Wednesday, March 3, 2021

The Worst That Could Happen: Facing the All Is Lost Moment

Last night at our online writers' group we had a speaker who gave a presentation on bringing about the "all is lost moment." You know, the scene in your book where your MC is brought to the bitter end of her rope, her greatest fears are realized, everything has changed for the negative, and nothing will be the same.

The writing craft experts she consulted for this were agreed that whatever it was, it had to be the worst thing that could happen to the MC. Well, not literally the worst, since the worst for any of us would be death and damnation. But the worst given the wants and goals of the character. It has to have, in the words of the presenter, "the whiff of death."

And I look at Sandy, my female protagonist in my work in progress Strong as Death, and I think, damn. Because for her, the worst that could happen would be damnation.

I am not going there. Not because I'm gutless as an author, but due to immutable, external reasons. The first reason is theological: I'm having her share my conviction that once the Lord gets hold of you, He keeps hold of you, so that in the direst circumstances He'll enable you to face death before you'll deny Him. Besides, she's been in that position before and stood firm, why should she change now? The second reason is that of genre. If I had her do that, it would destroy the novel. It's romantic suspense, which expects the MCs to defeat the bad guys and live happily ever after. It doesn't allow for one of the couple joining the other side to save her skin and/or following Job's wife's advice to "Curse God and die!"

What am I supposed to do? I could ignore this "All Is Lost" rule. But I'm not so experienced and successful a writer I can turn my back on what the big kids say is a crucial element in any well-written protagonist's character arc.

I've been chewing the problem over, and maybe I'll escape through the loophole of "worst given the wants of the character" . . . in this particular book. In fact, one of the other attendees asked what do you do with a character in a series, you can't have them undergoing the same crisis book after book. I admit I didn't retain the presenter's answer; there's something about Zoom meetings that makes me feel stupid and the presenter's connection was bad which garbled much of what she said.

From what I did get I'm wondering if I can dial back Sandy's Big Want in the situation. After all, the point of the All Is Lost moment is that the crisis should strip away what the MC thinks she wants and reveal what she really needs. It's supposed to make her understand she has to fix herself instead of controlling and fixing the situation.

Sandy already has an issue with wanting to feel in control of her life . . . So maybe in this situation Her Big Want should be to feel she is in control, not necessarily of what's going on around her, but of her own spiritual strength and welfare. Kind of like, "Stand back, God, lemme show you what I can do!" And then hit her with the A.I.L. crisis such that she feels she's betrayed, not God, but herself. And so on from there.

Ohhhhhh, golly. If I go for that, I'll have to circle back and rewrite a lot of the earlier part of the book to give her more confidence earlier on. I've been a little uneasy about how I've depicted her inner life anyway. She's got too much self-doubt for no particular reason, which I've imposed on her mostly to keep her "human." Maybe reinforcing her "I've got this" attitude will help me clean those scenes up and ready her for the All Is Lost.

On the other hand, I may have already screwed up this plotting rule beyond redemption. Apparently the crisis is supposed to come two-thirds or at most three-fourths of the way through. I've got it happening at . . . let me see . . . nine-tenths.

And I still don't know what my MMC's All Is Lost crisis is to be. Before last night, I didn't know he needed one.