I’ve heard it said that the success of a book is directly related to the darkness of “the black point.” You know that point—the moment when all is lost. If readers are biting their nails and asking, “How in the heck of the world are they going to get out of this one?” then having the hero overcome is even more powerful. And that’s the success we seek as writers.
You can’t be easy on your characters. Otherwise they won’t grow.
Author Deeanne Gist explains that this was advice given to her when writing The Measure of a Lady. Her novel is about three orphans who end up in the San Francisco gold rush, facing poverty and starvation. So Deeanne had one of the sisters sing to get the miners to fill her hat with gold. Too easy. Deeanne then changed the scene to have the older sister fling the hat of gold out into the crowd. It fit the older sister’s character of frowning upon the younger sister’s act of “selling herself,” and it upped the stakes. Much better.
You have to up the stakes to keep the tension rising. What’s the worst thing that could happen to your character? Make it happen. Now how can you make it worse? Do that too. And how can you make it even worse?
Oh, do you feel the tension already? It’s not bad enough to have the paparazzi following your main character. You have to bring in the police and a bounty hunter as well. And then if the main character’s goal is to clear her fugitive father’s name so he can be free, you have to have him get caught.
I remember stories that have let me down by making the end too easy. Bewitched with Nicole Kidman. They have a fight. She sits to pout on the front step. He finds her and apologizes. Really? Or the book Sweet Revenge by Nora Roberts. Through the whole book the main character is training to return to her abusive father’s Arab kingdom to steal the crown he once gave her American mother. So she steals the crown. And doesn’t get caught. The end. What? I feel cheated.
This is an idea that can improve your endings, thus improving your impact as an author. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing actually. I’m so mean to my characters. But it’s because I love them and believe in them and want the best for them.
Which is how God feels about me. He’s the author of my life. And so when I have those days where my heart is broken by a tragic event, I get a flat tire, and then it starts to rain, I look up to the heavens and say, “I’m onto you.”
We all have black points in our lives. Moments when we don’t think it’s possible to go on. Moments where we are so overwhelmed the only option seems for us to give up. But God makes a way for us to prevail. That’s where our testimonies come from. That’s what makes true stories about Jackie Robinson and Seabiscuit so touching. That’s the kind of life you can live if you refuse to let the black points be the end of your story.
Life isn’t a fairytale. But you can live hopefully-ever-after. Choose to live a story worth telling.