A Bad Thing. A Very Bad Thing.

As you know, I like to share my Ah-ha moments. I try to keep the ones I post limited to writing (although I’d be very happy to tell you what I learned about the pillow-top mattress mafia some other day). Anywho, today’s Ah-ha lesson starts with a question:

What one thing is your main character most afraid of losing?

Think about this one really hard. It doesn’t have to be a tangible thing. It can be money, reputation, love. Whatever it is, losing it must be the worst thing that could ever happen to your main character. For example, in Velveteen Rabbit (the movie), the boy loves his stuffed bunny more than anything in the world. So, the worst thing that could happen to him would be losing that bunny, right? Right. Well, here’s your Ah-ha:

Your main character must lose this thing at the climax of your novel.

Now, I realize that for most of you, this Ah-ha is about as enlightening as Hillary Clinton’s hairstyle. But here’s the thing—many people get this wrong. Many people are tempted to make this worst thing occur at the inciting incident. After all, nothing is more inciting that having the worst thing ever happen, right?

Wrong. Your inciting incident should not be a worst thing at all. In fact, it should be significantly less bad than the climax, otherwise the tension in your novel will go down rather than up. Also (and this is your second Ah-ha; an added bonus for the day) whatever happens during your inciting incident should create a desperate need for that thing that will be lost.

I know what you’re thinking–what is this lunatic drinking now? Well, the answer is peppermint tea. Let’s go back to Velveteen Rabbit so I can illustrate why this works:

Inciting Incident: Boy’s father goes away, leaving him with miserable grandmother.

Result: In his solitude, boy discovers bunny which becomes his favourite toy.

Climax: Bunny must be destroyed.


Category: On Writing