- the thesis world (where the character is comfortable)
- the antithesis world (where the hero/ine's world turns upside-down)
- the synthesized world (the new world the hero/ine proves him/herself and applies what he/she has learned.)
- The hero must make a choice. (In the Hero's Journey based on Joseph Campbell's analysis of myths, this is where the hero/ine answers the Call To Adventure) The hero may make this choice kicking and screaming and often doesn't really understand what they're getting into, but it must be his choice. (This is what they all tell you, but is it true? We'll look at that, too.)
- The story must change directions
In Romancing the Stone, Joan Wilder's sister has been kidnapped and needs her to bring a map to Columbia. In spite of the fact that she gets motion sick on escalators, Joan goes, thereby stepping out of her comfort zone in Manhattan and into a third world country she's totally unprepared for.
Sara Conner in The Terminator makes her choice by taking Kyle's hand when he says, "Come with me if you want to live."
In Dirty Dancing, Baby makes the choice to become involved with the dancers' problems when she asks her father for the money because "someone's in trouble." For the first time in her life, she lies to her father, denying that it's for something illegal (as abortion was back then.)
Ethel and Norman agree to keep 13-year-old Billy for the summer in On Golden Pond, so their daughter and the boy's father can take a trip to Europe.
In Sleeping with the Enemy, Laura chooses to fake her own death to escape her abusive husband, leaving the hell she knows for a new life.
After forging a successful New York career, Melanie returns to Alabama to get her husband to sign divorce papers so she can marry the mayor's son in Sweet Home Alabama.
In The Sting, Redford and Newman make the choice to run a revenge con on the man who killed Redford's conman mentor.
Luke Skywalker refuses to join Old Ben Kenobi until the Empire's storm troopers kill his aunt and uncle in Star Wars, but in the end he chooses to sign on, spawning five more movies.
Small town cop and neatnik Scott Turner's life is turned upside-down when he reluctantly takes responsibility for Hooch, an unmannerly junkyard dog, who is the only witness to his previous owner's murder in Turner and Hooch.
In Victor/Victoria, Victoria and Toddy hatch a plan to pass her off as a female impersonator. Though she's skeptical at first, she lets him convince her.
In all these cases, the hero/ine made the choice to step into an alternate world. Sometimes that choice is the only reasonable one to make. But is that step into the new world always the hero/ine's choice? The movies below would argue it's not. In these stories, the only choice the character has is to deal with what life has dealt them. Let's look at some of those.
When the seeds of the sacred tree perch all over Jake's body, Avatar changes directions. Jake is no longer an alien invader but the special someone who has been foretold in Neytiri mythology. Though Jake doesn't understand what this means, at this moment, he can no longer be who he was before.
In Peggy Sue Got Married, Peggy Sue is thrust back in time to high school, not long before she got pregnant by her boyfriend. This isn't her choice, but it most certainly changes the direction of the movie. Once she's in the past, she has little choice but to go with it. (Unless you count telling everyone the truth and being thought crazy.)
In P.S. I Love You, Holly steps into the second act when her husband dies. Does she choose this? Hell, no.
In Ransom, Tom Mullen steps into an unknown world when his son is kidnapped. Again, not his choice.
A chemical specialist for the FBI is told he will go with the seal team on their mission to free Alcatraz from the military rouges who have taken over The Rock. Maybe this is a choice, if he you count his ability to quit his job as an option.
After a bathroom accident, ad man Nick Marshall can hear women's thoughts which pushes this misogynistic man into a world he neither chose nor wanted in What Women Want.
Twelve-year-old Josh Baskin makes a wish to be "Big" which is magically answered. Though this might be considered a choice, he never actually expected his wish to be granted nor is the result really what he had in mind. This is, in many ways, the same movie as Peggy Sue Got Married because the real choice comes at the end of the movie when the characters choose their old lives.
In many of the examples where the character didn't make a choice, the protagonist is thrust into the antithesis world by magical means, but not all of them. This seems to argue that having the character make the choice strengthens the story, but that it's not a deal breaker if they don't. The story must, however, change directions at the first plot point.
How do your stories change direction? Does your protagonist make the choice?