The Plotting Workshop: Crossing the Threshold
Today we’re wrapping up planning the first act of your story by talking about crossing the first threshold.
A threshold is a doorway, right? As far as your story goes, the first threshold is the doorway between your protagonist’s ordinary world and the special world of the story.
Sometimes I call this part of the story the Lock-in and it’s the second key plot point in your story. If the Call to Adventure is a question, Crossing the Threshold is the answer. And remember, the answer (however grudgingly given) is always, eventually, yes.
Your main character has to cross from their ordinary world into the special world of the story. There’s no way around it. For the next couple of days we’re going to think about how that happens in your story.
This time there is one lesson. You’ll want to read the “Crossing the Threshold” chapter in Christopher Vogler’s book The Writer’s Journey.
Getting to Yes
Sometimes the MC makes a decision to do something that locks them into their story. Think about Hagrid asking Harry if he’d like to come with him to Hogwarts or Luke Skywalker telling Obi Wan that he’s ready for Jedi training.
Sometimes it’s out of the MC’s hands. Dorothy Gale is literally lifted by a force of nature and placed on top of what might have been her worst enemy in Oz, the magical, special world of her story.
However it happens, no matter how many times or how hard your MC has tried to refuse the Call to Adventure, something is going to happen around the end of the first act that will force them to answer yes. Eventually entering the world of the story will be more compelling than trying to resist change.
Take out your notebook, label the next page “Crossing the Threshold” and answer these questions.
- How does your MC cross into the story? Think about the imagery of the moment when the decision to go into the story is made. This is a big moment in your story, one that readers will remember, so make it sensory.
- Is your MC willing to cross the threshold? Is there still something holding them back? What are the stakes if they cross? What are the stakes if they don’t? Do they have a choice, or is the choice made for them?
- Are there threshold guardians? We talked about these characters before — they want to protect your MC or for some other reason keep them from crossing the threshold. Think about them again now that you’d thought some more about the first act. What are their motivations? What’s at stake for them?
- How does your MC deal with their threshold guardian?
- What does your MC learn from crossing the threshold? Maybe something about themself or something about their normal world that shows them that it wasn’t what they thought it was. Maybe they learn something about someone important in their life.
Crossing the Threshold is a set piece for your story. One of the major climaxes. It generally happens around the end of the first act. It’s okay to go splashy with this scene, if your story calls for it. Give your readers a strongly visual experience.
The setting might change at this point in your story. Harry Potter goes from the muggle world to Hogwarts. Dorothy goes from her Kansas farm to Oz. Luke Skywalker goes from his aunt and uncle’s moisture farm to the world of Jedi training. Crossing the Threshold represents a major shift or change for your MC.
Spend some time thinking about what will mark your MC’s transition from their ordinary world into the special world of the story.