This scene is about creating anticipation. Pull your readers in by reminding them what’s at stake and why they need to know how this all will end.
No Victory without Sacrifice: Making it Meaningful
No victory without sacrifice is an optional plot point, but one that is popular enough that it needs mentioning. This device is intended to add emotional depth to the character journey. When handled well, it makes the eventual victory more powerful. When handled badly, it feels contrived and obnoxious.
While this isn’t necessary, many stories have this element, Tragic figures can give your story an extra dimension, (Note this is not the same as the death of a mentor in the “hero’s journey” plotline.) In this plot point, the main character must lose something precious in order to reach the goal.
Bing Bong’s sacrifice so that Joy could escape the Memory Dump is a good example
Rue from Hunger Games is another example. Although Rue’s death seemed meaningless at the time, it was this meaninglessness that became the catalyst for both the revolution and for Katniss’s internal arc.
How to make it work
Loss must be meaningful
The reader must feel it as much as (or maybe even more than) the main character. This cannot be a small side character. The main character needs to have a connection.
Loss must help the hero reach her goal
If the loss doesn’t affect the outcome, then it is meaningless. However, the loss can seem meaningless at the time, and the real benefit is delayed. These fall into two categories: a death that inspires internal change (Rue) or character dies in battle so the hero can continue. (Bing Bong)
Consider tying the death to the character’s lie
The loss will be more poignant if the sacrifice could have been avoided had the hero not been ruled by her lie.
Make it unavoidable
If you are going to kill off a character, make sure there is no obvious alternative. The events must make the death inevitable.
What about surprise attacks?
If you are planning to shock your reader by surprise killing a character a word of caution. Make sure the death really is serving a function. Readers don’t like surprises for the sake of surprises. A shock that doesn’t serve a purpose will feel contrived and just annoy your readers.
No victory without sacrifice can help your hero’s struggle feel more real and give it additional depth.
Whether or not you choose to add this element, your character now has all she needs to complete her journey. Tomorrow the final battle begins.
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The New Belief Crumbles and the Real Collapse Begins
Today, the main character has failed his test. Now he reverts back to old beliefs. This is the sequel to the second plot point. Here, the new belief crumbles.
The New Belief Crumbles: examples
In The Lego Movie, Emmet learns the prophecy is made up.
In Inside out, Joy chooses to preserve the core memories over saving sadness.
In The Lego Batman Movie, Batman won’t risk his new friends.
Today, your hero’s new belief is either damaged or completely destroyed. The character’s next decision leads to the “all hope is lost” moment.
This can happen through the introduction of new knowledge or the experience of the failure. Tailor this to your character’s arc.
Who is in charge?
This next step can either be forced upon him by the villain or self-chosen.
In the Lego movie, Emmet and the rest of the Master Builders are captured/Vitruvious is killed. Having the villain overpower the hero is a frequently used trope. There’s nothing wrong with this trope as long as it feels fresh. i.e. don’t have the villain sitting in the large office chair the whole time and then spins around right at the moment the hero was going to win.
In Inside out, Joy’s desperation causes her to risk going up the broken tube.
In the Batman movie, Batman tricks his friends into leaving the battle so he can continue on alone.
Usually, characters with agency are more satisfying to readers, but either will work here because the character should feel helpless to avoid his fate. If the character is choosing his dark moment, it must tie into his character arc. Otherwise, he will be acting out of character, or worse, the decision will seem random. Remember, stories are about characters!
Choose you calamity with care. Tailor it to your hero’s struggle
Now that the quest has failed, the character is ready for the all hope is lost moment. Tomorrow, she will face the consequences of that failure.
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Low action scenes don’t have to be boing. Tips for keeping the forward momentum in your story even during your low action scenes.
The midpoint is the moment to recommit
Recommitment happens at the mid-point of your book. Here, you need a scene where the main character decides he must continue on his journey. Although, the hero may have found a way to a semi-comfortable existence, eventually forces reemerge to push the hero forward.
Katniss forced out of the cave by the Gamemakers.
Lego Batman begins a quazi-relationship with Robin, but the Joker reemerges.
When the antagonistic forces reemerge, the hero must recommit to the quest. Don’t let your hero get comfortable in his new life. Force him back into the action. Now is the time to recommit.
Reasons the character may need to continue his quest.
There are only two possible reasons the character will continue on his quest. Either he is forced to go (external motivation), or he chooses to go (internal motivation.)
The villain isn’t defeated
This one is the easiest. The villain can easily get a bigger, better weapon or show up and kidnap someone your character loves. There are plenty of ways a villain can ruin your hero’s day.
Mentor forces him to continue
In this scenario, a wise figure will remind the character what will happen if he does not continue his quest. This could be Galadriel showing Frodo some horror footage in a magic mirror, or it could be a coach giving an inspiring pep talk. As long as the hero respects the authority figure, then he will be motivated by the interaction.
Hero’s accommodation to his lie creates too much tension
This one may seem more difficult to handle, but it is really straightforward. In the Lego Batman movie, Batman finds his lie on a “slippery slope.” Once he lets Robin in, he finds it more difficult to keep the rest of the world out. As new people invade his space, his lie can no longer tolerate these accommodations. As a result, Batman starts to embrace his new “family” and agrees to allow them to join the team. He recommits to fighting the Joker, but this time he won’t face him alone.
The recommitment is the moment your character decides to go on the offensive.
Yesterday your character got to take a break from the troubles of the world, but today those troubles push their way back in. Now is the time for your character to make his choice. Either he will save the world, or he will we let it burn. Either way, its time to commit.
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