In Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hunger Games, and Twilight, the heroes each encounter a similar obstacle when they arrive in awful-awesome land: they must earn the acceptance of their new peers.
For Harry Potter, this scene is the Sorting Hat ceremony. For Katniss, this is her televised interview to win over the Capital residents. And for Bella, this scene is when she gets repeatedly invited to the school dance. Here are 9 ways the bestselling authors fill the hero with classic teenage nerves about social acceptance.
1. Hold a ceremony.
- In Harry Potter, the first-years are sorted into their Houses in front of the whole school during the start-of-term banquet. “Harry could hear the drone of hundreds of voices from a doorway to the right — the rest of the school must already be here . . . .” (HP Ch.7).
- In The Hunger Games, the interview segment of the games is a popular televised event. “The interviews take place on a stage constructed in front of the Training Center. Once I leave my room, it will be only minutes until I’m in front of the crowd, the cameras, all of Panem.” (HG Ch.9).
- In Twilight, Bella’s new school is about to host a spring dance. “Jessica made me aware of another event looming on the horizon — she called the first Tuesday of March to ask my permission to invite Mike to the girls’ choice spring dance in two weeks.” (TW CH.4).
2. Make the hero nervous about the ceremony.
Even though it’s a ceremony of sorts, the hero is not looking forward to it all! The idea of being judged in front of all his peers makes the hero dread the upcoming event.
- Harry Potter is anxious that he will be tested on magic he doesn’t know. “He’d never been more nervous, never . . . . Any second now, Professor McGonagall would come back and lead him to his doom.”
- Katniss Everdeen is nervous that the sponsors won’t like her. “Just stepping on the stage makes my breathing rapid and shallow. I can feel my pulse pounding in my temples.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella is worried about her dancing skills. “No, Jess, I’m not going,” I assured her. Dancing was glaringly outside my range of abilities.” (TW CH.4).
3. Force the hero to wait.
The hero’s anticipation is only worsened when he is forced to wait– he may have to get in line, or he may have to watch from the sidelines as his friends are called up before him, one by one.
- In Harry Potter, the first-years must wait in a chamber off the Great Hall. “Feeling oddly as though his legs had turned to lead, Harry got into line behind a boy with sandy hair, with Ron behind him, and they walked out of the chamber, back across the hall, and through a pair of double doors into the Great Hall.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss must wait for all the other tributes to do their interviews. “All twenty-four of us sit in a big arc throughout the interviews. I’ll be last, or second to last since the girl tribute precedes the boy from each district.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella is waiting in a car line when she is asked to the dance. “’I’m sorry, Tyler, I’m stuck behind Cullen.’ I was annoyed — obviously the holdup wasn’t my fault. ‘Oh, I know — I just wanted to ask you something while we’re trapped here.’” (TW CH.4).
4. Send the hero some self-doubt.
Like any good teenager who is nervous about a big event, the hero starts to imagine the worst. The hero is generally a loner so this ceremony centered around social acceptance is especially hard for him.
- Harry Potter worries that he will not get picked to be a member of any Hogwarts House. “He was starting to feel definitely sick now. He remembered being picked for teams during gym at his old school.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss is not sure which “angle” to play during her interview, and her stylist suggests that she be herself. “’Myself? That’s no good, either. Haymitch says I’m sullen and hostile,’ I say.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella thinks that her friend only wants her to come to the dance because she is a novelty at school. “I suspected that Jessica enjoyed my inexplicable popularity more than my actual company.” (TW CH.4).
5. The hero has to be someone he is not.
With all this self-doubt, the hero feels like he has to be someone else to be socially accepted– this might require a few white lies.
- Harry Potter feels like he doesn’t have the virtues represented by the Hogwarts Houses. “If only the hat had mentioned a House for people who felt a bit queasy, that would have been the one for him.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss does not want to be herself in front of the audience. “’They can’t have the things that mattered to me in the past!’ I say. ‘Then lie! Make something up!’ says Haymitch.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella lies about her plans on the day of the dance, and tries to be nice to her suitors. “I recovered my composure and tried to make my smile warm. ‘Thank you for asking me, but I’m going to be in Seattle that day.’” (TW CH.4).
6. The hero cannot focus.
Whether during the event or the preparation for it, the hero is too full of nerves to focus. It all goes by in a blur.
- Harry Potter is excited that he was sorted into the house he wanted to join. “. . . he hardly noticed that he was getting the loudest cheer yet.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss has a hard time concentrating on her preparation for the interview. “I try to focus on the talk, which has turned to our interview costumes . . . .” (HG Ch.6).
- Bella cannot focus when she thinks that Edward is asking her to the dance. “His eyes were gloriously intense as he uttered that last sentence, his voice smoldering. I couldn’t remember how to breathe.” (TW CH.4).
7. The hero gets frustrated.
During the preparation for the event, the hero expresses frustration– perhaps with the repetitiveness of it all.
- While the Sorting Hat is evaluating him, Harry wills the Hat not to choose Slytherin. “Harry gripped the edges of the stool and thought, Not Slytherin, not Slytherin.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss is annoyed with her interview prep session. “Effie makes me say a hundred banal phrases starting with a smile, while smiling, or ending with a smile. By lunch, the muscles in my cheeks are twitching from overuse.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella has grown impatient after three boys ask her to the dance. “My voice sounded a little sharp. I had to remember it wasn’t his fault that Mike and Eric had already used up my quota of patience for the day.” (TW CH.4).
8. Someone gives the hero approval.
Another character takes the time to appreciate the hero’s greatness, which may ease their feelings during the ceremony.
- The Sorting Hat tells Harry Potter that he has the makings to be a great wizard. “You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head. . .” (HP Ch.7).
- Caesar Flickerman admires Katniss’s great ranking. “So, how about that training score. E-le-ven. Give us a hint what happened in there.” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella’s friends assume she has always been popular. “Both Jessica and Angela seemed surprised and almost disbelieving when I told them I’d never been to a dance in Phoenix.” (TW CH.4).
9. Throw the hero a curve ball.
The hero is so focused on being nervous about the ceremony, that he is totally unprepared when the unexpected happens.
- Harry Potter is nervous about beginning Hogwarts, and he is surprised by its inhabitants. “Then something happened that made him jump about a foot in the air . . . . About twenty ghosts had just streamed through the back wall.” (HP Ch.7).
- Katniss is worried about getting the audience to like her, so she is surprised when she learns that Peeta has a crush on her. “Peeta blushes beet red and stammers out. ‘Because . . . because . . . she came here with me.’” (HG Ch.9).
- Bella is surprised when Edward asks to join her made-up plans instead of asking her to the dance. “’I heard you say you were going to Seattle that day, and I was wondering if you wanted a ride.’ That was unexpected.” (TW CH.4).
Why it works
This “social acceptance” scene occurs during the pre-middle of the novel, in between the hero leaving his homeland and officially beginning his adventure. Like the pop-quiz scene, this is a relatively low-stakes obstacle for the hero– there is no life-or-death scare this early on the journey.
In its most simplest form, the Sorting Hat teaches us that the first obstacle is about the hero’s desire to have people like him. This clearly resonates with the teenage experience, and is a great way to connect with the hero on a human level before the other-worldly scenes occur.
Let’s place this index card in Chapter 5 of the master outline. (We have a placeholder card there now as the hero’s first obstacle.) We’ll chalk this one up as a “win” for the hero– Harry Potter gets into the House he wants, Katniss puts on a charming interview, and Bella scores a date with Edward without having to dance. Head over to the master outline to see how it fits in with the rest of our scenes.