Hero’s Journey – Refusal of the call

Refusal of the call

The Hero has received the Call to Adventure but instead of accepting it, he refuses.

This is another way to introduce conflict and reverse expectations for the audience. For example, we know exactly what Rocky is about from the poster and the trailer before we see it but when Rocky is offered the shot at the champ by Jergens “Would you be interested in fighting Apollo Creed for the heavyweight championship of the world?” Rocky replies “No.” (Note the B story in the film is the fight the A story is the love story between Rocky and Adrian which is why this refusal happens half way into the film)

In Raider’s of the lost Ark when the Army Intelligence meet with Indiana Jones to give him the Call- Find the Ark of the covenant – Musgrove “Obviously we’ve come to the right men. You seem to know all about this Tannis.” Indy replies “No, no, not really. Ravenwood is the real expert.” But this refusal doesn’t last long, not even to the end of the conversation.

Refusal of the call in two Natalie Portman films which are not as direct as the above examples.


The call to adventure in Thor is for him to replace Odin as king but a refusal of the call in this instance cannot be expressed as Thor having doubt or being afraid or deeming himself not worthy. His character is both courageous and confident. In this example, refusal of the call is represented by the way Thor reacts when faced by his first challenge. Instead of being a ‘wise’ king who doesn’t seek war, he attacks the Frost Giants in direct defiance of his father. Thus he has put the lives of Asgardians in danger and refused the call of being a wise king.

Black Swan

The Call to Adventure arises when lead role for Black Swan becomes available. She’s desperate to do the role, so when the opportunity arises she wants to do it. (No refusal) But during the tryouts she is a brilliant White Swan but cannot perform the Black Swan. She can’t do it, she isn’t able to answer the call, she’s not ready yet for the challenge. Interestingly she puts on lipstick and attempts to seduce the director but instead she feels the director is taking advantage of her and she bites him. Again, she refuses to do what is necessary to get the role. (A clever use of irony comes into play here when that is the exact thing that gets her the role)

Another good use of Refusal of the Call is to use it to create greater conflict for the hero by having him refuse at first but then use something else which forces his hand so he must commit to the journey.

Breakdown of Refusal of the call


Definition – to decline to accept, give or allow something

Synonyms – decline, react, respond, disobey, resist, reject, pass on, bounce, defy, escape, fail


Definition – need, cause for action

Synonyms – alarm, signal, justification, necessity, obligation, scream, signal, peep, roar, awaken, appeal to, summon, warning

Reasons for refusal

1. Not ready

2. Unwilling

3. Unprepared

4. Fear

5. Lacks confidence

6. Unsure

7. Overwhelmed

8. Modesty

9. Secrecy

How to use in your script

Look at the Refusal of the Call stage in your script. -Do you have one? – Does  it suit your hero’s character or have you just put it in because it’s listed as stage and you thought you should put it in? – Is it as creative a refusal as you can possibly make it? – Does it increase conflict? – Do you get anything out of the refusal? – Does it make the task ahead seem harder?


Hero’s Journey – Ordinary World

Ordinary world

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.


Shrek (2001)

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.