Posted by: Alastair Rosie | August 28, 2012

Refusal of the Call.

We now come to stage three, Refusing the Call and this is something with which writers know intimately. “You mean you actually want to write a book?” “Do you know the odds of getting noticed let alone published?” “Have you ever written a book yet?” “Okay, so you wrote one but do you think you have enough in you for a second book?” “Haven’t you got more ambition?” “How are you going to survive as a writer?”
If you’re nodding or even wincing then you have experienced this stage on a personal level. Perhaps the comments are said in light hearted banter but behind the smiles and jokes we feel keenly the pull of the old familiar world drawing us back from our extraordinary world. As Frodo once said in Lord of the Rings, “it’s too big.” To which Galadrial replies, “even the smallest person can change the course of the future.”
We’ve all experienced it and if you haven’t then I bow to your greatness! Many of us have faced the refusal of the call which is why challenges like nanowrimo exist to push us over the edge for a month. We have a million excuses, some are even legitimate ones, family, children, partners, jobs, travel to and from work, financial worries all of which steal time from you. The not so legitimate reasons steal even more time, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and everything in between. And up top a point it’s a comforting world, you know all the steps and the characters even if sometimes you wish for something more.
Your extraordinary world on the other hand is filled with monsters and critics, danger, the loss of life and limb, mythically speaking, heartbreak or happiness, triumph, courage, true love but at the end who will read your precious manuscript that you sweated blood over? Will some publisher or agent just turn up their nose and move onto the next book in the slush pile?
And that my friends is the Refusal of the Call in a nutshell. A list of perfectly good reasons and poor excuses for not moving forward. People in the real world refuse the call every day and characters in books and movies also refuse the call. This is why we held our breath when the elves, dwarves and men were all arguing over the fate of the ring at Rivendell. And why we breathed a sigh of relief when Frodo, who dearly wants to go back to his beloved Shire stands up and says, “I will go, I will take the ring though I know not the way.” It’s a cathartic moment in fiction when your hero is faced with the terrible consequences, festering swamps, fierce dragons, an eye that never sleeps and although he or she is afraid, so terribly afraid they step forward and take the mantle. So don’t skip this point in your book and don’t brush over it, the danger has to be real enough to kill your hero and the rewards have to be worth risking her life.
The Refusal of the Call is where your hero or heroes evaluate the risks, it’s a natural human condition, we do it when we cross the road. We measure the distance of oncoming cars and the distance we have to travel and make a decision, hopefully we’re right! But back to your book, the refusal is a chance to sum up once more the pull of the Ordinary World, the Call to Adventure and weigh up the odds.
In A Time to Kill with Matthew McConaughey and Sandra Bullock, Jake is faced with death threats when he decides to take Carl Lee’s case and his concerns are legitimate. He fears for his family, and those fears are realised in a terrifying way when his house is burned down. Costner’s character Jim Garrison in JFK faces the same refusal of the call over and over, right up until he meets with X played by Donald Sutherland. The venerable CIA agent doesn’t shy away from Garrison’s refusal, he acknowledges he’s up against some very powerful people, a cartel but he says, “you can’t quit now, Bubba, they can’t afford to kill you now,” or words to that effect. In this way the refusal of the call can be drawn on at various points in your book to push your character forward or to show how much she’s grown over the last few chapters.
The Refusal can come from outside forces like a mentor figure, the voice of experience who tells the young hero you’re too young for this or it could come from a Threshold Guardian, one sent to oppose the hero. You think you can do it, do you know what you’re up against? Other times it might be the inner voice of experience. Rambo refuses because the voice of experience tells him he’s about to be screwed yet again.
A hero who brushes aside the refusal and laughs it off is two dimensional and unappealing to a reader or viewer because we can’t relate to them. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, it does all the time with monotonous regularity but when you humanise your hero we feel a little closer to them. We feel the fear of Sarah Connor when she’s in the night club and the Terminator finds her, and then when Rhys rescues her and is trying to drag her to safety she’s resisting and we’re urging her to run like hell. You’re dead if you don’t run.
In Twilight, Bella finds Edward attractive, mysterious but foreboding. Mike has it for her bad, she has her other friends, Charlie, her mother. All these perfectly legitimate reasons for not getting involved with a guy who stays out of the sun and seems almost schizophrenic whenever he comes in contact with her. Her gut feeling is tell her to stay away, this is too big for you.
In closing however there are some calls that should be refused. Rose clinging to the edge of the Titanic, contemplating suicide is a call that should be refused because it will result in her death. A character offered a deal that will end in disaster quite rightfully refuses the call. Imagine a lawman tracking down a fugitive who is offered a share of the loot, if only he walks away. That’s a call to adventure that could end in disaster.

More examples of the Refusal of the Call.

John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves where his commander tries to talk him out of taking his post. An interesting side effect happens just after he leaves the office when the commander commits suicide His commander has just illustrated what happened when he refused the call, in the end he couldn’t live with himself.
Clarice in Silence of the Lambs when Jack Crawford makes the offer and in the same breath the psychiatrist also tries to get her to refuse. This is an example of a Mentor and Threshold Guardian both trying to get her to refuse the call to adventure.
Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code when he is first asked to look at the body of Jacques Sauniere.
Lisa Callaghan in my first novel The Boston Slasher when she is woken by her boss on her day off to be told a murder has been committed, “can’t someone else handle it?” It is subtle, she’s more like putting off the call but inevitably she agrees although she’s not too happy about having a rookie like Luke Farmer riding along.




  1. Great post – thank you for sharing 🙂

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