April 10, 2012

All Is Not Lost

I recently learned that plot structure requires a black moment, a moment where the protagonist realizes that all is lost. Pretty much everything worth losing is gone, whether it's a boyfriend, husband, job or friends. Whatever it is the character wants - zip, nil, nada.

Perhaps the best example of this is in the Wizard of Oz.  Throughout the whole movie, Dorothy tells anyone who will listen that she wants to go home. That is her goal. She survives the obstacles in her way, including the wicked witch of the west. She and her friends go through trial by fire and water and opium (poppies). Trees lob apples at them. Flying monkeys kidnap Dorothy and Toto. They were locked out of the Emerald City and barred from seeing the wizard. And after all that hard work, when what she wants is within reach, the balloon leaves without her and ALL IS LOST!

That is what was missing from my novel. I had to go back and figure out where and how to devastate my heroine. I found the perfect spot and wedged it in. Right when they faced the most danger, like Jafar to Aladdin, I yanked that metaphorical rug right out from under them (no characters were physically harmed in the yanking). Everything my heroine and her friends worked for was gone, over, kaput.

It made for a heartbreaking scene.

And a much more powerful scene. 

But my heroine returned stronger and the bonds of friendship were strenthened.

I'm so glad someone pointed this plot manipulation out to me. What a powerful tool!
And of course, Dorothy had the power all along to get what she wanted. 



But she had to go through the journey, following the yellow brick road, until she figured it out for herself.

Just like our characters.

Just like us.

It was quite an epiphany for me. Have you had any writerly epiphanies? What were they? 

31 comments:

Sarah F. said...

I remember when I was about half way into my first book and I starting reading writing books and blogs. I realized my story had NO INNER CONFLICT! I had no idea what to do. Then I finished my last paragraph and my character made a choice and I realized that had known my inner conflict all along.
~Sarah F.

www.inklinedwriters.blogspot.com

Lady Gwen said...

Sarah, it's awesome when things fall into place. I hear so many rules about writing that it's hard to keep it all straight. I recently heard there should be internal and external conflict. Huh?! Back to the drawing board:)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I don't think my books have huge all is lost scenes, but they do have crushing moments that would just end everything for my main character.

Melissa said...

Great post! Love the Wizard Of Oz example, too. Takes me back...

S.P. Bowers said...

i love the all is lost moment. I put one in my book. We'll see if it works.

Angela Brown said...

Now I'll have to sit here and contemplate if I have that "all is lost" moment in my WiP. Thankfully, I'm only in the first beta read stage, still awaiting feedback so if that moment doesn't stand out, then I'll have a draft or two to make sure it is there.

Sarah Pearson said...

I haven't had any writing epiphanies lately, but I'm more than happy to learn from yours :-)

Lady Gwen said...

Alex, I'm learning that you don't always have to follow the "rules". My MC was devastated for about one day, then she was back on track, lol.

Melissa, the Wizard of Oz was a perfect example of "all is lost." It's so tame, but original, compared to the stuff that's out today.

SP, it was my first go at it, but I liked it. I also found the perfect motive for getting back on track, so that was awesome.

Angela, I'm in editing as well, but I was lucky to find a spot to wedge in the "all is lost." But I'm finding that not every writer uses it.

Sarah, thanks. I don't get many epiphanies, but they're fun when the come.

Rachel Morgan said...

Thank you for reminding us of this! I've got an "all is lost" moment coming up in my current writing, and I'm still trying to figure out a way out of it (because, of course, all is NOT lost!).

Lady Gwen said...

Rachel, I'm with you on that. I know all is not truly lost, otherwise I would never put my characters in that position, LOL. I'm all about happy endings:)

Joyce Lansky said...

It's amazing how many times The Wizard of Oz pops up as a how to write story. I'm sure you've heard of the heroes journey, where you have to start in Kansas before you can go to Oz. Here's another one!


Catch My Words
http://joycelansky.blogspot.com

Rohit Singh Jain said...

Nice post..well expressed...love the way you tackled the topic with examples..

Lady Gwen said...

Joyce, I didn't realize that the Wizard of Oz was used as an example so much, but now that you mention it, I can see how it could be used as an outline on "how to."

Lady Gwen said...

Rohit, gotta have examples for people like me, lol! I'm the "show me" kind of person:)

Romelle Broas said...

Great post! I like your analogy of pulling the rug from under your character. Funny! I learned about this "dark moment" just recently from Anastasia Suen's Intensive Picture book workshop. Even simple picture books benefit from this. However, I don't see it in every book. But for novels, it brings wonders to the story.

About the follower button, maybe later? Is that a benefit? I don't think I have enough followers to put that up yet. :o). The follow me by email button is there though.

meradeth said...

Yay for my banner! Little distracted here :)

Okay, writer-epiphanies (other than realizing I'm a comma-idiot) that have stuck with me the most (clearly not dealing with commas) was realizing I was writing like a scientist in my novels. As in, dry and no details, and completely lacking in anything interesting with words. This was one of my first big things I realized I had to change (haha!) and work on. It's stuck with me though!

Lady Gwen said...

Romelle, thanks for stopping by. I'm realizing that picture books are probably harder to write than other childrens/YA books! You are limited by length and word choice, so it has to be really tight! Also, by allowing followers to follow by follower button (OMG, 3 times in the same sentence, LOL), you will show up in their blogroll so they can stop by when they're scrolling through - also, when people are looking for writing sites to follow (like me when I was starting out), I went through blogrolls on other people's sites and found blogs that way. I recommend the Follower button, can you tell?

Lady Gwen said...

Meradeth, everything is all set for May 16th - the post is done and already scheduled!

I was like you - when I started my book it was scientific and dry. Then I changed over to first person and all of a sudden my characters had personality, LOL!

Michelle Pickett said...

My editor told me one day that as soon as my protagonist feels comfortable something has to happen to take that comfort away. She said that they should always be dangling by a thread...whatever they are going through - make it worse. It makes for better scenes and a stronger plot. I'm glad you were able to figure out where and what to do to your heroine.

Michelle :)
www.michelle-pickett.com

Gina C said...

great post - and so true. the wizard of oz is such a good example for EVERYTHING done right ;)

Lady Gwen said...

Michelle, that is excellent advice. I'll write that down so I'll remember:)

Gina, and easy to understand too! A perfect learning tool:)

Clarissa Draper said...

Yeah, we have to make it harder on our characters. I know at first I gave my characters easy assignments but they need to have life goals too.

By the way, I left a note on my blog but I'll leave it here as well: the man who jumped in my story today, he died. A very sad tale. You can even watch the footage of his death on youtube.

Sharon Bayliss said...

That's a really great reminder about plot. I agree that you have to torture your characters. If I'm stuck, sometimes I ask myself, "what's the worst thing that could happen" and then make it so. :)

Lady Gwen said...

Clarissa, I'm learning to give my characters more conflict - not so easy at first, but necessary. He died? Awww.

Sharon, I am going to write that down and try to remember that question!

Kittie Howard said...

Lady Gwen, please give your son-in-law a hug from me. My husband and I send our grateful thank you for his sacrifice to our country. My husband, who has the Silver Star from Vietnam - 9th Marines, and I remained for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball game after the Nationals/RedSox game a couple of weeks ago. As an American it was a proud moment to see how our warriors have dealt with horrific losses with grit and determination. For reasons I don't have to explain, it was also gut-wrenching. Hub and I donated $500.00 last year (adding to the revenue generated by Remy) and will do so again. Actually, I think, like other military people we know, we're increasing the donation as funds from big donors aren't enough to cover rising costs. Semper fi!

Lady Gwen said...

Kittie, thank you for your kindness. I'm so glad that the Iraq/Afgan vets are getting all this support. My son in law has a cheetah (running) leg and a special foot for diving. There's nothing he can't do. My husband (and dad) is a Vietnam vet, too, so I don't need to tell you how they were treated.

Romelle Broas said...

Okay, added a follower button. You sold me. But it sure is taking a whole lot of space- all 3 of my followers. LOL!

Carmen Esposito said...

I haven't had an epiphany yet because I'm toiling away on the dreaded outline. But I’ll keep it in mind to take everything away from the MC and then make her figure out how she’s going to overcome her obstacles.

Carmen Esposito said...

I haven't had an epiphany yet because I'm toiling away on the dreaded outline. But I’ll keep it in mind to take everything away from the MC and then make her figure out how she’s going to overcome her obstacles.

David P. King said...

Spot on! I once had the pleasure of having a film director read one of my novels. Among his critiques was that the end did not have a "sense of loss." Took me a while to figure out what that meant, but this post sums it up nicely. :)

Lady Gwen said...

Romelle, I'll come by and add to your numbers:)

Carmen, I'm getting ready to start the outline for my second novel - can't wait. I imagine I'll learn as much on this one as the first one, though. I'm always learning.

David, yeah, you sort of have to take them as low as they can go so the recovery is that much more awesome. Mine wasn't that drastic though. I only took "it" away for about a day, lol!