Blogger: Wendy Lawton (Brand New Grandmother)
Location: Old New Castle, Delaware
Weather: 63º and cloudy
I appreciate Michelle filling in for me yesterday and I love how she highlighted some of those delightful detours on the journey by reminding us of the surprise characters who show up. What fun when that happens.
On Monday and Tuesday we talked about the call and the threshold—two of the milestones on the classic hero’s journey. Today let’s look at the third step—the challenges. Sometimes this stage is called “allies and enemies.”
Step Three: The Challenges
The hero faces a series of challenges or temptations. As the journey progresses the challenges often become more and more difficult. One of the greatest tests for the hero is to differentiate real helpers from “tempters.” (Tempters try to pull the hero away from their path using doubt, fear, or distraction.) Challenges reflect needs and fears— only by directly facing these weaknesses can the hero acknowledge and conquer them.
This step normally makes up the biggest part of the story. Those of you who are novelists know that to make a satisfying story we need to give the hero loads of conflict—piling trouble on top of troubles. We have no problem recognizing this step—challenges— as a part of the writer’s journey, right?
Let’s break this step down. As the journey progresses the challenges often become more and more difficult. Those writers who think the journey ends when they sell their manuscript don’t understand the hero’s journey or the publishing industry. That contract may just be the threshold. The writer then has to deal with market realities like sales numbers. If the first book is a success, then there’s even more pressure to come up with an even better second book. No one wants to be a one-book-wonder. We’re shocked to find out that it might be harder to get a second contract than that debut contract. What’s that about? And how in the world are we supposed to propose the next book while editing the current book and promoting the one before that? And if we are wildly successful the expectations and distractions are crazy-making.The further along we go, the tougher the challenges.
One of the greatest tests for the hero is to differentiate real helpers from “tempters.” (Tempters try to pull the hero away from their path using doubt, fear, or distraction.) We innately know the truth of this. Tempters abound in publishing. Before we are published many who disguise themselves as helpers are really tempters—trying to deflect us from our journey. Yes, even agents and editors. If the call is real we need to persevere. And when we’re already published we still meet tempters— unfair reviews, jealous fellow writers, a crowded market, changing tastes, changing technology and so many more. They may look like helpers at first but we need to be able to tell the difference between honest critique and the kind that grows out of a more complicated agenda.
Challenges reflect needs and fears— only by directly facing these weaknesses can the hero acknowledge and conquer them. Yes! Our challenges grow out of our own needs and fears. If we long for acceptance, our challenges will center around rejection. If we need success to affirm us, chances are our challenges will all threaten failure. It’s ironic but it’s what makes the writer’s journey such a heroic undertaking.
What is the biggest challenge you face right now on your own writer’s journey? How do you discern the difference between helpers and tempter? How can you face your own weaknesses and conquer them?