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.

ASSIGNMENT FOURTEEN

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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