There’s no getting around it. Every successful story has to have a low point – the place where it all goes wrong, and there’s little hope in sight. Is there any point in struggling on? Highly doubtful, probably not. It would be so much easier at this point to give up and let whatever is going to happen to your characters play itself out on the page. I give up!
So your character says. So you might say. Low points are really hard to write! You’ve brought an amazing cast of characters to life and given them a fascinating world in which to live. Sure, there have been challenges and conflicts, but up to now they’ve muddled through or managed to evade the inevitable (for the most part, they haven’t been successful – that’s what leads them to the low point). Now it’s staring you, the writer, in the face. You have to do this!
This might be a good time to step away for a moment and decide what will happen in the low point of your story. Will someone die? Find themselves in a situation that forces a life-changing decision? Be ready to give up on something they’ve fought for until now? Change their entire way of thinking and/or living? Think about what is going to happen before you put it down. Are there different situations or scenarios that can be brought to light? Will other characters be involved? Why or why not? Have a bit of fun (if you can) playing with different storylines.
I’ve written three deaths so far, and although I knew they needed to happen for the sake of the story, they were tough, tough scenes to write! One death scene took me three days of writing sessions to complete. I had to physically get away from the computer and focus on something else – it was that painful to say goodbye to a beloved character. So, give yourself the mental space and time to get it done. Your readers will be sad, but there is something satisfying in a writer’s heart with a well-written death. If death is the decision, take your time and give them one they deserve (good, bad, or otherwise).
Get It Down
Once you’ve decided what will happen at the low point, map out how it will affect the rest of the story going forward. Here’s an idea I learned at a conference workshop: If possible, have the character be going DOWN somehow into the low point. Do they physically fall, descend into a lower space, or fall into a deep depression? Are they wounded and fall to the ground? Tumble off a cliff? If they story is going down, try to have your character go down as well. If it’s death, how does this affect the story and the rest of the characters going forward?
The same holds true for a life-changing decision. Based on what it is, some characters may no longer have a place in the world that used to be and has now changed, based on the decision. If your character has decided to make a change in the way they live, old associations and/or locations may not be relevant or part of the character’s life anymore. Figure out how to let them go, if that has to happen.
As your character emerges from the low point, they will be changed for it. It may be a change for better or worse; that’s for you and your characters to work out. But while your character is in the low point, perhaps they can be thinking about what got them there in the first place. Spend some time with them in the low point and give them a chance to wallow in their misery. It might give them the opportunity to reveal something new or unexpected to the reader that brought them to this point in the story.
Low points are a tough part of storytelling. They won’t last forever, but you have to go through them to come out the other side. Your story will be all the better for it.