Russell F. Hirsch
The Hero’s Journey – Tests, Allies & Enemies
Perilous tasks! Noble Companions! Dastardly Villains!
At this point in their journey, characters tackle initial challenges, making new friends and opponents along the way.
We’re now in the Middle Phase (aka Act 2) of a Hero’s Journey plot line. We have seen how stories thrust characters out of their everyday life and into a new situation—and now we see how they handle it.
The stage we’re talking about today, “Tests, Allies & Enemies,” is pretty self-descriptive. The main character has just begun a new phase of their life and they are introduced to new friends and rivals, while facing some tests as they try to find their footing in the new situation.
When telling university students about this part of a plot, I say it’s a lot like starting college. You meet new people, some of whom you get along with, some of whom you don’t. There are obstacles you have to overcome right away, like finding your classes, learning to cook for yourself, or trying to get some sleep in a wild dorm!
Of course, a new school is often the situation characters face in novels for children and teens. In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Junior starts attending the white school and is quickly insulted by Roger, the local bully jock, who he tries to fight. The encounter forges a surprising respect between them, and though they start off as enemies, Roger and Junior eventually become friends. These reversals can add nice depth a story.
Sometimes the people who try to kill you at first end up keeping you alive later on!
This is the phase where the character is ultimately trying to find out how they fit into the world they are entering—and that world is trying to account for how their arrival might change the balance of power.
The initial tests characters face at this point may be dangerous, but they aren’t as deadly, intense, or emotional as the more climactic events to come later on. Sometimes, like in The Hunger Games, it is literally the training before the real fight begins. Even if the tests aren’t actually that dangerous, it’s a chance for the character to grow and challenge themselves all the same.
Often, it’s a time of adjustment and experimentation. In stories where the protagonist gets special powers, this is the part where they try them out for the first time.
Naturally, there’s room for improvement! It’s important the character improves too, because soon they will Approach more important tasks in their new situation—where the stakes are higher and the paths more dangerous!
“There’s a shortage of perfect pictures in the world. It would be a pity to not thank these links!”
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