Movie Monday: The Road of Trials

After the hero crosses the threshold into the extraordinary world, they begin the road of trials. Often called try/fail cycles, this portion of the story has the hero going against challenge after challenge, failing miserably, then slowly beginning to master their power until they reach the top of their game, only to be shot down into the belly of the beast. But more on that next week.

This also tends to be where character flaws are exposed. The character may get arrogant or show impatience or loss of temper or some flaw that will have to be overcome for them to win later. That flaw is part of what drags them down into the belly of the whale.

Disney does this well with montage. My favorite montage that shows this journey is from Mulan. The many montage songs in this movie feature her trying, failing, trying failing, trying succeeding, trying succeeding, until the last song ends, the stakes raise, she succeeds in one really impressive moment, but that success leads into her downfall.

Other examples include Hercules fighting the monsters, Lilo and Stitch and Nani all dancing around each other, screwing up what the other was trying to accomplish, Mr. Incredible fighting on the island, Carl and Russel making their way through the strange land to Paradise Falls, Rapunzel and Flynn’s trip to the castle, Ralph’s foray through the other games, Ana’s journey to Elsa, and Hiro’s training montage in Big Hero Six. This is the part of the story where manageable and sometimes even humorous problems pop up. It serves as training, confidence builders (or breakers), and landmarks on the journey. I envy Disney’s ability to montage it, because it’s a lot harder to develop in written fiction. The midpoint where everything changes is clear, the start point where everything changes is clear to most writers, it’s the learning curve that’s hard to plot.

Movie Monday: The Ordinary World


There are a variety of plot structures to choose from when writing a story, but by far the most famous and prevalent is the Hero’s Journey. You can find echoes of it in every story ever told.

Star Wars is the most famous example, and as much of a fan as I am, there’s enough out there on how it matches line for line. So instead, I’m going to focus on a different aspect of the hero’s journey every week and match it to the relevant scene in a movie.

Why movies not books?

Well for starters, unless I want to go with the classical cannon, there’s a much better chance of everyone having seen the same movie than reading the same book. There’s also a better chance of someone remembering a specific scene from said movie or book. And because movies are so much more compact, the elements of the story are very specific and easy to point to, whereas in a book it may be much more subtle and may unfold over much more time.

Part one of the hero’s journey is establishing the ordinary world. In other plot structure’s you’ll see this called “slice of life.” Cartoons tend to do this very well with voiceovers (Hiccup’s “This is Berk” narrative, the Crood’s mini-cartoon at the beginning, Welcome to Riley’s Brain in Inside Out), songs (Rapunzel’s tower song, Belle’s “Bonjour,” or “This is my idea” from Swan Princess), and montages (Big Hero Six, UP, and Monster’s INC).

The BEST example I can think of for establishing the ordinary world is “Wreck it Ralph.” In this scene, Ralph gives a voice over that serves a function in the narrative instead of just being an info dump. His narrative establishes his conflict, establishes the rules of the world, his role within it and the theme of accepting himself for who he is (I’m bad, and that’s good…) But what makes this moment the best example is everything that happens in the background. Sonic establishes the limits of the world, Surge Protector establishes his bias against “bad guys,” the bus moving through the power cables establishes how they can hop from one game to another, there’s even a reference to Turbo. A million things are established in the one scene, but it does not begin the journey. It establishes the slice of life.

What are some of your favorite slice of life moments?