Villain: That’s my cue! *presses button*
I posted about plot twists. I posted about story structure. I posted about narwhals. Now it’s time to bring them all together. (Except the narwhals– that was a joke.)
There is no hill in the world that keeps going down forever. At some point, things will stop going down and start leveling out. That’s the point at which you begin your long, hard climb back up to the top.
Characters have the same sort of hill. As I have said before, they always have a plan, and that plan will always go wrong. Things will keep going wrong until at last, things can’t possibly get any worse. They have reached the bottom of the hill. Unless this is a tragedy, that should serve as your cue to stop. The main character is all alone in a barren wasteland, mortally wounded, and the villain’s Legions of Terror are riding over the hill. And then it starts raining.
That is called your low point, for obvious reasons: the character can’t possibly go through more in order to achieve his goal and finish the story. Well… he could be killed and have to come back from the dead, but that’s a little over the top.
It’s so fun to let things happen to your main character, it’s difficult to know when to stop. He can still win with only one arm, right? She probably doesn’t need her head. Oh, I’ll only give him a little time upon The Rack… Oops, too much. Good thing he had a sidekick.
In some ways, we’re like the villain. No, we’re like the villain’s omnipotent master who orchestrates the rise and fall of civilizations. We destroy things. It’s fun. But sometimes you just have to let things get to a happy place again. Very little satisfaction is derived from a story in which evil consumes the earth, and then chokes on it. It might be fun to write, but it isn’t a fun story to end.
I’ve always felt for the little kid who, in a fit of anger, destroys his favorite toy. Later, he realizes what he’s done, but it’s too late. You’ve created a masterpiece, whether it looks like it or not. It will be fun to torture the characters for a while, but eventually you’ll realize there’s no happy ending for this guy. Even though it’s just a first draft, the ending is still important. It decides whether you want to edit or not.
You have to recognize the bottom of the hill when it comes. The main character has to be able to fight back to the top of the hill. He can slip a couple times and slide back down the hill, but he can’t give up. Happy endings are good.
I think this has turned into an explanation of why it’s morally wrong to write tragedies. At least, why it’s depressing. To keep this post from becoming depressing, however, a joke I found the other day:
The pessimist says, it cannot get any worse. The optimist joyfully exclaims, yes, it can!
Excuse me for being rather incoherent today.