Continuing with the series on the Hero’s Journey, I introduce to you the Call to Adventure, stage two of the mythic structure. You can link to the other stages from the introduction page.
As I said last week, the Ordinary World of the story is static and boring, but also unstable. The need for change and growth is due, and the hero only needs a small something to get him off his lazy butt and into an adventure. That something is the Call to Adventure.
Other terms for the Call to Adventure are inciting incident, initiating incident, catalyst, or trigger. It’s ultimately the plot device that gets the story rolling once the main character has been introduced.
The Call to Adventure may come in the form of a message or messenger. The character embodiment of the Call is the Herald. Often, the introduction of this character triggers the arrival of the Call. The Herald serves to get the story rolling by presenting the hero with an invitation or challenge to face the unknown. What immediately comes to mind today is the scene in the new Star Trek film, when Christopher Pike shows up and tells Kirk the location of the shuttle for the new Star Fleet recruits, daring him to enlist.
Sometimes, the Call isn’t a physical entity. It simply may be a stirring within the hero, an unconscious messenger urging the hero that it is time for change. These can be dreams or visions. The Call may also arise in the hero’s restlessness. A string of accidents or coincidents may act as a message to the hero. Temptation can also act as the Call. The allure of treasure, fame, glory, women, and exploration can be enough to tempt the hero into action.
The Call to Adventure can often be unsettling and disorienting to the hero, requiring immediate action. Oftentimes, the hero is reluctant or doesn’t see the necessity in pursuing the adventure. In Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Luke is reluctant to save Princess Leia, even with Obi Wan Kenobi’s insistence that he take up the ways of the force. It takes seeing his aunt and uncle burned to a crisp and his home destroyed to get him to finally accept the Call to Adventure (R2D2’s holographic message). When at last everything is taken from the hero, he has no choice but to accept the Call. He has run out of options.
The Call to Adventure can be anything from a letter or telephone call, to the destruction of the hero’s home, or the arrival of a new alluring character. The hero may be reluctant and refuse the Call for a time, but in the end, they accept the many Calls asking them to change and take on the adventure. The placement is usually near the beginning of the story, and sometimes it appears to be nonexistent. Just as every stage in the Hero’s Journey, the Call to Adventure is not a necessity, and it can be altered or removed as the writer sees fit.