How to get your character into the story.

The Plotting Workshop: Refusal of the Call

One 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.

ASSIGNMENT NINE

Kicking and Screaming

More questions this week. They're based on the 'Refusal of the Call' chapter of . 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 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 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 LOCK IN

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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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 andis the author of and and the upcoming novel She is the original Ninja Writer.

Learn. Write. Repeat. Visit me at ninjawriters.org. Reach me at shauntagrimes@gmail.com. (My posts may contain affiliate links!)