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  • Kyle V. Hiller

The darkest moment for you and your protagonist

Maleficent, one of my favs, is an example of giving in to your darkness during a crisis.

All hope is lost. Your protagonist has done everything they possibly could to save their world. They've hit rock bottom, they're out of ideas, nothing can be done. They've endured torture and pain long enough, and that second plot point has them swirling in despair. It's over, right? The End. No point in reading (or writing) anymore. Just let them be the Maleficent they were destined to be...

If that's what's probably going through your protagonist's head (or maybe even your head), then congratulations! You've reached the darkest moment of the story. The darkest moment is the crisis of your story and is defined by "The Five D's."

The Five D's:

Dilemma: It's over. There's nothing they can do. It's all fallen to pieces.

Desperation: You know the phrase, desperate times call for desperate measures. Here, they'll do anything, and they'll probably mess things up even further here.

Despair: They surrender to their fate. 

Deconstruction: With surrender comes a calm. They're forced to think about the situation, figure out what their needs and options are, and what they conclude with is usually centered around their values that have been present throughout the story.

Decision: They've had their eureka! moment. They will make a sacrifice, knowing what needs to be kept and what they can afford to lose, and figures out a course of action to resolve the conflict.

The darkest moment is when the protagonist grows the most. They have to. In their surrender in the despair moment, it's kind of a false surrender. They're letting go of what they've been holding on to, and in some cosmic narrative way (often portrayed with lots of metaphor), they come to understand what's really important to them. With their back up against the wall, they bounce back with the confidence and resolve they need to drive the story to the resolution. They sustain this newfound strength and wisdom to the end. They're a changed person.

The same thing happens in real life, and this is why this moment is so important. Think about a time in your life when you had your back up against the wall. Did you think you were going to make it out? Maybe, but you were far more doubtful than you were hopeful. The darkness was crushing you, and you couldn't find the light that helped you shine all along.

That shining light is the resolution. And that light is the photosynthesis you and your protagonist used to grow, and that marks the second point where you and them will never be the same person again.

I told you metaphor was important, didn't I?

Prior to the darkest moment, your protagonist made the decision to become proactive. They're no longer the hunted, they are the hunter. That's cool and all, but eventually, they fail. Just like we do when we decide to go after something we want--when we want to make that change in our lives.

This is the beginning of their crisis. This was the beginning of yours. Are you on your way to being a Maleficent or a Princess Aurora?

Think back to why you failed. It probably has so much to do with your fatal flaw. It has everything to do with your protagonist's fatal flaw. After the crisis has begun, something even worse happens, pinning you/your protagonist against the wall. This could be the death of a loved one, a mistake in a magic spell, the unexpected defeat in battle (again, all real-life stuff). But, new information helps the protagonist understand their flaw. This new understanding is what guides you and your protagonist to making the right decision at the second plot point, which initiates the third act of the novel. 

So, what will you(r) protagonist do when they're in their darkest moment?

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"Kate Angelella" logo image illustrated by Kara Bodegón