My friend and occasional blog commenter Tyantaka linked me to this video today. For those of you who don’t want to watch it, it’s ten minutes on the hero’s journey. Now, I’ve talked a lot about character development before, but there’s one thing I haven’t even mentioned which this video lists as a key part of the hero’s progression arc: the Refusal of the Call.
This is the point when the hero either turns his back on the adventure, or at least wishes he was able to. Whilst it’s not essential for a plot, it is an incredibly useful tool, particularly in fantasy. It gives your audience a chance to see that the hero isn’t just this amazing doombot who can totally handle everything the Big Bad throws at him. Crucially, it gives them a chance to empathise with the hero as a person, and then feel all the more attached to him when he rises above his own preference to do what must be done.
A word of warning, though: the Refusal card can be overplayed, and then you risk turning the audience off your hero altogether as he becomes sulky, whiny, or otherwise self-indulgent. Harry Potter suffered this fate occasionally, as did Garion of the Belgariad, Rand al’Thor of the Wheel of Time, and I could go on. Very frequently, those are the books where people vocally prefer the supporting cast because they do the same job as the hero but without the spotlight, and aren’t such bloody wimps.
It does work wonders, done right. There’s a scene in the extended Fellowship of the Ring, which lasts all of a minute, and Aragorn utters one line:
It’s the only time we see him really state that he is against his fate, then he goes out and does a bang up job. Not once does he moan about being dragged all across Middle Earth, nearly killed dozens of times, risk the life and love of his girlfriend, and be acknowledged as Sauron’s Enemy # 1. But because we know that he didn’t want it, we feel for him far more than we otherwise might have.
Thinking about it, my hero doesn’t get a chance to refuse until about two thirds of the way through the book. Even then, it’s someone else refusing on their behalf and they slap it down. This is possibly something to go back and fix during editing – I’ll have to sleep on that. Again, it’s not an essential point on the plot checklist, but frankly (seeing as they aren’t human anyway) the character could use all the empathy they can get.