The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Accepting the Challenge

The third step of the Hero’s Journey is called “the acceptance of the challenge.” This can, of course be considered either a specific acceptance, or the more general (and important) aspect of human maturation called “conation”—the acceptance of responsibility. A person who constantly blames their parents, society, or whatever for their emotional pain and lack of capacity is functionally a child. But in truth, most human beings fit into this category. There is little more painful than truly growing up, understanding that life is finite, accepting both credit and blame for the events of our lives.

This stuff is tough, and the human ego will hide from it, distract you, do all in it’s power to convince you to “deny the challenge.” But if we are to move forward, we cannot do this.

Storytelling has always been about people confronted with challenges that stretch their limits, force them to confess their insufficiencies and sins, make them deal with fear and disappointment. Stories that do NOT push people to this “edge” are by definition, trivial.

Stories that push people to the edge…and beyond…have the capacity to stir the soul. This rigor need not be exclusively physical. It can be emotional, spiritual, intellectual, whatever. It can deal with a nation tested to live its conscience, a man called to confess his infidelity, a woman forced to leave a brutal marriage, a child forced to confront a parent’s alcoholism. All involve stepping out of the comfort zone. Once these steps are taken, they are hard to un-take. We go forward, onto the Road of Trials.

Look into your own life, and you’ll find countless times when you accepted the challenge…and a few uncomfortable ones when you refused, and knew you should have. These, the inner Gorgons whose image you could not bear, are your gold mine. Wherever you were stopped, halted in your tracks, paralyzed by fear or shame or guilt…these are EXACTLY the times in your life that will reap the greatest benefits, if you are courageous enough to tell the truth.

TELL THE TRUTH. What stopped you? Why were you afraid? What were your internal voices? Who in your group of allies sabotaged your efforts? What was the emotional pay-off for turning back? You must have the ability, the courage and commitment to look at these things honestly. And if you would be a writer of quality, you must have the ability to share what you find.

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