by Annette Lyon
In a recent post I discussed common archetypes for characters and what their roles are in a story.
One of them is the Threshold Guardian. Often the TG is an actual person (the troll on the bridge who refuses to let you pass), but other times it's an event (Cinderella's dress is ripped to shreds, so she can't go to the ball).
Generally speaking, the Threshold Guardian isn't the main antagonist to your hero, although the TG might be one of the antagonist's underlings. But the big battle to defeat that person will come later.
What the Threshold Guardian does is throw up a brick wall to your character's progress, preventing your hero from making a big step forward in the story--a crucial step, something absolutely needed for the hero's growth and, possibly, survival.
At it's simplest, the meeting with the TG is a test. The hero's job is to prove himself or herself worthy of being a the hero of the story. It's also to prove just how badly the hero wants the goal at the end. (How much does Dorothy really want to get home?)
Your hero will encounter more than one Threshold Guardian, and always at pivotal moments, when two possiblilities are faced: turning back or making a big leap forward when the Threshold Guardian is overcome.
Lately as I've been contemplating this particular archetype, similarities to real-life situations have surfaced in my mind.
All too often we get a rejection on a manuscript or run into some other barrier in our writing or elsewhere in life and feel as if we have failed, that we've reached a dead end, that the universe doesn't want us to progress.
What if instead we seized the problem and recognized that these blocks are tests? What if we moved forward to prove ourselves, to show how badly we want to reach the goal at the end--so we know for ourselves just how much we want it and deserve it?
These are moments where the future hangs in the balance, and the direction the scales will tip is based entirely on what your next step will be.
Will you throw in the towel, deciding that this test is actually the end of the road? Or will you analyze your manuscript again to figure out why it wasn't acceptance-worthy? Will you rewrite and submit again? Will you quit? Will you whine and complain?
We are the heros of our own stories. When a problem rears its ugly head, recognize it as a Theshold Guardian and what that means: It's an obstacle that will give you the chance to grow, to learn, and to prove yourself.
Most of all, it's a temporary obstacle. And it's worth getting around, defeating, or making allies with so you can continue your progress, eventually reaching the end of the yellow brick road so you can click your ruby slippers.