Friday, August 7, 2009

The Supreme Ordeal

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Good day, Writers,

We are continuing with our explanation of The Hero’s Journey as a method of storytelling.

Today we’ll discuss The Supreme Ordeal, which should be the most exciting part of your story for your hero and your reader. It is where the hero faces that most difficult of tasks around which your story revolves. Here he meets the great beast and slays it. Your readers should not be able to set your book aside until this section of your novel is complete, after which they should sit back, take a deep breath and scream, “Wow!” (And then tell everyone they know!)

This beast need not be a creature with horns and blood-soaked fur. Neither need it be an alien with thrashing tentacles and/or menacing, retractable teeth. (Although we all know those creatures work quite well.) The beast can be anything that causes your hero extreme fear.

Could an honorable man who loves his family be the beast? You bet! He can be If he dies leaving his family penniless and hungry. (And as long that situation has the same fear for your readers!) Can a loving daughter who goes away to university be the beast? Sure, if her mother is left alone in the world. So, don’t think of your hero only as a muscle bound warrior that crushes some mythological creature from the underworld. The beast is anything that is supremely fearsome to your hero and, more importantly, your readers.

Now that we know what The Supreme Ordeal needs to be, what is its purpose? First and foremost in my mind, The Supreme Ordeal changes your hero. It takes the flawed person he was and transforms him to the person he needs to be.

For example, we’ll again call on Luke of Star Wars to enlighten us. Where in that story did Luke experience his supreme ordeal? It is when he rescues Princess Leia.

How did all the excitement involved with rescuing her change Luke? He went from an orphaned farmer to a masterful Jedi. Pretty serious change, don’t you think?

Why else might you, as a storyteller, need an effective ordeal for your hero? One of the most important aspects is to engage your reader. Have you ever stopped watching a movie or set down a book and never finished it? Why would you do that? Because, for whatever reason, you were not engaged with the story or the hero. The instant your reader decides not to continue with your novel, you’ll lose your word of mouth advertising - your buzz. Your novel will almost never go viral with poor buzz.

Are there other goals to accomplish with The Supreme Ordeal? Of course. It can’t be that simple, now can it?

As a writer, you need to give your audience a feeling of exhilaration upon conclusion of The Supreme Ordeal. They’ve come accustomed to that feeling and are expectant of it. They want to think he will not succeed, in fact, may even die! They want your hero to slip and fall. They want him to get up, too, but first, they need to be convinced he will fail. That emotion is what they want, and you must give it to them. If you do not engage your audience emotionally, your buzz, and your book, are dead in the water. An old maxim in business, (and you are in the business of writing), is to give them what they want to buy. I recommend you do just that.

In my next post, we’ll discuss what happens after your hero survives. That part of the story is called, “The Reward.” Until then, good writing.

Author of Born to be Brothers

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