Skip the boring beginning to your novel. Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all get the ball rolling by sending their heroes an invitation for adventure. You can weave in background information as the hero makes preparations to set out. This way, the reader is curious to catch-up, instead of waiting for the action to begin.
You’re Invited on an Adventure* (*risk of death is high)
The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth explains that the Herald is a character archetype who brings the Hero the “call to adventure.”
In Harry Potter & The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry receives a letter (actually many letters) offering him admission into Hogwarts.
Though “thirty or forty letters came pelting out of the fireplace like bullets” by themselves (HP Ch.3), the real Herald here is Hagrid, who eventually physically delivers the invitation. “‘An’ I reckon it’s abou’ time yeh read yer letter.’ Harry stretched out his hand at last to take the yellowish envelope, addressed in emerald green . . .” The letter informs Harry that he has been “accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” (HP Ch.4).
In The Hunger Games, Katniss receives her call to adventure when her sister Prim is selected as tribute and Katniss takes her place.
The moment Effie Trinket, the Herald, calls Prim’s name, the invitation automatically transfers to Katniss because of her resolve to protect her sister. “There must have been some mistake. This can’t be happening. Prim was one slip of paper in thousands! Her chances of being chosen were so remote that I’d not even bothered to worry about her. Hadn’t I done everything?” (HG Ch.2).
In Twilight, Bella’s adventure begins when she first sees the vampires at her new school and becomes obsessed with Edward. There is no clear Herald character.
“It was there, sitting in the lunchroom, trying to make conversation with seven curious strangers, that I first saw them.” “Every one of them was chalky pale. . . . They also had dark shadows under those eyes . . . As if they were all suffering from a sleepless night. . . . I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful.” (TW Ch.1).
[Note that as a paranormal romance, Twilight does not fit perfectly in the structure of a hero’s journey. Perhaps Bella is actually invited to go “out of this world” the first time Edward entertains her questions about his existence. The confusion on the exact moment of her invitation makes Twilight start off much slower than Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. Either way, just as Katniss had no choice but to take her sister’s place, Bella had no choice but to go after Edward once she saw him.]
The invitation works double-duty.
Now that the invitation has brought some excitement into the story, use the hero’s reaction to the invitation to fill in the reader on the hero’s current home and relationships.
In Harry Potter, the invitation works to explain Harry’s muggle world, introduce the wizarding world, and show Harry’s curiosity and openness.
- Harry’s surprise at the letter shows how alone he is, without family or friends. Mr. Dursley’s interaction with Hagrid shows that he already knew that Harry was a wizard and was keeping the truth from him.
- Hagrid explains some basics of wizard life, like what a muggle is, what it means to send an owl, and introduces the lore of the Villain. By the third chapter, we know that some serious magic is going on.
In The Hunger Games, the invitation gives us background on Katniss’s relationships, introduces us to the mindset of the Capitol, and demonstrates Katniss’s fighting spirit.
- Katniss’s reaction to her sister’s name being called shows us Katniss’s motherly role toward Prim. Gale’s response of taking Prim away shows how much he cares for Katniss. As Katniss waits on stage, we learn of her past with Peeta through her worried thoughts.
- Effie’s reaction to Katniss’s decision to volunteer shows how different the Capitol is than District 12. Instead of being sad that children will die, she is thrilled about the excitement.
In Twilight, Bella’s invitation into the vampire world shows Bella’s boredom with her human life and her attraction to danger.
- Bella considers herself separate from her schoolmates. “We sat at the end of a full table with several of her friends, who she introduced to me. I forgot all their names as soon as she spoke them. They seemed impressed by her bravery in speaking to me.”
- The invitation scene gives clues that vampires are here and something spooky is going on. They are pale, inhuman, don’t sleep, have untouched food, and seem to read minds. We see how vulnerable Bella is to love because she is already obsessed with them.
Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games all successfully raise the stakes for their hero by sending them on an adventure right away, without too much set-up. At the same time, they ease the transition between the everyday and the magical by offering a peek into the past and an introduction to the future.
It is vitally important for story openings to have a pulse—a beating heart—that by the end of that chapter (or two…no more), (sadistic) authors (like myself…and hopefully you…) can rip out, throw on the floor, and stomp, leaving our characters to bleed all over the page, and our readers to weep. Once you do, the reader is hooked and the journey can begin.
-Jackie Garlick-Pynaert, (author of the newly-released fantasy steampunk novel LUMIERE).
Let’s place these index cards in Chapter 2 on the Master Outline, so that the reader has just enough time in Chapter 1 to develop some empathy for the hero.