The first step is to seek out the basic elements of the story and build the nucleus of the story.   By the end of this stage of development, we will have a version of this simple version of the monomyth:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
— Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 30

Question 1: What is the Poison?

Before we discover our hero, we have to understand the world they are living in.  I have briefly introduced the Cosmogonic and Hero's Cycle.

Cosmogonic Cycle

 Hero's Cycle

Hero's Cycle

When we are looking at the big picture of the story, we need to look at the the Mythic Cycle where we see the path of the Hero and the Antihero as the two sides of the Emanation and Dissolution.

Mythic Cycle

What's wrong in the story is the Poison, the very last stage of the Antihero's fall.  The Poison infects the world and brings about the complete fall.

Depending on the story you are telling, this could be as simple as loosing a job or as grand as the triumph of an evil galactic empire.

Ask yourself, what's wrong?  If you answer with an incident or event, you have discovered your Problem.  To find the Poison, just ask, "What is really the problem?" or "Why is that the Problem?"

Don't confuse this with your Call to Adventure for your hero.  Their Call to Adventure is a result of this Poison and Problem.  For Example:

  • Poison: The Force is out of balance, and the Dark Side dominates everything.
  • Problem: The Sith, servants of the Dark Side reign over the Galactic Empire.
  • Call: A young farm boy's family buys two droids that are a part of the rebel alliance. One escapes. When the farm boy finds it, he is rescued by an old wizard to offer to teach him the ways of the Force as they return the droid to the rebels.
  • Poison:  A woman has a knack for making terrible decisions because she feels she can do no wrong.
  • Problem: She once had a relationship with Alex Voss who smuggle Heroine into the country, and traveled with her on those trips.
  • Call: Piper is arrested and sentenced to prison for her involvement with the heroine smuggling ring.

So the question before us now is, "What is the poison?" Start with general problem.  Maybe, greed, corruption, imprisonment, poverty, fear, etc.  Find something that resonates with you.

After you have that root, ask yourself, "How does this infect and affect the setting?"  Once you have that, you have found your poison.

What is the problem?