Exploring the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey Part 6: Tests, Allies, and Enemies
Read on to learn what celebrated writers have shared - particularly Joseph Campbell's The Hero's Journey and Christopher Vogler's interpreted twelve stages of that journey within his book, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers.
Welcome to Part 6 of our 12-part series ScreenCraft’s Exploring the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey, where we go into depth about each of the twelve stages and how your screenplays could benefit from them. Before we dive in, be sure to grab the free download here:
The first stage — The Ordinary World — happens to be one of the most essential elements of any story, even ones that don't follow the twelve-stage structure to a tee.
Showing your protagonist within their Ordinary World at the beginning of your story offers you the ability to showcase how much the core conflict they face rocks their world. And it allows you to foreshadow and create the necessary elements of empathy and catharsis that your story needs.
The next stage is the Call to Adventure. Giving your story's protagonist a Call to Adventure introduces the core concept of your story, dictates the genre your story is being told in and helps to begin the process of character development that every great story needs.
When your character refuses the Call to Adventure, it allows you to create instant tension and conflict within the opening pages and first act of your story. It also gives you the chance to amp-up the risks and stakes involved, which, in turn, engages the reader or audience even more. And it also manages to help you develop a protagonist with more depth that can help to create empathy for them.
Along the way, your protagonist — and screenplay — may need a mentor. Meeting the Mentor offers the protagonist someone that can guide them through their journey with wisdom, support, and even physical items. Beyond that, they help you to offer empathetic relationships within your story, as well as ways to introduce themes, story elements, and exposition to the reader and audience.
At some point at the end of the first act, your story may showcase a moment where your protagonist needs to cross the threshold between their Ordinary World and the Special World they will be experiencing as their inner or outer journey begins. Such a moment shifts everything from the first act to the second, allowing the reader and audience to feel that shift so they can prepare for the journey to come.
It showcases the difference between the protagonist's Ordinary World and the Special World to come. And, even more important, we're introduced to the first shift in the character arc of the protagonist as they decide to venture out into the unknown.
And it's within this unknown that the protagonist faces many tests and meets their allies and enemies.
Within the Hero's Journey structure, this stage is a vital part of your protagonist's journey.
Conflict is everything. Without conflict, there's no story, no story arc, and no character exploration. So while this is a stage represented in every Hero's Journey structure application, it's also a necessary component to any story that you tell — using the Hero's Journey structure or not.
Your story doesn't merely entail a character dealing with a single conflict.
In Jaws, we learn that the core concept of the film centers around a killer shark that unleashes chaos on a beach community as a local Chief of Police, marine biologist, and old seafarer hunt the beast down before it kills again.
But the movie is so much more than that. Brody, the Chief of Police, has to deal with multiple conflicts within that story.
He has to ascertain what exactly is threatening the island community.
He's forced to go up against the local mayor and town board, all of whom don't want their precious tourism profits to be affected.
When the shark kills a young boy after Brody is pressured to tone down the response to the possible threat, he faces the scorn of the boy's mother and the guilt of not doing as much as he could have to prevent the tragedy.
When he's on the boat, ready to hunt down the shark, he's put through multiple tests to achieve his ultimate goal and face the core conflict of the story.
Your protagonist must face multiple and evolving conflicts (tests) throughout the second act to engage the reader and audience — to keep them invested in the journey. And these tests are what define your protagonist's character arc as they deal with everything that is thrown at them within the narrative.
The characterization within your story relies on these tests because the actions, reactions, and inactions of your protagonist will show us what kind of character you want to portray. And this stage also sets the rules of this Special World that they're forced to exist within as they take on the conflict.
So within your stories, whether you follow all twelve stages that we've defined as The Hero's Journey above or not, the tests that you make your protagonist face need to be aplenty and present on multiple narrative levels — big and small. That's the core of any great story. And it's what keeps people invested, engaged, and compelled.
Along with the tests that your protagonist faces, they're going to need some help along the way. That's where introducing allies comes into play.
In Jaws, as Brody struggles to deal with all of these conflicts that he must face, he has to reach out for help from allies.
This introduces two key allies in Hooper and Quint — the two men with varying degrees of experience, wisdom, and knowledge that will help Brody take on the core threat of the story.
This stage of The Hero's Journey expands the cast of characters. While some novels or films focus solely on a single character, most great stories build an exciting cast of characters around the central protagonist.
Imagine Jaws without Hooper and Quint. Having Brody jump on a boat to hunt for a shark on his own doesn't pack the narrative punch that we get with him having to learn from and deal with these two pivotal characters. The characterization would be drastically reduced without them.
We also see him interact with secondary characters like Brody's wife and his two sons. They are established as allies as well within his journey.
Pairing your protagonist with allies expands your cast of characters and offers you an opportunity to explore characterization on multiple levels.
With the mention of enemies, we come full circle within this Hero's Journey stage. Enemies are there to test the protagonist. They offer the necessary conflict that should be present within all stories.
While allies give us — and the protagonist — hope, enemies challenge that hope and create a more enthralling plot.
Brody isn't just dealing with a killer shark. He's dealing with a money-hungry mayor.
And standing behind that mayor is the town board. Without them challenging Brody, the story wouldn't really go anywhere. Brody would shut down the beach, and no one would be in danger. But because they pressure him into keeping it open, more conflict and characterization ensues.
Having additional "enemies" within your story isn't just about more bad guys trying to thwart the hero. It's about creating more and more conflict throughout the story.
It doesn't matter what genre you're writing in. Horror stories need enemies. Dramas need enemies. Comedies need enemies. We need to see your protagonist go up against others.
And enemies don't always have to be human characters, either. They can be represented as forces of nature, reversals of fortune, and unfortunate events.
Conflict is everything. It starts with the tests your protagonist must face and comes full circle with the enemies putting them through those tests.
The tests, allies, and enemies that your protagonist comes across defines the meat of your story. Without them, there is no story. They introduce the conflict, expand the cast of characters, and offer a more engaging and compelling narrative. If there's a single stage of The Hero's Journey that writers should utilize, the Tests, Allies, and Enemies stage is the most vital to any great story.
"The Hero's Journey is a skeleton framework that should be fleshed out with the details of and surprises of the individual story. The structure should not call attention to itself, nor should it be followed too precisely. The order of the stages is only one of many possible variations. The stages can be deleted, added to, and drastically shuffled without losing any of their power." — Christopher Vogler, The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers
Joseph Campbell's 17-stage Monomyth was conceptualized over the course of Campbell's own text, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and then later in the 1980s through two documentaries, one of which introduced the term The Hero's Journey.
The first documentary, 1987's The Hero's Journey: The World of Joseph Campbell, was released with an accompanying book entitled The Hero's Journey: Joseph Campbell on His Life and Work.
The second documentary was released in 1988 and consisted of Bill Moyers' series of interviews with Campbell, accompanied by the companion book The Power of Myth.
Christopher Vogler was a Hollywood development executive and screenwriter working for Disney when he took his passion for Joseph Campbell's story monolith and developed it into a seven-page company memo for the company's development department and incoming screenwriters.
The memo, entitled A Practical Guide to The Hero with a Thousand Faces, was later developed by Vogler into The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Storytellers and Screenwriters in 1992. He then elaborated on those concepts for the book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure For Writers.
Christopher Vogler's approach to Campbell's structure broke the mythical story structure into twelve stages. We define the stages in our own simplified interpretations:
- The Ordinary World: We see the hero's normal life at the start of the story before the adventure begins.
- Call to Adventure: The hero is faced with an event, conflict, problem, or challenge that makes them begin their adventure.
- Refusal of the Call: The hero initially refuses the adventure because of hesitation, fears, insecurity, or any other number of issues.
- Meeting the Mentor: The hero encounters a mentor that can give them advice, wisdom, information, or items that ready them for the journey ahead.
- Crossing the Threshold: The hero leaves their ordinary world for the first time and crosses the threshold into adventure.
- Tests, Allies, and Enemies: The hero learns the rules of the new world and endures tests, meets friends, and comes face-to-face with enemies.
- The Approach: The initial plan to take on the central conflict begins, but setbacks occur that cause the hero to try a new approach or adopt new ideas.
- The Ordeal: Things go wrong and added conflict is introduced. The hero experiences more difficult hurdles and obstacles, some of which may lead to a life crisis.
- The Reward: After surviving The Ordeal, the hero seizes the sword — a reward that they've earned that allows them to take on the biggest conflict. It may be a physical item or piece of knowledge or wisdom that will help them persevere.
- The Road Back: The hero sees the light at the end of the tunnel, but they are about to face even more tests and challenges.
- The Resurrection: The climax. The hero faces a final test, using everything they have learned to take on the conflict once and for all.
- The Return: The hero brings their knowledge or the "elixir" back to the ordinary world.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies