I’ve made serious progress toward getting out of debt. I got accepted into a graduate program.

My Secret Weapon facilitated all of that.

Seriously. It’s that powerful.

I want to give it to you for free.

Just fill out this form and I’ll send you a downloadable PDF with the Secret Weapon and instructions for using it.

The Ninja Writer's Secret Weapon

Ninja Writers finish their first drafts. We just do. That's our THING.

If you want to finish your first draft, I've got your secret weapon.

Leave your email address and I'll get it right to you.

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The Plotting Workshop: Meeting the Mentor


We’re closing up Act I soon, but we still need to talk about one character who will probably make an appearance somewhere in the beginning of your book.

The Mentor is the person who guides our Hero as they make their way into their story. Often they have been through a similar journey and survived. Usually they are older and wiser. In a Young Adult book, where parents are usually largely absent, the Mentor can be a desperately needed guiding force.

The Mentor represents what the Hero could become, if they make the right choices and stick to their path. In many ways, the Mentor grounds the Hero.

I want to be very clear: not every story has a mentor. It’s okay if yours doesn’t. It still makes sense to spend sometime thinking about mentors today, in case you find that adding this character might enrich your story.

For this lesson, you want to read the “Mentor” and “Meeting the Mentor” chapters of The Writer’s Journey.

There is one assignment this time around.


An Important Introduction

Your Hero will probably either meet the Mentor or realize the Mentor’s importance at a time when they need guidance. Think about Dorothy meeting Glinda the Good Witch of the North just as her house has landed on top of a bad witch in a weird place. Or Harry meeting Dumbledor as he comes to Hogwarts for the first time and really has no idea what how to be a wizard, much less a wizard who survived an attack by the baddest bad guy.

The Mentor probably has a gift to give the Hero, but that gift should be earned. Instead of just telling Dorothy how easy it was to go home, Glinda made her to through a pretty harrowing series of tests. Instead of just putting Harry in Gryffindor, Dumbledor required him to sort it out with the sorting hat.

Sometimes the Mentor is a mess. The Meeting of the Mentor can actually be a junction between the Hero’s story and the Mentor’s, so that the Mentor is required to straighten themselves out to help the Hero–and further their own story. In this kind of story, the reader (and the MC) might not be certain that the Mentor will be able to help at all.

Lastly, your story might have a false Mentor or two. Someone who seems to want to help, and maybe even starts out in a Mentor role, but eventually falls short. Maybe, instead of helping your MC toward the story, they try to stop them from entering that special world. Maybe they have ulterior motives. Perhaps they are a villain in disguise.

One of my favorite mentors is Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler. I even named my cat Freddy after him. Alfred is old and to an outsider he may seem frail. When you contrast him to Batman, a true hero, he might not seem like much. But Alfred raised Bruce after his parents died. And he takes care of all the things that need taken care of so that Bruce can be Batman and do his thing. He offers advice that Bruce Wayne needs, when he needs it.

For this assignment, you’re going to answer more questions. Vogler has a series of questions in his chapter about meeting the mentor that will help you understand this part of the story better.

Open your notebook to a new page, label is MEETING THE MENTOR and answer these questions.

  • Who is your MC’s Mentor? Is it someone they already know or someone they will meet in the story?
  • Are there any false Mentors in your story? Write a little about them. If they don’t want to help the MC into their adventure, what do they want?
  • What is your MC’s code of ethics? What boundaries and rules direct their actions? How do they decide if they are good or bad?

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The Plotting Workshop: Refusal of the Call


refusal-of-the-callOne of the most entertaining bits of any story is watching the Protagonist try to wiggle out of accepting the Call to Adventure. At some point, the answer to the question of whether or not they will come into the special world of the story has to be yes, but they often say no several times before they get there.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry’s Call to Adventure (his invitation to Hogwarts) is refused several times on his behalf by his magic-fearing, muggle aunt and uncle. They try hard not to let Harry see the letters addressed to him, all the way to going to a cabin on an island in the middle of a storm.

In the first original Star Wars movie, Luke Skywalker refuses at first to let Obi Wan Kenobi train him in the ways of the Force. It isn’t until his aunt and uncle are killed that he accepts his call.

If you have a copy, you’ll want to read the ‘Refusal of the Call’ chapter in The Writer’s Journey.


Kicking and Screaming

More questions this week. They’re based on the ‘Refusal of the Call’ chapter of The Writer’s Journey. As always, read the chapter and answer all of Vogler’s questions to better understand this part of your story.

You might also want to read the section in The Writer’s Journey about Threshold Guardians (page 49-52.) A Threshold Guardian is a character who stands between your MC and their adventure. The Threshold Guardian might be an antagonist or an agent of the antagonist, trying to stop the MC from doing what needs to be done. It might be someone who could have been a mentor, if they were a little braver. Think about a parent or boss or teacher warning the MC against taking the leap into their adventure.

Harry Potter’s aunt and uncle are major Threshold Guardians. They try hard not to let him even know he’s had a call. They’re terrified of magic and that fear drives them to hurt Harry instead of being the caretakers they might otherwise have been.

There can also, sometimes, be a physical barrier between the MC and their adventure. Think about the way that Harry Potter has to run straight at a brick wall to the platform where he can catch the train to Hogwarts. Vogler uses the example of Belle in Beauty and the Beast being told that a certain part of the Beast’s castle is off limits.

Your MC’s personal, lived experience can also serve as a barrier. Something in their past might be making them reluctant to accept the call. Think about Luke Skywalker promising his uncle one more year of work at the moisture farm.

Take out your notebook, label the next page THE REFUSAL OF THE CALL and answer these questions.

  • What is your MC afraid of? I know you answered this one last time, but it’s even more important now. Your protagonist’s fear is most likely the biggest barrier they have to taking the leap into the story.
  • Is there a Threshold Guardian? Is there a person standing between your protagonist and their adventure? Is someone advising them not to accept the call? Who is the Threshold Guardian and why is it important to them that the MC not go into the special world of the story? Think about the roll your Threshold Guardian plays in your story. Will they eventually become ally or antagonist?
  • Is there a physical barrier? Does something in the physical world, like the wall between the muggle world and platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter books, stand between your MC and accepting the call?
  • Is your protagonist a willing hero? Are they gung ho about their adventure or are they more reluctant? Why?
  • Is there something in your MC’s past experience that is causing them to refuse? Do they have experience with whatever form the call is taking? Have they fallen in love before and been burned? Have they trusted someone in the past and lived to regret it? Did they make a promise they’ll have to break to accept the call?
  • When does your MC finally accept the call? Think about what that will look like. It might come easily, it might be a hard fought battle, but at some point your character has to move into the special world of the story.


The moment when your character accepts the call to adventure is sometimes called the Lock In. This is the second of five key plot points in your story and is usually the climactic scene at the end of sequence 2 and the gateway between Acts one and two of your story.

If the Call to Adventure is a question, the Lock In is the final answer. After a refusal or two (or ten), the MC has to get to yes somehow. Sometimes it’s out of their hands. The tornado doesn’t exactly ask Dorothy if she wants to go to Oz, right? Sometimes they have to formally accept, like Harry Potter and his invitation to Hogwarts. Sometimes every option for refusing to change is taken away, which is what happens for Luke Skywalker when his aunt and uncle are killed. The journey between the question and the answer is one of the most important parts of your story.

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The Plotting Workshop: The Call to Adventure


I’m a story junkie. I read a lot. I love movies. I love good TV. There’s even something about me that makes other people want to tell me their stories.

And that’s okay, because if you tell me a story, you’ve found the way to my heart.

The crux of a story is the moment when the protagonist, our hero, goes from being their regular, everyday self in their regular, everyday world (whatever that might look like) into the adventure of the special world of what’s going to happen next.

The Call to Adventure is a question posed to the protagonist. Will you come into this story? The answer, eventually and in one way or the other, will always be yes.

Sometimes the Call to Adventure is called the Inciting Incident, and it’s the first of five key plot points in your story. It’s that important. It generally happens as the climactic scene at the end of the first sequence of your story.

If you have a copy, read the “Call to Adventure” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.


The Question

The thing that calls your character from their ordinary world into the world of the story can come in a variety of ways. Like I said, it’s a question. So, it might come in the form of someone asking a question. Think of Hagrid showing up to offer Harry a spot at Hogwarts.

That someone often becomes a mentor to the MC. Hagrid, Obi Wan Kenobi, the White Rabbit, are all characters who serve as mentors and deliver the question of the Call to Action.

The call might be internal. A longing inside the hero, like an itch they are compelled to scratch. Dorothy is literally picked up by an act of God and put back down in the special world of her story, but the reason she isn’t safe in the storm cellar where she should have been is because she was drawn to run away by an inner longing for something she couldn’t find at home. Anyone who watches The Wizard of Oz feels Dorothy’s longing when she sings Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

For this assignment, you’re going to answer some more questions. These are based on Christopher Vogler’s “Call to Adventure” chapter of The Writer’s Journey, and just like when you were working on The Ordinary World, answering all of his questions at the end of that chapter will help you better understand this part of the storytelling.

  • What wakes your MC up? Something happens, in any story, that wakes your protagonist up to the fact that a story awaits. It might be subtle. It might be a tornado that lifts your house up and drops it in Oz.
  • What are your MC’s choices? Even Dorothy had a choice when her call to adventure came. She could have just hid under her bed and refused to come out. She could have decided to take her own path instead of following the yellow brick road. What choices does your protagonist have when the Call to Adventure comes? Make a list of every direction they could turn.
  • What is your MC afraid of? This is an important question, because it’s often the thing that scares them most that draws them into their story.
  • Does your MC think his life needs change? Some protagonists know on a soul level that change needs to happen. Others believe their lives are perfectly fine and the Call to Adventure hits them like a sack of bricks.
  • Does your MC refuse the call? Most do. Protagonists are just people, after all, and most people resist change. Even if they know it’s necessary, most refuse. Take a few minutes to think about whether or not yours does, and the reasons why.

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