When your character is facing her greatest challenge, you might wonder if she’s ready. Does she have the tools or skills to face the enemy? Is she ready to undergo transformation? Is she willing to die for her cause?
This step in the Hero’s Journey is the Ordeal, where the heroine faces the biggest challenge and most fearsome opponent. This is the big crisis. The purpose of the Ordeal is death and rebirth. Your heroine has to die in order to be reborn. This doesn’t have to be a physical death. But something will die—a fear, a relationship, a limiting belief, an old behavior—to transform your heroine into the new being/person that resonates with success.
The Ordeal is a time to explore your character’s fears and strengths. People love thrills, being on the edge, that terrifying jolt that wakes them up and makes them feel alive. We don’t want to die, but we love to cheat death. Think of race car drivers, skydivers, bungee jumpers, stunt people. They all brave the elements and take risks with their equipment for the thrill of cheating death. And we love to watch them, to experience their thrill, their excitement, their close calls, in the safety of our own homes.
Reading is the same. Your readers want to have the same experience with your heroine. How will she dare the elements? Whom will she defy? What will she risk to bring home the medal, destroy the villain, save the town?
When Dorothy faced the Wicked Witch on the witch’s home ground, it appeared that all was lost. Dorothy had no magic powers. Neither did her friends. But they were determined to do their best. To show her superiority and eliminate one of her enemies, the Wicked Witch set the Scarecrow on fire. Without thinking, Dorothy grabs a bucket of water to save her burning friend and “accidentally” wets the witch. Then comes the famous “I’m melting” scene, which results in Dorothy rescuing her friends, taking the broomstick, and becoming a hero to the Winkies.
Dorothy is successful because she recognizes the value of family. Saving her friends is not just important, but utmost in her mind. Her fear and timidity die in the face of this challenge. She also, desperately, wants to return home to Aunt Em, and believes the broomstick will help her.
So consider your heroine’s character traits. What is her greatest fear? How does she need to conquer the villain? What kind of death will she face when she does so?