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3) 1st Threshold

I found that, first off, most of the stuff in the Hero’s Journey sounds scary. Like horror movie scary. So, I’m hoping to take the sting out of that, if I can.

The first giant step your hero is going to take is called “Crossing the 1st Threshold”. It is the moment when they accept they are going to go on an adventure and make the conscious choice to do so. But, like anyone else, a hero has to make that decision after having thought a few things through.

This is called the “approach” to the threshold. “Heroes typically don’t just accept the advice & gifts of their Mentor & then charge into adventure. Often, their final commitment is brought about through some external force which changes the course or intensity of the story.” Think about Luke Skywalker, ready to give Obi Wan a ride to Mos Eisley but firmly turning down the offer to the adventure because he has to get home to his uncle. But when he finds that his aunt and uncle are dead and his home is destroyed, there is nothing to hold him to his ordinary world. In actuality, his Ordinary World is gone anyway. He crosses the threshold and claims the choice to go on the Adventure, also called the “Special World” (because it’ll be special and new to the hero).

There are some elements to consider when writing about your hero’s acceptance of the journey.

You might include a 2nd Threshold Guardian. Someone who will probably oppose this journey or at least make it hard to join in to. This guardian doesn’t have to be fought, exactly, but it’s always a good idea to introduce them as a threat at this point. Picture “While You Were Sleeping”. Lucy has accepted that she’s going to pretend to be Peter’s fiancée and heads to his parent’s house to celebrate Christmas. Meanwhile, where Lucy isn’t remotely able to see the threat, Ashley Bartlett-Bacon has left a message on Peter’s answering machine accepting his proposal of marriage. That is a threshold guardian making it’s presence known, if not to the characters, at least to the readers/viewers.

Second is The Crossing itself. “Sometimes this step merely signifies we have reached the border of the two worlds. We must take the leap of faith into the unknown or else the adventure will never truly begin.” Meaning, give a second to acknowledge that your hero has made a choice, moved forward in some way. It can be a line or a page or even an entire scene, but definitely do not let the moment pass without some demarcation.

And, just for reference’s sake, keep in mind that your hero choosing to move forward into the adventure marks the end of the First Act of your story.

Now, the third function of the threshold is “The Landing” or as I like to think of it, “The Rude Awakening” and the beginning of your second act. Once your hero has made a choice and done something about their situation, they’ve landed in a realm they don’t understand and could be making stupid choices more often than not. A good example is “My Cousin Vinny”, where the streetsmart Vinny arrives in the rural south expecting to impress everyone with his prowess as a lawyer only to discover he can’t even get a plate of food without insulting people.

“Heroes don’t always land gently…The leap of faith may turn into a crisis of faith as romantic illusions about the special world are shattered by 1st contact with it…The passage to the special world may be exhausting, frustrating or disorienting.

In other words, this is a great time to really start torturing your hero. Have a good time.

Now, once you’re done with that, your hero is going to face a few trials. They will be tested by the Special World. They will discover Allies and, in a good book, they’re going to uncover a few Enemies. This is where “world building” takes on a whole new meaning.

As a writer, you’ll be able to use this time to best illuminate the differences between the Special World and the Ordinary one. Show the sharpest contrasts. Jaid Black makes wonderful use of this in her Viking Series where women from the contemporary world are kidnapped and carried away to an underground Viking world where women have noticably different rights and…well, let’s just say clothing is optional. The newly stolen woman is agog with the smells and sights and differences. This type of tool enables you to relate the reader and the hero more tightly, so make good use of it.

Of course, as you show your hero around, be sure to inform them of any new rules to the special world. You’re not just teaching them, you’re teaching your reader. In “The Matrix”, Neo is taken on a Tutorial program, taught all the lessons he must keep in mind if he means to survive. These are also cues to your reader, who will most likely remember them clearer than your hero and become emotionally involved when the Hero tries to bend the rules.

But, after all is taught and the Hero thinks he has a handle on the world he’s escaped to, you should remember to test them. Your hero is in hard times, after all. “The most important function of this period of adjustment to the special world is testing. Storytellers use this phase to test the hero, putting her through a series of trials & challenges that are meant to prepare her for the greater ordeals ahead”

“The tests at the beginning of Act 2 are often difficult obstacles but they don’t have the maximum life & death quality of later events.” In other words…it’s practice. They don’t have to get it right (in fact, most of the time, they won’t), but they do need to be aware of what it is to try. (Neo’s failed jump in “The Matrix”; Luke’s failure to lift his starship in “Empire”.)

There is another kind of test, but this one is for both your hero and the people they meet. This kind of testing provides your hero with allies, sidekicks, teams or Enemies. Your hero will enter a situation and based on their decisions, actions, or sometimes just blind dumb luck (good or bad). Take a look at the following list and see if any of your characters apply.

Allies: “Heroes may walk into the Test stage looking for information, but they may walk out with new friends or Allies.” Remember the scene in Braveheart when Mel meets Hamish again and pegs him with a pebble? Or better yet, makes an Ally of the Princess by meeting her for a few minutes in her tent, just by speaking French?

Sidekicks or Teams: This is where they meet and conjoin. “Superman, meet the Wonder Twins. The girl is the lion standing on your chest and the boy is the puddle under your shoes.”

Enemies: “The hero’s appearance in the Special World may tip the Shadow to his arrival & trigger a chain of threatening events….Enemies may perform functions of other archetypes…The Shadow, The Trickster, the Thresh. Guardian & sometimes, the Herald.” Enemies aren’t always written in stone. You can turn allies into enemies, or they can pretend to be friends. But, just like those time-travel movies, remember, everything is intrinsic. You cannot bring something new to a dish without changing it’s flavors. So, if you bring a hero to the Special World, his enemy is going to notice in some way or another.

“The Rival: “A special type of enemy is the rival, the hero’s competition in love, sports, business, or some other enterprise. The rival is usually not out to kill the hero, but is trying to defeat him in the competition.” Val Kilmer’s “Iceman” in “Top Gun”, anyone?

Take stock of who your characters are. What is their purpose–both short term and long–and make sure that you’ve defined the Special World to both your hero and your reader. Once all the pieces are set up on your chess board, all you have to do is start playing the game.

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