A Hero's Journey - Part 2 - The Ordinary World and Call to Adventure.

The Hero’s Journey – Part 2 – The Ordinary World and The Call to Adventure

In my last ‘Hero’s Journey’ blog I mentioned that the first step on the hero’s journey was the call to adventure. Although that is the first action, something comes before it: The Ordinary World.

We need to contextualise our characters and the world they exist in. This is creating the “normal”. This is the world before our character sets off on their path for change. In Harry Potter it is his life in the cupboard under the stairs. For Frodo in Lord of the Rings, it is his idyllic life in the shire before that no good, meddlesome wizard Gandalf turns up to set the wheels in motion.

The Ordinary World is not only my favorite Duran Duran song, it is also important as it sets the stage for the whole novel. It shows us the paralysis or the oppression that is motivating our character to seek change. All stories are ostensibly about change, be it for a character, the world, or even the author. The Ordinary World encapsulates this.

In writing my current novel, I spent an awful lot of time trying to imagine what this ordinary world looked like. Being a piece of writing that leans towards genre fiction (in the same way that Margaret Atwood’s work could be called genre fiction) I had to understand what drove my character to effect the change they needed in their life. The world is the near future, so I did a lot of research into futurism. Where we are going as a society. I also tried to think of our current behaviours. How we interact with social media, with one another, with our political discourse etc. I then extrapolated out a world that was built on those behaviours.

Now that I had built my world, the next step was to contextualize my lead character against this backdrop and then shove my protagonist out of the door, so to speak: The Call To Adventure.

Often The Call To Adventure is set against a threat to The Ordinary World. It puts the lead character in a situation that a choice has to be made, where they step outside their door and onto the path that will change them. Many times, the hero then rejects the call (which is another stage in their story) before finally being shoved out of the door.

A Hero's Journey - Part 2 - The Ordinary World and Call To Adventure

The Call To Adventure

The Call To Adventure is usually something  that shakes up the situation. It drives the hero to take the first steps towards a change. Often the call may come from an external source, often in the shape of peril, or a bearded wizard in a hat. However, it can also come from within the character. It may be an injustice they witness, or a heartache they experience. Whatever it is, it motivates them to take that step into the unknown and to become a force in the world, be it for good or ill. Campbell explains it like this:

“…(the call of adventure is to) a forest, a kingdom underground, beneath the waves, or above the sky, a secret island, lofty mountaintop, or profound dream state; but it is always a place of strangely fluid and polymorphous beings, unimaginable torments, super human deeds, and impossible delight. The hero can go forth of his own volition to accomplish the adventure, as did Theseus when he arrived in his father’s city, Athens, and heard the horrible history of the Minotaur; or he may be carried or sent abroad by some benign or malignant agent as was Odysseus, driven about the Mediterranean by the winds of the angered god, Poseidon. The adventure may begin as a mere blunder… or still again, one may be only casually strolling when some passing phenomenon catches the wandering eye and lures one away from the frequented paths of man. Examples might be multiplied, ad infinitum, from every corner of the world.” Campbell

In a HP Lovecraft story this could be a mysterious note that tells the protagonist to leave their dull life in the city and to visit Innsmouth. Or in a domestic drama it may be the revelation of someone being adulterous, or a long lost relative turning up.

The point of The Hero’s Journey as an archetype is not so much that all stories are the same. That is not the case at all, merely that we connect at a fundamental level with stories which have this structure behind them. At a human level, we understand how the world works, and what it would take for us to answer the call to adventure.

If your story is about a totalitarian state, you need to build that state in the mind of the reader. To enable the reader to care about the protagonist’s fight against it, you need to demonstrate clearly the villainy. If there is nothing at stake for the character, be it their home, their loved ones, or the world, there is nothing at stake for the reader, so why would they want to continue?

Coming up next

In the next blog I shall explore Meeting the Mentor where I will try and pull together a list of 10 mentors from literature and how they are used in their stories.