The first stage of the hero’s journey is the Ordinary World. The hero goes about his ordinary life and demonstrates his flaw – a simple task, that by the end of the story he has grown and learnt to overcome it. It is used to demonstrate the vivid contrast the new world he is about to enter.
Break down the key words, Ordinary, World, Flaw
Use a breakdown of keywords to give yourself a more complete understanding of the concept. Substitute synonyms and contemplate this new combination and list ideas that this generates e.g. ordinary world becomes mundane period or basic people.
Definition; With no special or distinctive features, normal
Synonyms: Usual, regular, normal, habitual, customary, basic, expected, everyday, prosaic, standard, unremarkable, average, mundane, routine
Keep in mind the term ordinary refers to the current status of the individual, if your hero is a soldier, firing a gun and killing people while they try to kill you is normal. The ordinary is not compared to your own current life.
Definition; The sphere or scene of one’s life and action
Definition; All that relates to or affects the life of a person
World comes from Old English word weorold, a compound of wer meaning man and eld meaning age, roughly translates to Age of man
Synonyms; Actuality, reality, community, people, existence, domain, social class, everybody, period, times, environment
Definition; An imperfection, often concealed, that hinders effectiveness
Synonyms; Incomplete, failing, weakness, fault, disfigurement, hamartia
***Don’t just pick a flaw at random, when creating your character make the task of overcoming his flaw a necessary by-product of completing the objective of the story. As an example with my fictitious screenplay Dwarf Teacher High; The dwarf teacher begins the story feeling insignificant, helpless, unable to stand up for himself but, in order to save the school from being closed down he has to overcome those flaws in order to be able to organize the (dance off) that will save the school. The goal of the story is to save the school from being shut down but his flaw is something that makes it more difficult for him to achieve it.
As with any part of a story, everything must be achieved through conflict. When there is no conflict it gets boring pretty quickly. The character’s flaw is simply another tactic to achieve conflict in the story. If the character’s flaw is nothing more than a distraction to the story, you’ve failed to take advantage the opportunity to create more conflict.
How to create the ordinary world?
1. What is routine for the hero?
2. Who does he interact with?
3. What sort of environments does he move through?
4. Why does he tolerate/enjoy/endure this existence?
5. How does he react to this world?
6. How does he demonstrate his flaw?
7. How can you capture all of this visually?
A good exercise is to go through the first ten minutes of your favorite films and answer these questions.
1. Lives by himself and likes to be left alone.
2. As few people as possible but lives in a world of fairy tale characters
3. Swamps and forests
4. He likes his privacy and people don’t like him/afraid of him
5. Very grumpy.
6. He feels like he’s a big, stupid ugly Orge – unlovable. He’s not interested in letting anyone get close to him so they can’t make him feel unlovable.
7. Even though he does the right thing and saves Donkey from he bad guys, he’s quick to turn his back on Donkey and shun any friendship of any kind.
Ordinary world is the first step, it’s roughly the first ten pages but like any of the stages there is flexibility and room for modification depending on how you’re telling your story.