The Heroic Journey 14: The Call to Adventure

Gandalf and Bilbo

Image by Cory Godbey:

This article is a guest post from author and former WriteAtHome writing coach, David Sims. The series discusses the common characteristics of great stories in the vein of  The Heroic Journey. Links to the rest of the series are below.


The Call to Adventure is just one instance in a story, but it would be hard to find a more important one apart from the climax.

The Call to Adventure, which happens at about the 10 percent point in movies and anywhere from the 10 to 25 percent point in novels, which can be more loosely structured than movies, is what jars the Hero out of his everyday world and ultimately gets him to cross the Threshold into the Mythological Woods and Initiation and onto the Journey proper.

The Call is delivered by the Herald, which can be a person, an invitation, a brick upside the head, a news story, a TV show, a discovery – anything that opens up something beyond the World of the Common Day. It can be God striking Paul on the Damascus Road, Odysseus being blown by Poseidon’s gale or a merest chance incident — sitting by someone on the subway.

In detective stories, the Call to Adventure is the Hero accepting the case. In romantic comedy it’s the first sight of That Special Someone, and the obstacles and trials of getting together will be the Hero’s Journey. The Call should be either a threat or a challenge, since those are of most interest to the reader — Shrek’s is  the need to get a crowd of fairy tale creatures out of his swamp. Luke Skywalker’s Call is the hologram message to Obi-Wan from R2D2. Harry Potter’s is the arrival of Hedwig.

It’s common and dramatic for the Hero to reject the initial Call out of fear driving his inner conflicts. But when he does so, whatever he does until he accepts the Call will be dead, since he’s basically refused to grow into the next step.

Ultimately the Hero’s world must disintegrate to the point where he accepts the Call to Adventure. Sometimes the Hero rejects a false Call, one everybody else thinks he should have accepted and accepts the real Call, which everyone else thinks he’s nuts for accepting. Maybe a Mentor, a Wise One, can get the Hero to accept the Call, someone like Merlin or Obi-Wan or Gandalf, a teacher, pastor, or a tough old drill sergeant.

Once the Hero accepts the Call, your story kicks off. The Hero’s on the road to death, rebirth and a confrontation with the Evil One. Accepting the Call might include receiving a form of unsuspected, unexpected supernatural aid, such as advice for the Journey, a magic wand, or a revelation of the Hero’s actual identity.

What is important for the acceptance of the Call is that it is, or it quickly leads to, a choice the character makes under pressure to take an action in the pursuit of desire. The Hero will pursue what he sees as the good and the right in so doing, even unwillingly or fearfully at first.

More next time!



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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

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