The difference between a character who stays stuck in his current life and the character who grows and changes is the “Break into the New World.” Characters can only learn the lessons they need to learn through a major shift that takes them out of their status quo way of life and into a life that challenges them, strikes them down, and forces them to face their demons.
Does your New World live up to those expectations? Is it powerful or enticing enough to get your character to accept the call to action, rip her apart, and dare her to try again? In this article I talk about the differences between your character’s Current World and their New World and how to set up your character so she has no choice but to accept the call to action.
Let’s hop to it!
The Worlds of your Story
The term “world” in this context does not mean setting and timeline exclusively. Rather, “world” refers to your POVC’s way of life, their state of being. This could include where they work, their relationships, their belief system, their dissatisfaction with the way their life is operating, their home life, their community, how they feel about themselves emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
When your story opens, we usually are introduced to your POVC in their Current World—the way of life that they already know quite well. There will be some element of their Current World that’s dissatisfying, and it’s this dissatisfaction that allows them to seek opportunities elsewhere, which leads them into a situation (for good or for bad) that they cannot refuse (Call to Action). From there, they enter the New World.
The New World is pretty much everything the Current World isn’t. The more opposite you can make these two worlds, the better.
If your story’s New World isn’t a different location, then the Call to Action must lead your POVC into doing something new or different.
The door between Current and New World is a one-way door. Once your POVC walks through, his life will never be the same again. If he should return to the Current World, it can only be until after he’s won or lost in the New World, and he would return a changed person (=his life will never be the same again).
Understanding the Current World
Your POVC is well-versed in the Current World. She may love it deeply but still harbor feelings of resentment or lack of belonging. Or she may absolutely hate her Current World and is desperate for change or escape.
Don’t forget the world represents your POVC’s state of being, although setting plays a huge part.
To figure out a strong enough motivation that drives your POVC to leave the Current World, you should know their story goal. Their heart’s desire. Their determination to achieve their story goal is directly linked to whether or not they will accept the Call to Action.
Call to Action (aka Inciting Incident)
If the Call to Action isn’t strong enough, then they wouldn’t leave the comfort of what they know for the fear of what they don’t know. This particular event (must be externalized action) in your story is something that happens to your protagonist. Not something they go in search of consciously. This Inciting Incident is also known as the one-way door your character goes through from Current to New World.
If your POVC is comfortable enough in their Current World because they’ve figured out how to make it work (Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games), then the only thing that’s going to force her out of this safe (yet depressing and growthless box) is the threat to a loved one.
Vice versa, if your main character can’t stand anything about their Current World and would jump at any opportunity to escape it, then the more promising sounding the Call to Action, the better (Harry Potter).
Refusal of the CTA
There are those stories (and protagonists) who may not want to accept the call to action. They know that going into the New World is a fate worse than death. They’ll come up with any excuse possible to avoid it.
If your protagonist has just cause and the means to avoid it, then you have to bring that in. Otherwise their acceptance won’t be believable. When that happens, you’ll need to set up a secondary event that nails your protagonist to the wall. Then they’ll have no choice but to go through that one-way door.
Understanding the New World
Depending on the story you’re writing, your POVC may or may not want to be in the New World. Regardless, the New World must be opposite of the Current World. It must present gifts and challenges and opportunities to force your POVC into questioning themselves and facing their Flawed Beliefs.
Usually, your protagonist will be making a choice to go into New World based on what they want, no matter how short-sighted that desire may be. Harry Potter doesn’t spend a lot of time doubting his ability to be a wizard. If this is an opportunity to get him away from the Dursleys (what he wants) then he’s jumping all over it. Same with Katniss. She wants to protect her sister. She chooses to volunteer in her sister’s place in the Reaping, despite the fact she’s just offered herself up as a potential shish-ka-bob.
Step back to see how these two choices are linked to their overall story goals. Katniss’s choice to be a contender in the Hunger Games is the critical step she needed to pull out from under the Capitol’s thumb. Harry’s desire to have a loving family, to belong somewhere is made possible by his decision to go to Hogwarts.
Setting Up Your Character
Time to do some Discovery work on your character:
- How is your main character dissatisfied with his Current World?
- What is their ultimate story goal?
- What Flawed Beliefs get in the way of your main character achieving their story goal?
- Why do they want to achieve their story goal?
- Is the Call to Action (Inciting Incident) strong enough to force or entice your main character to accept it?
- If there is any possible way to refuse the CTA, what would that be?
- If refusal is possible, what is your secondary event that pushes your main character through that one-way door?
- Can the story that follows from the Inciting Incident ONLY happen as a result of the Inciting Incident?
- In what ways is your New World opposite that of the Current World?
- Is your character excited or filled with dread to enter the New World? Is that supported by their story goal and Flawed Belief?
- What have they left behind in the Current World that makes them happy, sad, anxious, or angry?
- Knowing they could return to the Current World, how would they NO LONGER fit in the way they did before? If they didn’t feel like they belonged in Current World, how are they better for it at end of the book?
- How does the New World fulfill (or not fulfill) your main character’s expectations?
- How does their choice to accept the CTA relate directly to their opportunity to achieve their story goal? Are you sure their entry into New World is the only way they can get their heart’s desire?
Are you feeling clear on your protagonist’s Current World and New World? What do you find the most difficult about this part of your protagonist’s development?