Who will help and hurt your hero?
The Plotting Workshop: Allies, Enemies, and Tests
A couple of things are on the horizon for your hero, now that we’re moving into the second act of your story.
They’re going to meet some people, both allies and enemies. And they’re going to be tested.
The tests that your protagonist faces as they head into the special world of their story are meant to prepare them for what’s ahead and prove that they are worthy. They’ll meet the people who will support them in this part of the story, as well as those who will try to stop them from getting what they want.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a classic test scene just at the opening of the second act. Instead of automatically putting Harry into Gryfendor, the sorting hat hems and haws, listening to Harry begging silently not to be put into Slytherin. He could have gone either way, but he passed the test and was put into the ‘good’ house.
Dorothy Gale meets The Scarecrow, The Tin man, and The Cowardly Lion as she makes her way through her number one test — walking the yellow brick road to the Emerald City. She also comes in contact fairly soon after taking her first steps down that road with the Wicked Witch of the West.
You’ll want to read the “Tests, Allies, and Enemies” chapter of The Writer’s Journey.
The Measure of a Hero
The purpose of the tests that you’ll be putting your protagonist through are there to both prepare them for what’s to come and prove their worth as a hero. These generally aren’t life-and-death level obstacles. Those come later. They’re more like stumbling blocks as your MC starts to navigate the special world of the story.
This first part of the second act is also the time when your MC will start to meet the people who will be important to the story — or when people he already knows solidify either into part of his team of allies or become his enemy.
Take out your notebook and label the next page “Tests, Allies, and Enemies.” Answer these questions.
- How does the special world of the story contrast with the protagonist’s ordinary world?
- How will your MC be tested? Think about what part of their personality or physical self needs to be poked a little, to prove that the hero is ready for the challenge of the story.
- How does your protagonist cope with the special world? Do they handle change well or do they fight it? What are their go-to coping mechanisims? Will they work?
- Who will your MC’s allies be and when will they meet them?
- Who are your MC’s enemies? Think about the antagonists’ stakes and motives. Where d the enemies fit into the special world of the story?
- Vogler writes, “No matter how many schools he has been through, he’s a freshman all over again in this new world.” Take a few minutes to write about what being a freshman in this new world feels like for your MC. What are they afraid of? Which table do they eat lunch at?
If you’d like to receive these lessons in your email, just fill out this form.
Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.