Here’s how your hero enters the special world of the story.

The Plotting Workshop: Approaching the Inmost Cave

Photo by Bruno van der Kraan on Unsplash

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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Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.



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