A Call to Adventure is undisputedly one of the most important steps of a Hero’s Journey. It's a turning of tides for the entire story. It's a big challenge. And it has the ability to draw your readers into the world you're creating, keeping them turning page after page.
In our previous blog post, we covered all 12 stages of the Hero’s Journey and how they link together. Today we’ll be zeroing in on the second stage, known as the Call to Adventure.
This guide about a hero's Call to Adventure will cover:
So, what is a Call to Adventure?
After we’ve met our hero in their very ‘ordinary’ world, we then see them being summoned to complete a mission in a new realm.
The Call to Adventure, also known as the inciting incident, is a challenge, quest, or question being posed to the protagonist. It likely disrupts their will and asks, “Will you be a part of this story?”
For example, when Harry Potter receives his letter to Hogwarts and embarks on his wizarding journey, or when Katniss volunteers as tribute for the Hunger Games. It’s all about that first step into the unknown.
The Call to Adventure generally occurs early on in the story so that the reader isn’t waiting around too long before the action begins (it can be quite off-putting if we’re kept in the main character’s ordinary world for a long period of time!).
Why do we need a Call to Adventure?
A Call to Adventure is the catalyst for all of your book's subsequent action and drama and is crucial for transitioning our main character from their ordinary world into the new one. Without a summon or proposal to begin the mission, the hero would have no motive to enter into this unknown realm and give us the action-packed story we’re after!
Most of the time, the hero is hesitant to leave their comfort zone and embark on this mysterious journey, hence why the adventure is so significant. It offers tension and suspense to the plot before it’s even started.
Related: What is a Tragic Hero?
At this point in the hero's story arc, readers should also learn more about the character's motivation and the drive behind them accepting the call to adventure. New antiheroes or foil characters may also be introduced, which will contrast the hero's actions and motivations and add even more depth and complexity to the story.
As an example, look at the foil character pairs in Lord of the Rings. Frodo and Bilbo, and Gandalf and Saruman are just two. Each of these characters is presented with similar challenges or Calls to Adventure, and they react quite differently from the other character.
Done well, the Call to Adventure can pack a big punch and bring a lot of anticipation for what's to come!
6 Tips for writing a powerful Call to Adventure
So now that we know the impact of having a Call to Adventure stage, let’s dive into our expert tips on how to write the perfect one…
1. Establish the ordinary world
Without making the hero’s current world clear to the reader, the Call to Adventure and the unknown world won’t be as moving as you want them to be.
You’ll want the reader to understand the magnitude of this call and how big of a jump it is from the hero’s everyday life. The initial setting of the story should portray the protagonist’s routine, strengths, weaknesses, negative and positive character traits, relationships, and any other important details that make them who they are.
Once this has been established, your Call to Adventure will be a powerful next step.
2. Consider who or what is calling your hero to the adventure
Consider what the dilemma is that they must confront. Will it be a long-standing mentor guiding your hero to the unknown world like Hagrid to Harry? Or will there be a calamity that befalls the protagonist and immediately thrusts them into the action?
The key is to make it a significant enough problem that the hero simply cannot turn it down.
A common example is that a loved one is in danger, and the hero’s emotions motivate them to do whatever it takes to get them back.
3. Bring an element of the unknown into the ordinary world
Every great Hero’s Journey uses a bit of mystery to call the hero to action – and piques the curiosity of both reader and hero. It gives a glimpse into what the protagonist is getting themselves into and offers a motive to accept the call.
Hagrid comes from the unknown wizarding world of Hogwarts to hand-deliver Harry's Call to Adventure. Similarly, Luke Skywalker is approached by Jedi Master Ben Kenobi.
Not all stories involve mythical creatures and magical worlds, but you can still engage your audience’s curiosity by adding intrigue in the form of unusual characters or circumstances to add an element of fascination to the call.
4. Make the quest – and the stakes – clear
What is the actual Call to Adventure? This is the crucial question of the step. It's often what a reader will describe when someone asks them what a book is about.
There must be no mistake about what the hero is being called to do and how must they accept that challenge.
It’s easy to get lost in the details of creating a Call to Adventure. We can forget to communicate exactly what the protagonist needs to get done in order to be successful.
You’ll want to make it clear to the reader what the hero is at risk of losing if they reject or accept the call, and also what they stand to gain.
Will they set their loved one free? Or will they save the city from mass corruption by taking out the evil leader?
5. Create a Real Sense of Urgency
You’ll want to make it clear to the reader that this Call to Adventure is time-sensitive and needs to be addressed straight away.
If we knew that the Hunger Games were not going to take place for quite some time, there would be no urgency from Katniss, right?
The audience needs to feel as if this mission is a ticking-time-bomb. Every bit of the hero’s energy needs to be invested in this adventure now before it’s too late. You can call on this sense of urgency throughout their hero's quest to keep readers invested – and even question if our hero will succeed.
6. Include an initial rejection of the call
Although we’d love a hearty yes to every Call to Adventure, sometimes a ‘hesitant no’ can add tension and conflict to the beginning of the story.
The best types of characters are multi-dimensional. And every hero will have self-doubt, confusion, and fears that put them off from immediately accepting the mission. By illustrating these initial concerns, you’ll be adding a sense of realism and relatability to the story and character.
Be sure to turn the initial rejection into a strong acceptance pretty quickly, though! We don’t want to wait too long before seeing the action unfold.
Memorable examples of Calls to Adventure
Here are some of our favorite examples of Calls to Adventure.
They bring which are then followed by the rest of the Hero’s Journey stages:
The Hunger Games
When her younger sister, Primrose, gets selected for the Hunger Games in District 12, Katniss is forced to volunteer to take Prim’s place instead. Technically, there is one Call to Adventure for Prim, which is rejected for her by her big sister Katniss who accepts the adventure herself.
When Shrek is approached by fairytale creatures at his front door, he tries to reject the call from Lord Farquaad. Despite his attempts and initial reaction, he still ends up on an adventure with Donkey in order to find Princess Fiona.
Odysseus is at home with his family when he is called to fight the Trojans. Initially, he rejects the Call of Adventure because of his desire to remain with his family. But then Athena guides him to the adventure.
Even this Disney favorite includes a Call to Adventure. After Rapunzel insists on seeing the floating lanterns in person, Flynn Rider crashes into her tower. He ends up guiding her to see the lights, setting off an action-packed story for the two.
Outline your Call to Adventure and book together
Every riveting, action-filled story needs a well-crafted Call to Adventure to set the tone and captivate the audience. The key in this step is to get the reader really emotionally invested in the protagonist’s journey and build empathy for them as they embark on this mission.
To have the most impactful Call to Adventure, you should map it out during your book outlining process before you begin your rough draft. You can also use a writing prompts generator just to get the creative juices flowing. This will help you determine when to reveal the call to your protagonist and how different elements of the adventure will unfold throughout subsequent chapters.
That being said, we hope this has answered the question, “What is a Call to Adventure?” and has given you some inspiration for creating a more powerful one in your book.