What is a "Call to Adventure?"

| Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Today's Tune: Glass


There's an element of storytelling that's very common in adventure and hero stories. It's something you've probably seen again and again, maybe without even realizing it. It's the Call to Adventure.

Here's an inciting incident that you may be familiar with: the protagonist is just some guy (or some girl). There might be something kind of special about them -- maybe they're really good at math or aces at martial arts -- or they might be an average Joe/Jane. They're living their daily life, whatever that might be. And then they get The Call. It comes in many forms. A literal phone call. Another character telling them they need to come along and help save something. Discovering that they're really a wizard. Some event that shifts their world view so extremely that they can't just go back to the way it was.

When the hero/ine receives The Call, they have two options. They can answer the call, which means the story gets rolling. They can also deny the call, but denying the call is always a bad idea. Why? Well, because when the protagonist of the story denies their Call to Adventure (also known as Call to Action) and tries to return to their normal existence, it means something bad is going to happen in order to force them onto their intended path. Usually it means someone important to them is going to die or something meaningful will be destroyed. NEVER DENY THE CALL.

(As my fiance says, "Babe, if some mysterious guy ever comes up to me and tells me he needs me to go with him and save the world, I'm just going to go, okay? I don't want you to die to further my storyline.")

We see this element in play ALL THE TIME. A young farm boy is just doing his thing and then he witnesses ~*MAGIC*~ and someone telling him he's the prophesied savior of all the land, but he says LOL WHATEVER I'M JUST A FARM BOY. And then something evil comes along and kills his dad and burns down his house, shifting his motivation from maintaining normalcy to avenging his loved one and destroyed home. Some museum worker discovers a weird artifact and then a top-secret government organization is trying to recruit them and they go LOL NO WAY I'M JUST GOING TO GO HOME TO MY PARTNER AND NORMAL LIFE. Well, no, you can't, because the bad guys killed your partner and are waiting for you to turn up so they can kill you, too.

NEVER DENY THE CALL.

If you've watched the show Supernatural, you may not have realized that Sam gets his Call to Adventure in the first episode. He agrees to tag along for one hunt and then decides to deny the call for further adventure. AND WE KNOW HOW THAT TURNS OUT. This is a classic storytelling technique.

Can you think of a place you've recently seen this used? Have you ever used the Call to Adventure?


9 comments:

{ AveryMarsh } at: February 22, 2012 at 5:27 AM said...

Now I want to print out a poster that says NEVER DENY THE CALL and slap in on the wall in front of my writing desk. ;)

I have one very literal Call to Adventure in one WIP and one denial with tragic consequences in another... though in that one, it's the parent that denies the call repeatedly, not the MC, so I blame him for everything falling apart and forcing them on their way. Maybe if he would've followed your advice...

{ Miss Cole } at: February 22, 2012 at 5:49 AM said...

Oh. My. Gosh. The first episode of Supernatural! Look at how young they both are. I may have to break out my season one boxset now...

*ahem* Awesome post. My novel definitely has a spin on the "Call to Adventure"

I agree with Avery above - I need to make a print out of NEVER DENY THE CALL :D

{ We Heart YA } at: February 22, 2012 at 6:47 AM said...

Actually we don't know how that turns out, b/c we don't watch Supernatural... :P

But LOL your fiance rocks. And duly noted: we will never deny the call!

{ Lori M. Lee } at: February 22, 2012 at 7:10 AM said...

I totally use the Call to Adventure in my manuscript lol. And I love your example too. Yes, we all know how that turned out @___@

Also, your fiance is hilarious XD

{ Perca Cappa } at: February 22, 2012 at 7:33 AM said...

Hmm. I guess reading these blogs are a sort of call for me to get on with writing that dam story of mine....

{ vic caswell (aspiring-x) } at: February 22, 2012 at 8:05 AM said...

love your fiance!
and OHMYGOODNESS!!! that moment!!! in the gif
and the one when the consequences hit...
that show... oh yeah.
i never realized this happens, but now it makes total sense- i guess i always thought more in terms of inciting incident, but there is a distinction i believe...
anyway... now i need to make a cartoon image of NEVER DENY THE CALL...

{ Shelley Sly } at: February 22, 2012 at 9:25 AM said...

You're so right. (And I like what your fiance said, hehe.)

I learned the hard way that every story needs an inciting incident (yes, I was stupid enough to have a character start an adventure without The Call in my very first novel.)

In my later and current novels, I definitely have The Call.

{ TL Conway } at: February 22, 2012 at 2:03 PM said...

Your fiance has a great sense of humor!

I love the whole idea of the Hero's Journey and am using much of the framework in my MG story. Since my audience is a bit younger, my refusal of the call doesn't result in death, but a scary situation. After that, the MC agrees to the call.

However, you're making me think (dangit, Steph!). I bet I can amp up the consequences for my MC's refusal a bit more. Make it a bit more obvious that he HAS to agree.

{ Gilly } at: February 22, 2012 at 2:23 PM said...

It hasn't happened yet, but I'm pretty sure Grimm is headed in this direction.

GREAT post!

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