One of the stages of the Hero’s Journey (story structure) is “Refusal of the Call.” It’s crucial.

In building the world around my character, Charlie Holiday, I had a little peek into what he thought of the Refusal of the Call (to Adventure). This is what happened below.

In case you don’t know the Hero’s Journey, here are Joseph Campbell’s seventeen stages (from Wikipedia):

  1. Departure
    1. The Call to Adventure
    2. Refusal of the Call
    3. Supernatural Aid
    4. Crossing the First Threshold
    5. Belly of the Whale
  2. Initiation
    1. The Road of Trials
    2. The Meeting with the Goddess
    3. The Woman As Temptress
    4. Atonement with the Father
    5. Apotheosis
    6. The Ultimate Boon
  3. Return
    1. Refusal of the Return
    2. The Magic Flight
    3. Rescue from Without
    4. The Crossing of the Return Threshold
    5. Master of Two Worlds
    6. Freedom to Live

Refusal of the Call

Often when the call is given, the future hero first refuses to heed it. This may be from a sense of duty or obligation, fear, insecurity, a sense of inadequacy, or any of a range of reasons that work to hold the person in his or her current circumstances.

“I can’t do that,” Charlie said out loud to no one as he sat on the bench in the woods. “It’s just not who I am.”

He thought about the ‘refusal of the call to adventure’ and the bullet points lined up in his head as to why he wasn’t right for it.

  • a sense of duty or obligation,
  • fear,
  • insecurity,
  • a sense of inadequacy,
  • or any of a range of reasons.

If this were multiple choice, he thought there should be two more options for “Any of the above” but especially an “All of the above” and he would clearly choose that one.

He had them all.

He even had more to add to the ‘any of a range of reasons’ option as he could easily rattle off. While he was working on those, he could probably find some more. Maybe he should get in contact with the Hero’s Journey folks and work on making the list a little longer—or a lot longer.

There were so many reasons to not answer the call to adventure.

The main was just that it was not who he was. Poor Charlie. He wanted so much to be The One Who Is This One Who Does These Things but he just knew he wasn’t.

What was the difference? How did those who were The One Who Did Those Things become that way? Were they at some point in the past people who didn’t? How did they change? Did they do something special or different? Did they read a book or take a weekend workshop?

Or were they really born that way? If that were the case, then he could stop pestering himself that he wasn’t born that way and at least in this lifetime it was not he who would do these things.

Oh well. Maybe next lifetime.

Cats had nine lives. Who said that people didn’t? Who did the study on the nine lives anyway? Probably someone who wanted to get rid of the neighbor’s cat who kept digging little holes and burying his business in her tulip garden. When they went to tell the owner’s how their cat mysteriously disappeared at least they could console them with the next eight lives.

Or it was a dog.

So who made the rule that Charlie Holiday wasn’t the person who did these things? Was there an office where he could file a complaint? Which form was that?

As he stopped to think about it, he knew there wasn’t an office. There weren’t forms. There might be eight more lives, like the neighbor’s cat, but he wasn’t going to wait around until the possible beginning of Life #2 to see how that panned out.

No office. No form. No bespectacled, dark monobrow at window #9,276 to tell him that he couldn’t do it.

He knew who was in charge. It was both as frightening as the quiet before the monster comes out of the closet and as exciting as sitting on the edge of the airplane, parachute strapped on tight, with only clear sky and a huge planet of opportunity below him.

No window #9,276. No monobrow. No parachute.

No one to decide his fate.

No one but one person.

His name happened to be the same as his.

His name was Charlie Holiday.

The choice was his.

Only his.