The Heroine’s Journey: Stage Four- The Descent (Passing the Gates of Judgement)

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We have now crossed the threshold from Act I to Act 2 of the Heroine’s Journey. Act I is all set-up. We learn about our heroine: what she desires, her problems, and how she copes with those problems. Our heroine was blindsided by a betrayal and was forced to realize that the world she was living in was no longer working for her. She needs to move on.

Stage Four, which marks the beginning of Act 2, is when the heroine, according to Victoria Lynn Schmidt in her book 45 Master Characters, “has to face that changes” that come with the life-changing decision she made at the end of Act 1. The heroine will face many obstacles on her journey and will often by riddled with self-doubt. As she confronts each and every trail put before her, our heroine grows into the person she is supposed to be. This stage is not easy and our heroine will often doubt herself and want to turn back. But the door has closed on Act 1. The heroine cannot returned to the “perfect world” until her transformation is complete.

The Gates of Judgement can be anything related to the heroine’s fears, doubts, and regrets. The obstacles thrown in her way should rattle her cage. If she is going to realize her full potential in Act 3, then she needs to struggle quite a bit in Act 2.

We see this executed beautifully in The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Katniss enters the Hunger Games arena with the goal of winning. But she knows that isn’t going to be easier. Many of her competitors have been training since they were children. They are far more skilled than she is and they have wealthy districts to back them. All Katniss has is her talent with a bow and arrow and her relationship with fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta Mellark. Her chances of survival are slim. A group of tributes known as Careers are out to get her. She struggles with starvation and dehydration.

But she also becomes friends with District 11 Tribute Rue. In fact, it is the death of Rue later on in Act 2 that reminds Katniss of who the real enemy is. Katniss may not know how to act on this realization at the moment, but it is another mini-awakening that sparks her development throughout the trilogy.

Stage Four will, arguably, be the toughest stage for your heroine until you reach stage six. Next will, we will talk about the reprieve that comes with Stage Five.

Until next time, kill your darlings, slay your dragons, and keep writing!

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