Russell F. Hirsch
The Hero’s Journey – Propelling Event
The beginning of THE END! We enter the third and final phase of a hero’s journey plot line.
Climax (aka Death & Resurrection)
So far, we have seen a protagonist, who was living life relatively normally in ACT 1, thrust into a new situation which they must navigate throughout ACT 2. They found their footing by encountering initial tests, allies, and enemies, they approached a more dangerous set of circumstances, faced an ensuing ordeal, and they re-emerged from this with a reward. That reward, tangible or intangible, helps prepare the character for the ultimate challenge upcoming in the climax of the story.
But first, we have to get to the climax.
Cue the Propelling Event, which, as the name suggests, is the plot event that propels the protagonist into the climax. Other story structure theorists give this stage names like “the magic flight” or “the road back.” All these names work because they all suggest motion. After all, this is when the story really gathers momentum in a build-up to the end. Everything is coming together for the last big confrontation/battle/conversation/reconciliation/achievement/hurrah! (For there are many sorts of climaxes, as we’ll see next post.)
Imagine you’re about to jump the Grand Canyon–when you near the cliff, it’s time to go full throttle!
To emphasize the acceleration and mounting excitement, writers often use a chase scene at this part of the story. In The Hunger Games, Katniss and her quasi-boyfriend/all-around-good-guy/ally, Peeta, are contentedly hanging out in a cave and only one other competitor—a real dangerous piece of work named Cato—remains, far away near the centre of the arena camped out by a big lake. So, the Gamemakers crank up the heat, drying up all the water other than the lake, forcing Katniss and Peeta toward it—and toward a final battle with Cato! For good measure, they then unleash some strange cougar-like creatures that chase Katniss and Peeta even faster. This is both how the Gamemakers bring about the climax of their spectacle and also how author Suzanne Collins propels the reader to the climax of the novel.
I would run to the climax too if those guys were after me!
The heroes may not be the ones getting chased; they may be the ones doing the chasing! In the first Harry Potter book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione must desperately try to catch up to Professor Snape (well, they think it’s Snape) who has gone on ahead through a series of magical booby-traps to steal the enchanted Philosopher’s Stone.
This stage may also whittle down a group of protagonists to just the main one, who proceeds to the climax facing even more desperate odds because they are now alone, which Ron explains here in one of his finer moments:
Fantasy and sci-fi stories typically include these chase sequences and realistic stories often involve a lot of motion at this stage as well. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian the Propelling Event is an echo of the Ordeal, during which the protagonist, Junior, lost both his Grandma and a close family friend. Now, his sister dies in a trailer fire. At the funeral, overwhelmed by the events, Junior tries to run away, literally sprinting into the forest, only to run into his friend and rival, Rowdy. The overarching plot of the book revolves around whether Junior and Rowdy can remain friends while Junior has been at a predominantly white school and Rowdy has remained on the reservation. Both have been deeply hurt by the sister’s death and now it’s a make-or-break moment that will either wrench them apart permanently or force them into reconciliation. They have run right into the Climax.
Whatever form the Propelling Event takes on, the characters have come too far to give up now. There’s no turning back, they’re all in, and it’s do-or-die. Or maybe it’s do-and-die-and get-reborn, as we’ll see soon in the Climax!
Please take all my cliff-jumping advice with a large grain of salt, dear reader. Please take my thanks, dear links, for great pictures:
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