Nothing is ever easy for the hero! On the monomythical Hero’s Journey, the main character must endure a “Road of Trials.”
This is a series of tasks or obstacles that block the path to the hero’s true goal.
- Can Harry Potter just waltz on to the Hogwarts train? Nope, Platform 9 3/4 is hidden.
- Can dehydrated Katniss Everdeen enjoy her first sips of water? No, she’s attacked by fireballs.
- Can Bella Swan go shopping with her friends? Alas, she’s threatened in a dark alley.
As I started brainstorming obstacles for my own story, I realized I had NO IDEA how many trials the hero should face. My guess was maybe about six . . . and I was way off!
The goal of today’s post is simply to count the number of obstacles in the middle of a bestselling novel.
By the Numbers: The Road of Trials
Total Number of Trials Number of Wins Number of Fails Number of Draws
Average 15 8 2 5
Harry Potter 16 11 2 3
The Hunger Games 16 8 2 6
Twilight 12 4 2 6
- For each of these obstacles, the hero will have a desire or mission, and an obstacle will block his way.
- He will either WIN, FAIL, or DRAW. Not everything works out.
- We’ve already covered some of these obstacles: three of them are dramatic rescues scenes (rescue by hero, rescue by minor character, botched rescue) and one is a hide-n-seek scene.
That leaves eleven additional obstacle cards. Let’s take a look at the details and see if we can glean anything.
A Super Brief Summary of Obstacles
Harry Potter The Hunger Games Twilight
Trial #1 Get on Hogwarts train (WIN) Get fans during opening ceremonies (WIN) Survive first day of school; Edward glares (DRAW)
Trial #2 Sorted into Gryffindor (WIN) Rank well in training (WIN) Rescue from getting hit by car (WIN)
Trial #3 Snape picks on Harry (FAIL) Charming interview (WIN) Hates being asked to dance by many boys (DRAW)
Trial #4 Flying class (WIN) Survive cornucopia (DRAW) Passes out; Edward carries her. (DRAW)
Trial #5 Wizards Dual / hide-n-seek (DRAW) Needs to find water (WIN) Gets info from Jacob (DRAW)
Trial #6 Rescue Hermione (WIN) Attacked by fireballs (DRAW) Rescued from assault (WIN)
Trial #7 Hermione rescues Harry (WIN) Drop tracker jacker nest (DRAW) Bella survives sexual tension date in meadow (WIN)
Trial #8 Screaming book + invisibility cloak (DRAW) Destroy Careers food supply (WIN) Confrontation with Billy (DRAW)
Trial #9 Win quidditch cup (WIN) Hearing injured / hide-n-seek (FAIL) Running from bad vampire coven (FAIL)
Trial #10 Caught sneaking dragon to tower (FAIL) Fails to rescue Rue (FAIL) Emotional fight with Charlie (DRAW)
Trial #11 Harry rescued in forbidden forest (WIN) Care for Peeta's wounds (DRAW) Phone call by bad vampire (FAIL)
Trial #12 Get past Fluffy (WIN) Knock Peeta out to get medicine (WIN) Get away from Alice & Jasper (WIN)
Trial #13 Get past Devil's Snare (WIN) Rescued by Thresh (DRAW) Trial #14 Get flying key (WIN) Panic and almost shoot Peeta (DRAW) Trial #15 Play life size chess (DRAW) Get Past Muttations (WIN) Trial #16 Solve logic puzzle (WIN) Kill Cato (WIN)
Did you notice that the first couple trials are all “transitional” — i.e., they block the hero’s entrance to the magical middle world?
Most of these are wins, which makes sense because, hey, we want the hero to continue on the journey.
And how about the last couple trials– these are also “transitional” trials that lead directly in to the climax.
Most of these are also wins or draws. This makes sense again, because when the hero is so close to the climax there is no time for more set-backs. (I think this pre-climax build up is worthy of it’s own post. Let’s come back to it.)
This is a lot of information for today so let’s hold off on further analysis and just let the birds-eye view sink in.
Here are the index cards for the Road of Trials. Some of them are just placeholders in the master outline for now:
So, break out your own index cards and start brainstorming some obstacles for your hero! This is where the personality of your story will really shine.
Remember, a happy hero is a boring hero!
P.S. In making these charts, I realized that labeling what counts as a trial and what counts as a win or lose is a pretty arbitrary process. Do you disagree with any?