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What is the “call to adventure” in storytelling? (Definition and examples)

The “call to adventure” brings your script characters into the story.

One of my favorite moments in film and television is when the hero of your story “answers the call”. We see them enter a new world, even if it looks very much like ours, and we try to fight everything that comes their way. It is that moment of amusement. The moment you know you can’t predict what’s next, sit back in your chair and be ready to entertain you.

But so many movies and TV shows I’ve seen shy away from really embracing those moments. Maybe they forget to entertain, or maybe they just don’t have a character that is clearly defined enough to carry this moment. Whatever the case, your script lives and dies in the moment of the “call to adventure”.

So today we’re going to think about it, define it, and make sure you squish those pages as the story turns.

Let’s begin.

What is the call to adventure in storytelling? (Definition and examples)

I love writing this script blog here because I can talk about movies and TV shows that I adore day in and day out.

Like many of my other posts, this also includes terms and ideas no rules. You can argue that many different movies and TV shows don’t have a call to adventure. But we will focus on those who need this moment to be successful in their stories.

The hero’s journey

If you have enough time to review chat rooms, corridors in Barnes & Noble, or on Twitter, you know that sometime during the day someone will be talking about the hero’s journey. (That someone is Joseph Campbell. Just kidding.)

It has become that ubiquitous guide that people use to talk about what needs to happen in order for their character to become the arch in the story.

One of the most important steps on this journey is “The Call to Adventure”.


Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey
Recognition: The writer’s journey

Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey: Mythical Structure for Writerssays “The Hero’s Journey is a framework that should be worked out with the details and surprises of each story. The structure should not attract attention or be followed too closely. The order of the stages is just one of many possible variations. The levels can be deleted, supplemented and drastically shuffled without losing their power. ”

The call to adventure definition

The call to adventure is a moment in the hero’s journey in which the protagonist is faced with a dilemma that he is confronted with and that takes him on the adventure at the center of the story.

Now the hero may accept the challenge or decline the adventure based on fears or other factors, but in order to have a story they usually end the adventure one way or another. We’ll look at that in the examples section.

Why we need a call to adventure

The call to adventure is the first step out the door. Without it there would be no story.

Do you remember this “Choose your own adventure“Books? There was always an option not to go into the creepy room or not to sneak out after dark. Then the adventure would never happen. I used to have one that it was Jurassic Parkthematically. I remember one of the options was not to do the tour. So you just eat ice cream and then take the boat back to the mainland. It was lame.

You need a call to adventure because the best storytelling is about people in trouble, people above their heads, and people who need to go forward to solve their problems.

The call to adventure examples in films

To extrapolate the term, let me look at a few examples across different genres. Let’s start with an almost literal call for adventure.

When Gandalf comes to the Shire with a group of dwarves in need of a burglar, he visits Bilbo Baggins to convince him to come with them. Bilbo initially declines the call to adventure, but realizes that his life is small and that there may be a bigger world to enjoy.

After answering the call, he is on a real adventure with the dwarves.

While this moment may be evident in some similar adventure films, let’s look at a different genre.

Nobody would call Manchester by the sea an adventure, but the film actually builds on the call. When Lee’s brother dies, he will have to choose whether or not to take custody of his nephew. This call actually becomes the central plot of the film. As Lee delves into his past transgressions, we see that society requires him to accept this call over and over again.

This undermines the audience’s expectations. We’re used to the movie about an uncle trying to be a father rather than one who keeps actively rejecting the call, but it was a smart way of telling that story and playing on what we got about that Know hero’s journey.

Last time I wanted to see a movie like that Jumanjiwhere the heroes are accidentally called together. This is an example where they are forced to complete the call after being drawn into the game. You have no choice but to get into the conflict, though you probably never would have made up your mind to deal with this stuff in the future.

The call to adventure examples on television

Often the call for adventure on television comes from television pilots. It’s why characters have a show that we follow. I wanted to bring this up briefly to show you how the concept works on television.

Think about breaking Bad, where the reputation is for doing meth to pay for cancer treatments. Once Walt answers that call, we’ll see what happens for the rest of the series as he grows up to be a local drug servant.

in the The SopranosTony will be undergoing therapy if he has panic attacks. Without this appeal to therapy, we don’t get much from a one-of-a-kind show.

On a show like cheersDiane answers the call and stays at the bar to work after unloading. While she is part of an ensemble, the show changes in how the bar changes with her presence there.

You don’t need to have a call to a TV pilot. We see shows like The office and even law and order take place in worlds in which we accompany them in their daily routines. But many genre TV shows have these calls.

Do you have examples that you love? Let us know what you think in the comments.

What’s next? Get our free script e-book!

So much of what we talk about at No Film School when it comes to screenwriting is wrapped up in our new eBook. It also helps you create a 10 week writing schedule that will actually finish your script.

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