Story Structure #21: Act II, Stage 8: The Ordeal

So finally we’re facing the big crisis of the story. We’ve got all sorts of tools on hand to give it high impact:

The Ordeal

  • Hero must die (literally or figuratively) so that they can be reborn
    • Options: (Think Story Engineering tentpole analogy)
      • Central crisis happens at midpoint
        • This is halfway through Act II. Story Engineering just goes right on ahead and calls them two separate Parts.
        • Leaves plenty of time for elaborate consequences to flow from the Ordeal
      • Delayed crisis – rear end of Act II (2/3 or ¾ through story)
        • Matches closely with Golden Mean (~3:5)
        • Leaves more room for preparation and Approach and allows slow buildup to a big moment at the end of the Act II
  • Witness needed – to witness death and revival
    • Represents reader – brings them in to react with them
  • Elasticity of emotion – Basketball analogy
    • Basketball pushed down underwater will rebound high
    • The harder you throw a basketball at the floor, the higher it will rebound
    • Emotions depressed by the presence of death can rebound in an instant to a higher state than ever before
      • This can be the base on which you build to yet a higher level
      • The Ordeal is one of the deepest depressions on a story, and therefore leads to one of its highest peaks
  • Story needs a central (or delayed) life-or-death crisis to lead up to and trail away from
    • Hero can die, witness death, cause death, or all 3
  • Facing the Shadow – a separate person or the negative possibilities of hero himself
    • Hero’s Shadow = Hero’s Greatest Opponent
    • Resistance can be your greatest source of strength
    • Devil himself is God’s shadow, a projection of all the negative/rejected potential of the Supreme Being
    • Shadow needs to be brought out into the light to deal with (duke it out)
  • Use Ariadne’s Thread – the elastic band that connects a Hero with loved ones, that pulls them from the brink (Ariadne’s gift to Theseus in the Labyrinth)
  • Ordeal can be the marriage of Hero and his repressed half, completing him
  • Ordeal can be the moment the Hero faces his greatest fear

So much meaning can be packed into this moment or sequence. It is all up to us to orchestrate it for maximum oomph factor.


A printable version, for your reference, can be found here: Stage 8: The Ordeal

To view a chronological listing of the posts in this series, continue below:

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