Here we are again, and this time we’re going to explore what makes up the bulk of any story — the parts between the opening and the climax.
4. Meeting the Mentor
This is one of the most well-trodden parts of the monomyth, and therefore, one of the most problematic. The Mentor archetype is the knowledgeable character who will teach, train, or impart the hero with special skills or wisdom. This is the character who explains the rules to the hero (and thus, the reader). Oftentimes, the Mentor also gives the Hero a special item to help with the quest. This is Obi-Wan (gives light saber), Dumbledore (gives numerous objects including invisibility cloak), and Gandalf (um, something about a ring). And just listing those three names should show you where the problems may lie.
Because most stories have a Mentor character, even those far out of the European Hero’s Journey tradition, it’s all too easy to slip into cliché. The wise old hermit, the great sorcerer, the master swordsman, the ancient and knowing sensei — we’ve seen these faces in books and movies countless times. So it is vital for a writer to come up with a fresh angle or else relegate this character to be nothing more than a cliché infodumper. Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a radical departure. For example, Dumbledore is, on the surface, about as cliché as you can get. Some of what makes him work is his ability to empathize with Harry and to delight in minor mischief. His personality breaks from the “stoic, learned one” just enough to make him feel real and unique. Of course, if you want to depart from the cliché completely, go for it. The Mentor can easily be mixed with other character types to create complex and interesting characters — even the villain.
5. The First Threshold
This is the point where the Hero has finished preparing for or trying to avoid the quest and now leaps into action. It can be an event or something inside the Hero that allows for this to occur. Either way, this is where the adventure part of the adventure begins.
But nothing is ever easy for a Hero, and so, quite often, we meet the first of many Threshold Guardians. This archetype is easily summed up as any obstacle blocking the way toward the next major step of the quest — either internal or external. Whiny Luke steps through the threshold when he goes with Obi-Wan in search of a pilot to get them off Tatooine. There are a few Guardians blocking the way toward meeting Han Solo, including some literal guards (“These are not the droids you’re looking for”) and several unsavory characters in the canteen. But it’s that step away from farming and toward Han Solo (and thus adventure) that marks this point.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
With a name like this, you know exactly what’s going to happen. Our Hero is challenged mentally and physically. Friends, sidekicks, and others will join the ranks. Enemies will make themselves known. All the pieces of this game that we set up in the beginning start moving in earnest, taking us closer and closer to the endgame.
These tests are crucial to the development of the characters. Here each member of the group shows their worth, allowing the team to bond and form a cohesive whole. Some enemies met will be Guardians while others will be entertaining (for the reader) diversions. And in some cases, we will meet the Big Bad, setting things up for the final confrontation.
Though placed at number 6, this is one of the most fluid sections with bits and pieces popping up throughout a story. The purpose here is simply one of establishing the new world that the Hero has entered, the friends that will help, and the threats they will face. All of this is in preparation for the last section of today’s breakdown . . .
7. Approaching the Inmost Cave
Having assembled the team and learned the ways of the new world, the Hero now nears the big conflict — this is the Inmost Cave (you know, where the dragon lives). But it’s never as easy as just walking into the castle and saying, “I’m here to fight the Big Bad!” Nope. Our hero must find a way in, gain information that will help defeat ol’ Big Bad, and prepare for the fight. A lot can happen here, so this usually is a large section.
This is often the point where a romance angle will squeeze in a final squeeze because after this there won’t be time for such things. Sometimes there is a setback — a major death, a physical blocking of the path, another Guardian, etc — that requires some reorganization in the group. The team may split into smaller groups and one is sent to recon the situation.
All kinds of things can happen here, but one that pops up frequently is the use of a disguise to gain entry into the Cave. Luke and Han dress up like stormtroopers in order to get deep into the Death Star and save the princess. Harry, Ron, and Hermione drink a potion that allows them to impersonate others so they can snoop for information. This idea keeps coming back because it resonates so many emotions within people — sneaking, hiding, fear, and excitement, just to name a few.
The Inmost Cave is the ultimate fate, so whatever else happens in the Approaching the Inmost Cave section, it must set up the final battle. All the lessons are learned (though some may not be voiced until the climax). All the characters are as ready as they can be and a plan is hatched. The poorly designed vent to destroy the Death Star is found and the rebel alliance readies for attack. Aragorn has accepted his role as king and leads a charge to buy Frodo time. Get the idea?
Next time, we finish the whole thing out with the final conflict and its aftermath. As always, treat this as nothing more than a way to dissect what is or can be happening in your stories. These are not hard rules but mere guidelines based on what authors have been doing (knowingly and unknowingly) for hundreds and hundreds of years. Use it where it helps. Ignore it where it doesn’t.
Oh, and a reminder that the big contest is still going on. If you haven’t entered yet, check out Faith’s post for details. The winner gets something from everyone at MW including a copy of How To Write Magical Words signed by the whole gang!