When the phone rings, you answer it. Forget the telemarketers and charities and imagine that it’s someone you like or important news. You pick up the phone because you want to find out what’s going on.
But when life calls, do you answer?
The Call to Adventure is usually shown as an inciting incident or trigger. Something that forces or compels the heroine to take action and change course. Look at the following examples:
Are there extreme circumstances in your story? Is the hero about to drown, fall off a cliff, or face a bullet? If so, he needs to take immediate action. Or is there a simpler feeling of disease or disquiet that encourages him in a new direction? If so, movement toward a new goal may take some time.
When does the call happen?
Early in the story, usually in the first few chapters. With a lot of emphasis these days on strong openings, sometimes the call takes place at the very beginning. Then the author fills in with background to bring the reader to the present moment.
Who or what issues the call?
The call is often given by a herald, or messenger. (Think of the Christmas carol Hark the Herald Angels. The angels were messengers of God.) The herald says or does something that tells the hero action is needed. The droids in Star Wars delivered the secret message from Princess Leia. Harry Potter received a letter from Hogwarts. Who or what is the herald in your story?
In summary, the Call to Adventure introduces a change for the hero that propels him out of the Ordinary World (see the previous article Set the Scene) and into the unknown. So what change do you foresee for your hero? Who will have a hand in bringing that about? And how will it all take place?
Verbs show what happens in your story. All complete sentences have at least one verb. That verb is either active (acts on) or passive (acted upon). The verb to be—was, were, been, have been—usually denotes the passive voice. I was a hard worker (passive) as opposed to I worked hard (active).
Both active and passive verbs are used in all kinds of writing. Both are correct grammatically. But too many passive verbs can make the writing weak and unemotional.
Here’s an example.
I was a hard worker. Every morning was the same routine. There were chickens to feed, dishes to wash, clothes to iron, food to prepare. I wasn’t a complainer. And the field hands were grateful. They were always nodding and smiling when they came in for lunch. I was sure to lay down the rules and they were sure to follow them. But sometimes I wished there was at least one person to say something special. Just a little note to show I was important.
Note all the instances of was and were. A nice little story but not very impactful.
I worked hard. Every morning I fed the chickens, washed the dishes, ironed the clothes, prepared the food. Without complaint. I could see the field hands’ gratitude. They always nodded and smiled when they came in for lunch because I lay down the rules and they followed them. But sometimes I wished at least one person would say something special. Just a little note to show my importance.
This is a bit stronger. All the passive verbs have changed to active verbs.
Active with emotion
I slaved every morning. Fed the chickens, washed the dishes, ironed the clothes, prepared the food. All without any complaint. And the field hands appreciated my work. They always nodded and smiled when they came in for lunch because I lay down the rules and they followed them. But sometimes I wished for one person, just one, to say something special. Even just a word or two. Then I would feel my worth.
Even stronger here. The active verbs are strengthened to make an impression on the reader. Worked becomes slaved. Could see gratitude turns into appreciated. And feel my worth is added at the end.
Passive voice will creep into your writing and that’s okay. It has a place. But the more you choose active verbs, and strong active verbs, the more the reader feels what you write.
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Articles also on Write Your Life.