Friday 27 March 2020

What Laurie Did Right: Middle Grade Magic (And a mini-lesson in The Hero's Journey): Part 2 by Alayne Kay Christian #ChaBooCha

Image by Yuri_B from Pixabay
(And a mini-lesson in The Hero’s Journey)
by Alayne Kay Christian

PART TWO OF TWO: Acts Two and Three of The Hero’s Journey

Click on image to enlarge
In part one of What Laurie Did Right, we analyzed act one of Laurie Smollett Kutscra's middle grade book Misadventure's of a Magician's Son using The Heros' Journey plot structure as a guide. In part two, we will explore the remainder of the book. This post covers the middle and the ending the the story and part one covers the beginning. If you study The Hero's Journey diagram above, you will see that act two takes up about 50% of the story, The ending and the beginning take up about 25% each. But they all flow smoothly into each other.

 The purpose of the information I’m sharing is to give you some guidelines. I offer this structure to give you direction and a sense of pacing and to make sure that your story has purpose and cohesiveness with a strong beginning, middle, and end. Please don’t let this structure limit you and your creativity. In addition, I want to remind you that chapter books can also follow most of what I’m sharing. However, for the younger audience, the plot and sentence structures are much simpler and backstory should be avoided, or at the very least, limited.

What Laurie did Right—ACT TWO (midpoint and rising action) 

In my mind, with Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, the crisis at the midpoint is almost like another inciting incident or a call to action. About midpoint in the story, without losing any continuity with the first half of the story, the tension grows and the true adventure begins. Alex’s cards end up in the hands of thugs who mistreat them. Alex must figure out who took the cards and once he does, he is challenged with how to get them back. Act two is filled with danger, adventure, action, humor, friendship, self-discovery, and more! There’s even a great chase scene.

The second half of the story builds tension and entertains throughout—always pulling the reader forward. In addition, while Alex is making his way through obstacles, challenges, and adventures, Laurie seamlessly weaves in a very entertaining adventure for Joker and his little adopted dog Ferdinand. 

Next, I will explain more about what typically happens using The Hero’s Journey. It is a lot of information, so I will only slip in a little bit about what Laurie did right. However, if you read the book, you will be able to use these notes to complete the analysis.

Act Two, the Midpoint (Rising Action)

Act two of The Hero’s Journey is developed via rising action. This section is where the protagonist’s story starts to take form and tension is at its highest. Here, the reader gets to know the rest of the characters much better. It is clear who the allies and enemies are. And the obstacles and challenges keep coming. But all of this is leading to the biggest challenge of all. In the process, the protagonist begins to learn more about what lies ahead. He makes choices and decisions and then takes action. But do his plans always work? No. And this causes him to become more reactionary than proactive, which helps build tension.

At the Midpoint, something major happens—a crisis occurs—an event where things go horribly wrong. The stakes have never been higher. If the protagonist cannot resolve the problem that has occurred, he stands to lose everything.

In the case of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, the midpoint crisis is the disappearance of Alex’s precious cards. At this point, they have become like family to him. And they are his strongest connection to his father. If he can’t find the cards and get them back, he will not only be devastated and worse off than he was when he first moved to town (the point where the story began), he will also feel as though he has betrayed his father and perhaps even as though he has lost his father all over again. 

During Alex’s midpoint journey, first Alex achieves his highest, most rewarding, happiest moment in the book. And then the crisis happens. And for a time, he is totally lost. But this is what moves him from somewhat of a victim to a hero. Now he must be proactive and take control of the situation because if he doesn’t, who will? 

A great way to strengthen the reader’s emotional connection to your hero is to build an emotional rollercoaster ride with lots of ups and downs throughout the story. A strong emotional core is a perfect way to keep readers engaged. And Laurie does a fabulous job of that.

In Act Two of the Hero’s Journey, the hero is tested and confronted with obstacles in numerous ways, and he has a turning point. There are four steps in this part of the journey:

1) Tests, Allies, and Enemies
2) Approach to the Inmost Cave
3) The Ordeal 4) Reward (Seizing the Sword)

1. Tests, allies and enemies. Circumstances, other characters, obstacles, and the events encountered by the hero all create challenges that force changes and choices along his path. Once the hero is faced with his crisis, he works to solve it. But he tries and fails several times, and the failures create new problems. Here, the hero earns allies and meets enemies who will play a role in preparing him for the challenges yet to come. This is where his skills are tested. Each obstacle he faces helps readers gain deeper insight into his character, and over time, identify with him even more.

At this point in Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex isn’t only faced with the loss of his cards, he must face scary bad guys. He must rely on a new friend (Lindsay), Joker, and eventually the cards to help him. He must believe in his ability to do magic beyond anything he has ever done before. And with each step, he meets obstacles and even danger. 

2. Approach to the inmost cave. The hero prepares for his biggest challenge yet. There is something he must do, somewhere he must go, someone he must meet in order to reach a resolution. The hero often finds himself at another threshold where doubts and fears resurface. In my mind, this is another call to action—one that is even bigger than the one at the beginning of the story. It is bigger because the stakes are higher and the hero has much more to lose. At this time, in order to muster the strength, courage, and confidence to step over this threshold and onto the treacherous path ahead, the hero may take some time to reflect on his journey. During the time of the inmost cave, readers are also given a moment to take a little break and consider what has occurred and what might occur next. And the tension builds. The reader’s emotional connection to the hero grows.

Laurie does a beautiful job of giving Alex his inmost cave events. During this time Alex reflects on what has happened and what is about to happen, he practices magic, and he gets encouragement and support from Joker. But the best of the inmost cave moment is when Alex’s father comes to him in an amazing dream. 

3. The Ordeal. A crisis erupts, also known as the dark night of the soul, or the darkest moment. Some people see it as the rock-bottom moment. The hero is confronted by his worst fear - whether literal or symbolic. He believes all is lost. Here, the hero must draw on all the knowledge, skills, experiences, and even his allies that he has gathered throughout his journey to the inmost cave. These are the things that will help him meet and overcome his most difficult challenge. If he fails, all truly is lost from his perspective. His life will never be the same again.

This is the time that the protagonist prepares for the showdown or battle. The protagonist becomes more and more aware of the antagonist’s strength. And there is some doubt in the reader’s mind, too. The reader wonders if the main character will be okay and if he will ever succeed.

In Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex and friends prepare for the showdown. At this point, I believe Alex’s biggest fear is that he will never get his cards back. He has worried about this all along, but his fear grows when the possibilities of his plan to rescue his cards are threatened when the cards are locked in a safe. But even worse, he overhears one of the bad guys threatening to destroy Alex’s precious cards. 

4. Reward (Seizing the Sword). And then the battle begins. This is where the hero takes action on the choices and decisions that he has made via the inner climax that was driven by his darkest moment.

Regardless of Alex’s fears, he steps into battle. 

I’m going to be careful here and the rest of the way through by avoiding giving away too much of the ending and spoiling the story for readers.

After seemingly defeating the enemy and overcoming his challenges, Alex is now a stronger person, and he walks away rewarded on many levels. But his struggle isn’t over yet.

Wowza!!! I know that was a lot, but there is a lot that goes on in a hero’s journey, both internally and externally.

Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, What Laurie did Right—ACT THREE (the road back and resolution)

Act three of The Hero’s Journey consists of three steps.

1) The Road Back
2) Resurrection
3) Return with the Elixir (Denouement)

Act Three, the Road Back/Resolution

As I’ve said before, Misadventures of a Magician’s Son doesn’t follow the The Hero’s Journey perfectly but it comes close.

1.The Road Back. At this part of the journey, just as the hero stepped over the threshold into the special world in the beginning, he will now step through that same door to return home to his ordinary world. But he returns home with the rewards and treasures that he earned along the path of his journey. However, as I said earlier, the struggle isn’t over yet. The hero (and the story) meet one last obstacle standing between him and his ordinary world. This is where the hero may have to make one last choice, and the choice is typically a point where he must choose between his own personal goal and another cause.

In the case of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Jack makes a request of Alex. And although Alex would prefer to go home and get on with his life, he can’t refuse Jack. So, he steps back into the special world one more time. And this is where that exciting chase scene comes in.

2. Resurrection. Some would say, when the resurrection occurs, this is the true climax. This battle goes beyond the hero’s personal world.

In Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, Alex is purely concerned about the wellbeing of others when he risks going back into the special world. Of course, it is because he cares about Jack that he takes action, but the prize will be Jack’s and some others some other characters’, not Alex’s. If he fails, Jack and others will suffer. Laurie does a fabulous job of bringing readers into Alex’s fears, struggles, and hopes. If Alex succeeds, he will rise from this battle a new person. He will be reborn, so to speak.

3. Return with the Elixir (Denouement). In the final step of The Hero’s Journey, all the tension built through the last push back into the ordinary world is released. All loose ends of the plot are tied together. Any promises made to the reader have been fulfilled. Lessons are learned, and although the resolution may not be what was anticipated initially, the resolution is usually clear. Having learned many things and growing as a person, the hero returns home to his ordinary world a changed person with a new perspective. This is his final reward. The reader has a sense of satisfaction from observing the hero’s self-realization, or the end of his struggling. The resolution and return to the ordinary world represents three things to the hero and the reader:

1) Change
2) Success
3) And proof of the hero’s journey.

And as I’ve stated before, the hero will return to where he started, but things will never be the same as they were before he stepped onto the path of his journey.

I won’t share the final stage of Misadventures of a Magician’s Son, but I will tell you that Laurie wraps this story up in a beautiful and perfect bow. Alex and some of the supporting characters (especially Jack and Joker) definitely experience growth and change. And Alex’s ordinary world will never be the same again. This is his new normal. 

During this post, I’ve mostly presented what happens on the surface (or externally) via action, adventure, and humor. But I think it is really important to emphasize the personal growth we see in Alex. He overcomes his internal struggles as well as his external. And he will never be the boy he was when he first arrived in that foggy harbor town again. He has changed, in a good way, forever.

These are some things that Laurie Smollett Kutscera did right. And how about that beautiful art?

Thank you again for inviting me to be a guest blogger, Becky. And thank you for offering children’s novel writers the motivation to get their books written.


Alayne Kay Christian is the acquisitions editor for Blue Whale Press and an award-winning children’s book author. She is the creator and teacher of a picture book writing course Art of Arc. In addition, she shares her knowledge with writers through free and affordable webinars, at Writing for Children Webinars. She has been a picture book and chapter book critique professional since 2014, and she worked as a 12 X 12 critique ninja for three years. Alayne has spent the last thirteen years studying under some of the top names in children’s literature. Her latest picture book, An Old Man and His Penguin: How Dindim made João Pereira de Souza an Honorary Penguin, is scheduled for release in May. It will be open for pre-orders soon. Her next picture book, The Weed that Woke Christmas: The Mostly True Story of the Toledo Christmas Weed, will be released later this summer. Alayne is also the author of the award-winning Sienna the Cowgirl Fairy chapter book series. The next Sienna, the Cowgirl Fairy: Cowboy Trouble will be coming soon.


  1. Alayne, you've outdone yourself wish sharing so much fantastic knowledge!! Do you teach chap book/MG classes? :) The kidlit community raves about you & I can see why. Now to load my printer w/ more paper for part II...

  2. Thank you Alayne! Such great information and so helpful!