In the post Writing 101: 2-A we went over creating protagonists and antagonists. In it we covered the hero myth, 12 (or so) steps taken from the great hero epics, and we discussed how they are key to fully-fleshed-out protagonists and antagonists, and how applying the 12 steps can help generate your plot.

The names of these 12 steps give you a clue:

Act One (Separation)
1. Ordinary World
2. Call to Adventure
3. Refusal Of the Call

Act Two (Transformation)
4. Meeting the Mentor
5. Crossing the Threshold
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies
7. Approach To the Inmost Cave
8. Ordeal
9. Reward (Seizing the Sword)

Act Three (Return)
10. The Road Back
11. Resurrection (Final Battle & Cheating Death)
12. Return with the Elixir


But just what do these mean? Let's apply them not to traditional hero epics, but to regular novels. Most of you will be writing romance, science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller, or mystery. Treat this is a glossary of the above terms translating them into what they mean for these average category fiction styles.

Separation: The situation that arises forcing the protagonist to deviate from their normal daily routine and become embroiled in something that will overtake every waking thought until it reaches conclusion. The unusual client, the overheard conversation, the blackmail letter, the random flight to Vegas, it's whatever sets into motion the story.

Ordinary World: A quick mention of their personal history and a definition of their average day. Can be short (Mysteries have it in one sentence: She walked in with legs up to here and I knew this wasn't gonna be an ordinary case for this tired PI.) Romances, horror, and fantasy usually take up to one chapter for this. Thrillers and science fiction can go either way.

Call to Adventure: The instance that forces the protagonist to deviate from their daily routine. It's always an invitation from a stranger or old acquaintance, a threat from an unknown source, a mysterious object that suddenly appears, or an outside event the protagonist suddenly notices. Aliens landing, the chance to beat an old rival, a mysterious death, it's something unusual and either irresistible to the protagonist or unavoidable. 

Refusal of the Call: The protagonist can either be excited for this change such as in a mystery or science fiction, or extremely reticent such as in horror or a thriller. No matter what they must have fears or misgivings. This establishes character development: the commitment-phobia of a broken heart in a romance or the abject fear of the young virgin facing the demon in a horror gives us a baseline to measure the character's growth by the end.

Transformation: In a movie like Rocky  this would be the badgering of Burgess Meredith followed by the training montage. This is where the protagonist is given motivation to overcome their fears or misgivings and begins the training and character development that will allow them to complete their task, solve the mystery, find true love, or defeat the monster.

Meeting the Mentor: This can be an older wiser person or a compatriot, or even an object. It's the person or thing who shows the protagonist that their fears can be overcome, and proves to them that something dire is at stake, and the protagonist must complete their training and defeat the antagonist. In a mystery it can be the sudden promise of a huge payday, in a romance it's the best friend who soothes nerves and spurs the heroine on, in science-fiction it can be the discovery of older research that needs improving but has a crucial element, in horror it's the old monster-hunter or the ancient tome of prophecies.

Crossing the Threshold: This is the point at which the protagonist has weighed their fears/concerns, listened to the mentor, and decides to go for it. It's the point-of-no-return. It's when Rocky promises to train with Burgess, it's when the romantic heroine is seduced, it's when the PI commits to the case, it's when the young monster-hunter promises someone else he'll kill the Big Bad. It's the point your character commits to training and honor or circumstance won't let them renege.

Tests, Allies, Enemies: This is the training montage. This is Luke with Yoda lifting space ships and fighting phantoms. This is the period when your protagonist has to face harder and harder challenges. It's when the PI's case takes twists and confusing turns. It's when the thriller hero's field of suspects widens and conspiracies arise. It's when the would-be monster killer learns to use a new weapon or power. It's when your young gun gets challenges with small-timers and begins to win. As they progress each "test" must get harder. With this progression they may make friends and may gain enemies. These will be secondary characters and this part is what engenders secondary characters most.

Approach To the Inmost Cave: Remember those fears and reticent feelings from Refusal of the Call? Here is where your protagonist has to begin dealing with them. At this stage they must deal with the minor fears/concerns, the biggest, baddest one is saved for the next step. This is when they begin dealing with doubt. It's where they decide yes, I can go into the haunted house, I must. It's where they decide I must build the AI robot. It's where they decide I must tape-record the senator. This is where they commit to the next step and decide to overcome their fears. 

Ordeal: That biggest, baddest fear from the Refusal of the Call should come now, and it's best in physical form. The scientist making AI and terrified of robot uprisings must deal with a murderous robot. The PI terrified there is no money to be had should face hard evidence that's the case, or their best lead is murdered. The lawyer unraveling the political cabal should face losing all his evidence/proof. There must be a serious setback here, and actual loss. The protagonist needs to deal with this loss and still go on. It symbolizes rebirth, but frankly, it's just better drama/character development.

Reward (Seizing the Sword): For that setback in the ordeal, the protagonist gets a reward. Knowledge or a token, it could be a fresh lead, a new Deep Throat, a sign of hope from a lover, a mystical dagger, a sword...whatever it is, they're going to need this to defeat the antagonist. Maybe they survived an assassination attempt, and now is where that nets them a new ally or clue. Maybe their house burned down, but it reveals some new tool. Choose it wisely, the protagonist needs to recognize the significance of it, even if they do not yet know what it is for or how to use it. You know that ting the hero is always given which makes no sense, yet he's told he'll know how to use it when the time comes? This is exactly that moment.

Return: This is the protagonist coming back towards their ordinary life. Armed with new knowledge, experience, and possibly a token, they now have the tools to defeat the antagonist, solve the mystery, or claim their lover, and then live happily ever after with their foe defeated.

The Road Back:This is the protagonist's struggle to reach the antagonist. In a mystery it's returning to the initial investigation, in a horror it's going back home to prepare for the final battle, in a romance it's the makeover (physically and/or spiritually) to claim the lover, in science fiction it's getting back to basics and applying the new knowledge, in a thriller or fantasy it's coming back home to prepare for the battle to come. There should be things fighting against the protagonist, this shouldn't be too easy. Calls aren't returned, people are hard to locate, the office or city gates are locked.

Resurrection (Final Battle & Cheating Death): This is the climax, the final battle, the final confrontation. It's the big game of the season. Nothing goes right at first, it's the "it's always darkest before dawn" crap. At some moment all hope should seem lost, but then your protagonist comes from behind, kicks ass, takes names, and wins.

Return with the Elixir: This is where your protagonist re-integrates back into the ordinary world, the daily routine, but as a changed person. Here's where loose ends are tied up. Those friends picked up back in Tests, Allies, Enemies? Do they join with the protagonist or go off alone? If the Reward (Seizing the Sword) was a physical token, does it remain, was it destroyed, did it magically disappear? How has your protagonist changed/grown? How will this effect their daily life? This part must answer all these questions, tie up loose ends, and the end of your story should be the point at which the protagonist gets back to their daily life.

Remember this applies to your #1 protagonist. Using all 12 steps is best, but it's not necessary, as we've seen. By the little examples I hope you can see how to apply it to category fiction. Remember all the steps (be it 3, 4, 6, 9, or 12) for your protagonist happen within the story...they ARE the story. In the next supplemental we''ll go over these steps for the antagonist, which are handled differently.