“Tests, enemies and allies” is the 6th stage of The hero’s journey. It’s a complicated part because, for a writer, this can be either the saving grace for an otherwise bad story or the stain on an otherwise good story.
Tests, enemies and allies comes right after “Crossing the threshold”, which is usually the final stage of act 1 and the introduction to act 2.
This particular part of the story has the particular problem of having to “live up to the hype”. Until now the story has only been revolving around the hero’s life as a normal person, and the audience has been patiently waiting to see the real adventure begin. This is that moment.
So what are those tests?
In the book The hero with a thousand faces, Joseph Campbell calls this part a “Road of trials” because the hero has to face a great number of challenges while still keeping to move towards his goal.
Why does the protagonist have to do that? ‘Cause it’s entertaining, duh. But there’s also another reason. The challenges in question are not just fun games without consequences if they were this would be a game show, not The hero’s journey.
Each challenge presented to the protagonist has to “change” him in some way. One challenge might reward the hero who passed with a special skill, another might force the hero to use this special skill in order to survive.
Either way, the hero who has faced the challenge head-on won’t be the same person as he was before. Just like a player in a video game acquires experience points, weapons, and gadgets, the protagonist of your story will have to gain knowledge, objects or allies.
In his book Campbell describes “Tests, enemies and allies” like this:
“Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous form, where he must survive a succession of trials.”– The hero with a thousand faces
Honestly, if the words “ambiguous”, “curiously fluid”, and “dream” don’t describe Undone perfectly, I don’t know what does.
This brand new Amazon Prime original series pushes the boundaries of the audience’s imagination by placing us in a world where literally everything is possible with a bit of practice.
After a car accident, Alma, our protagonist, discovers to be able to talk to the spirit of her dead father. He offers to teach her how to master her abilities so that she can be able to go back in time and save his life.
In The hero with a thousand faces, Campbell compares “Tests, enemies and allies” to an ancient healing ritual where a shaman is tasked to go to the land of the dead in order to recover the soul of a sick person.
The shaman (just like Alma) is transported into an unknown land, where he is in constant danger to get lost or hurt himself, and the people on the outside who are witnessing this ceremony might be skeptical (just like Alma’s family).
This series spends a lot of time showing us how Alma’s powers work. The first half of the season focuses on her experimenting with different techniques in order to keep herself in check. While in the second half she has to actually use those powers to accomplish her goal.
Her first big test in the series is to learn how to keep herself grounded in reality without accidentally teleporting herself in another dimension or forward in time. She manages to accomplish that by playing electronic blackjack, a game that allows her to concentrate on the present without interfering with her day to day life too much.
Her second important challenge is to be able to move some keys from the kitchen counter without touching them. She figures out that she can do that simply by moving forward or back in time to a moment where the keys weren’t there.
With each new trial, she gets more and more skilled until she is finally able to go back in time and save her dad.
Test, enemies and allies is a tricky but fascinating stage of The hero’s journey. The best way to not turn it into a mess is to make sure that each challenge that the protagonist has to face is unique and leaves him with something that will help in his quest.