The key thing to remember here is that the protagonist has to both want something transformative and then make the decision to accept the risk and then go after it. There is no other way. To simply desire the thing isn’t enough, the protagonist has to walk out his door to face the dragon. And once the decision has been made then it requires total commitment to see it through to either success or failure.
A boy named Harry takes the hand of the giant, Hagrid. A hobbit leaves the comfort of the Shire behind. A young blacksmith named Will, steals a royal navy ship and sets off across the Caribbean with the help of a pirate named Captain Jack Sparrow in order to rescue his love from a crew of blood thirsty and cursed pirates.
Now, go back to the ascending line you drew. Above it write “rising action.” The hero’s journey of the protagonist has begun. Total commitment is required, because this is where the next element of story presents itself.
Bilbo Baggins sets off on the quest to the Lonely Mountain with a band of dwarves in order to slay the dragon Smaug. It is during that quest and through the transformative power of conflict that the hobbit learns much about himself and that he is capable of much more than he ever imagined possible.
Conflict is the opposing force that pushes back against the protagonist to keep him from his desire. Conflict is perhaps the most important element of story, because it defines the value of the object pursued. Conflict is the dragon to be faced. When young Will Turner’s love is kidnapped by pirates, his willingness to push through a gauntlet of dangerous obstacles, regardless of the personal cost defines the value of his love for Elizabeth.
Imagine another scenario where Elizabeth is kidnapped and as Will watches the pirate ship, carrying his love, disappear over the horizon, he simply says, “Well that’s unfortunate. Oh well, there are plenty of other girls out there. Let’s head to the pub, fellas!”
Not as good.
Instead, Will does what he would have considered impossible just a short time before. He became a pirate in order to hunt pirates. Under the apprenticeship of Jack, he pushes through the conflict in the pursuit of his true love. It’s this unlikely master who presents Will with this simple piece of advice, “The only rules that really matter are these: what a man can do and what a man can’t do. For instance, you can accept that your father was a pirate and a good man or you can’t. But pirate is in your blood, boy, so you’ll have to square with that someday.”
Through the journey Will transforms from a diminished and isolated figure, into a strong and confident pirate who rescues his love and at the end is willing to challenge the governor and commodore of the royal navy in order to rescue Captain Jack from the gallows.
Conflict is the refiner’s fire. It is the condition that must be created to transform raw metal into a deadly sword. It’s no accident that the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean introduced the young Will Turner as a blacksmith. A child found adrift on the open sea, he learned to heat and hammer metal into the perfectly balanced sword that he presents to the governor as a gift to his competitor, the commodore in the beginning of the film. The same sword that was held to his throat in the final scene as he defiantly faced the commodore.
Will was transformed. He is no longer the blacksmith. Now he is the sword.
But, the opposite is true. The character unwilling to accept the challenge and abandon comfort and security does not transform.
While in Peter Pan, Captain Hook was considered the villain. At the beginning of the story, Peter, who represented the untapped potential and vitality of youth, wasn’t much better. He was carefree and boastful with all of the arrogance of youth. But, he wasn’t fully willing to accept his responsibility as the leader of the Lost Boys. He was far more interested in being narcissistic and a braggard. As Hook is afraid of death, Peter is afraid of becoming an adult. They both remain disconnected from their transformation until it is forced upon them. Peter finally accepted his, but Hook did not and continued to feed his resentment and bitterness. This path ultimately resulted in Hook being swallowed by the crocodile that was waiting for Hook’s fall with its mouth wide open.
So for all those who are finding it harder and harder to go outside. To those who are far more comfortable staying in bed and avoiding the world. Consider the words of Carl Jung, “Where your fear is, there is your task.”
Or perhaps a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien may be more fitting as a much older and wiser Bilbo Baggins shares a piece of advice to his nephew, Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”