Monday, November 23, 2015

How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Birch House Press). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.

HEY, WRITERS! I'M BACK!

It feels like I've been gone a very long time, but that's probably because I've spent a lot more time awake these last 6 weeks than I typically do, thanks to this guy:

(If you're thinking, "Hey, lady, spare me the baby pictures and just talk about writing already," feel free to scroll to where it says, "How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test.")

Eli in a rare moment of being awake and not having his brother and sister crawling all over him.


Eli is doing great, and we're having an awesome time with him. He's not one of those magical "slept through the night at 4 weeks old" or "happy and content all the time" kind of babies, but we think he's pretty special.

Eli awarded his first smile to Connor, but fortunately I was there too and had my phone handy!
It hasn't been a particularly restful maternity leave. The Royals being in the postseason and winning the World Series led to lots of late nights and craziness under my roof. Including my husband and I dragging Eli to his first game when he was 6 days old.



Also, Pioneer Woman was in town, and I refused to miss that, even if Eli was only 3 weeks old. The event was sold out and insane and wonderful.

Mom, Pioneer Woman (if you squint, you can see her signing books behind us) and me

I also had lots of phone calls/texts/emails with my agent over some VERY EXCITING NEWS that I want to talk about SO BADLY, but I'm telling myself that I'm a professional and need to be patient for official documents to be processed. I did, however, allow myself to celebrate with my favorite ice cream. And a baby who didn't think he should have to sleep just because it was bed time.


Okay, I got all the Eli talk out of my system. On to writing!



(This post is part of the Writing A Novel From Beginning to End series. You can find other posts from this series on the Looking For Something Specific? tab.)

When I last blogged, I talked about creating an "all is lost" moment for your story. As a quick refresher, sometime close to the end of your book, it's smart to have a moment when things look impossibly bad and your main character gives up on ever getting through this thing. A few of the examples I used were Frozen where Anna learns Hans's true motives or Charlie Brown Christmas where Charlie brings in his tree and everyone laughs at him.

This moment is almost always followed by another character stepping in to help. I've always called this the the cavalry moment (though it was pointed out to me by several that I actually called it the Calvary moment in several older postswhoops!) because it's a moment when someone swoops in and rescues your character from their emotional pit. In Frozen, Olaf steps in and teaches Anna what true love is, and in Charlie Brown Christmas, Linus gives his famous speech about the true meaning of Christmas.

Could you have your character rescue themselves from their All Is Lost moment? While your main character certainly needs inner strength for us to have followed them this far, if your character can get themselves out of the All Is Lost moment without help, I would question if you've made the moment strong enough.

The cavalry moment often leads to your character forming a plan. Depending on the type of story you're telling, this part of the plot might take multiple chapters or it might be just a scene or two. Boiled down, it looks like this:

Because of what I learned, I will now...
Followed by:
Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

Let's break those down and look at them individually:

Because of what I learned, I will now...

One of the reasons I find it impossibly hard to write out of order is that moments build on other moments. It's hard for me to logically think about my character's current emotions if I haven't let myself experience their emotions in the previous scene. If you don't build the emotions logically, the end of your book will lack oomph. (To use the technical term—ha!)

Your character should have learned something in the rescue from the All is Lost moment and from it, they should form their course of action.

Let's look at our examples once again. In Frozen, Olaf has made Anna see that Kristoff truly loves her. Even though Anna needs to stay warm, she forms a radical plan to leave the safety of the room and go into the snow storm to find Kristoff so she can hopefully kiss him before freezing to death.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie has learned the true meaning of Christmas from Linus and makes a bold move. He takes his shrimpy little tree and leaves the auditorium. He intends to decorating it and show everyone that even though his tree doesn't fit "the modern holiday spirit," it still has value.

Oh, snap! That didn't go like I thought it would.

This moment could also be described as the set up for your character's final test.

We want Anna and Kristoff to live happily ever after. We want Charlie to march off with his little tree and feel content with a quieter kind of Christmas. But if the stories ended like that, it would feel a bit thin, wouldn't it?

We need to see the main character tested one last time, and the Oh, Snap! moment is the set-up for that opportunity.

In Frozen, Anna is trying to find Kristoff and is unable to. But when the storm suddenly stops, she spots him. Hoorayvictory is in sight! But then the Oh, Snap moment happens. She sees Elsa on the ground and Hans raising his sword. Anna is thisclose to kissing Kristoff and saving herself from freezing to death, but she realizes there isn't time to save herself and her sister.

In Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie finds Snoopy's doghouse has won first prize in the Lights and Display contest. But he reminds himself of the true meaning of Christmas and vows that he isn't going to let silly things like this ruin his holiday. He takes an ornament off of Snoopy's doghouse and hangs it on the tree. It immediately buckles under the weight. "Oh!" Charlie groans. "Everything I touch gets ruined."

Often, Oh, Snap is the moment I leave out in my first draft, and it isn't until my second draft that I figure out why my ending isn't working well. So if you feel like the end of your story lacks something and you can't put your finger on it, this is a good thing to check for.

Do you have a moment like this toward the end of your book? If so, we'd love to hear it!


35 comments:

  1. I haven't read the "How To Set Up Your Character's Final Test" yet because OH MY GOODNESS! Eli is so lovely and the pictures were wonderful and your exciting news with your agent has me quite intrigued! WELCOME BACK! It's really good to have you here again and I can only imagine how crazy your life is right now, but it sounds quite exciting and fun and full of memory-making ventures, too. Congratulations to all of your family.
    (I, for one, would be delighted to see pictures of your children any time you wish to share them!)

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    1. You're so sweet, Aidyl :) In a lot of ways, adding Eli has been one of the easiest kid transitions we've made. But it's definitely different having one foot in big kid world (school pick-up times, homework, friend drama, etc.) and the other in baby world (napping, fussing, and more napping). McKenna and Connor have been amazingly mature about Eli's addition, so that's made things much easier.

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  2. Welcome back!! Oh my goodness, I'm so excited for your exciting news!! (I'm betting your his-fic novel got picked up ;) ) I definitely have a Because of What I Learned moment (where the MC decides she's going to follow the bad guy alone), but I'll have to go back and check on the Oh, Snap! moment. Thanks so much and again, welcome back! :D

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  3. Your kids are so cute! I'm glad you're back and not totally insane from having yet another kid. May God bless your lovely family.

    Where does the dark night of the soul happen in all this? Is that what you're calling the all is lost moment?

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    1. Great question, Tiffanie! Yes, it goes by lots of names. I've heard it called the dark night of the soul, the black moment, and a whiff of death as well.

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  4. Awwwwwwww. Eli is so adorable. Also, WELCOME BACK! I've missed you!
    Thanks for the helpful post!

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  5. Awwwwwwwwwww Eli is so cute! :) and welcome back, this is a fantastic post! :)

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  6. Congrats on your baby Stephanie! He's so cute! Ohh, and agent news? My guess is you got a book deal-CONGRATS, if I am right. :D
    Anyway, I took a break from writing for a while because I was pushing myself too hard, but I'm back in the game now thanks to good ol' nano. Anyway, my story has a black moment, but I'll have to think about how to add a Calvary moment. I drifted away from my outline halfway through and that changed stuff...

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    1. So nice to see you here, Allison! I'm dying to try NaNo one of these years, but this definitely wasn't the one :)

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  7. Eli is such a cutie! And welcome back!!
    In my NaNo novel, this moment would be where one character saves the main character, Sebastian's, life, and in doing so puts her own life at stake and breaks down the plan they've had through the whole book to defeat the villain. (It doesn't sound like it makes a lot of sense, but hopefully reading the book would explain it better, haha) The villain then locks Sebastian and his friend Javier in a closet (for future evil purposes), and Javier helps Sebastian escape at the price of staying there himself. Sebastian takes off, with no specific goal of where he wants to end up, just drives as far away from the villain's fortress as he can. So now Sebastian has given up hope of defeating the villain and is just trying to survive; his friend is back where he left him at the villain's mercy; and his other friend is dying in the backseat of his car. (Sebastian does feel bad about all this, but he's also kind of bitter because he just found out he's been lied to the whole time.) So basically it seems like there's no hope left and all their efforts have been for nothing.
    My cavalry moment would be when somebody Sebastian doesn't expect to see again shows up to help.

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    1. Emily, it sounds like you've done a great job making your ending exciting and unpredictable. Nice work!

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  8. Welcome back, Steph! We've missed you lots. :-)

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    1. I've missed being here! Thanks for all your help while I was out. You're the best :)

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  9. Aww! Eli is so cute! Welcome back!
    Thanks for the post. I know I could definitely use some help writing my "cavalry" scene.

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  10. Too much cute! Great post. This is some advice I defenitely need!

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  11. What a sweetheart! Seeing pictures of your cute children is always a nice surprise--thank you for being willing to share so much! Glad to have you back. :)
    I love my cavalry scenes. Maybe too much--they end up going on far too long!

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    1. Glad to be back!

      How funny! We all have our pet scenes, I guess :)

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  12. Aaaw. xD He's so very cute.

    I just wrote my "all is lost" moment... Although, I've always called it the Dark Night of the Soul. xP

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    1. Excellent! Yes, that scene goes by quite a few names. You're close to finishing!

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  13. Who could ever get tired of the cute baby pictures?! WHERE IS THIS PERSON? Let me at 'em!

    Kidding, kidding. Glad to have you back, and thanks for the post. Definitely a good point that sometimes the "oomph" is missing because of no setup. Thanks for the reminder. :)

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    1. Ha! Thank you, Amanda. I totally agree. I'm such a baby person :)

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  14. Thank you for sharing pics of beautiful Baby Eli! And of course your other children. :)

    This post is so helpful! I've been following your blog for a while (and tweeting it!). It's a great help--the teaching makes sense to me.

    Thanksgiving Blessings~~

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    1. Thank you, Julie! Yeah, I think you're better about tweeting links than I am :) Happy Thanksgiving!

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  15. Awww, Eli's sooooooooooo cute!

    The good part is that I know my cavalry scenes front and back (WIP 1: Raven is dumped on the side of the road and the prince picks her sister instead. Will comes to rescue her WIP 2: Rupen rips himself in half and dies, Oliver resurrects him 7 years later). the problem is that i'm still lacking that Oh Snap moment. but it's good advice to think about. Thanks!

    ~K.A.C.

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    1. Thanks, Katie :)

      Once I figure out the Oh Snap moment, the rest of it clicks into place. I hope it'll be the same for you!

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  16. Oh my goodness! He is so adorable!!!! I love babies so much. :) Congratulations, and glad to have you back!

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  17. Welcome back! Eli is ADORABLE. As weird as it sounds, I love it when bloggers get real about their lives, even if the blog is primarily not about their lives.
    I'm currently gearing up to write this scene in my NaNo... now I'm just hoping that all the emotions and backstory and problems are all set in order. Thank you for this post, it's helping me to think about it in an orderly manner. :D

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    1. I'm the same way, Jeneca. Maybe it's the storyteller in us?

      I'm glad the timing on this post worked out so well! Good luck!

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  18. That is one adorable baby! Feel free to post as many pictures as you want. :)

    God bless you and your family, Anne Marie :)

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