Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fiona Harper on writing - The Dark Night of the Soul

Fiona Harper continues her series about character arc and story structure. This month she looks at what happens between the black moment and the climax. How does your character recover from such a massive set back? And how can they use it to drive the story forward and complete their character arc?  

The dark night of the soul

If you've built your black moment up high enough (end of Act 2), your characters may have experienced a crushing defeat at this point, from which it seems they may never recover. If we're talking about a romance, this is the point at which the couple often splits up. Let's have a look at some movie examples:

Pretty Woman: Edward offers to make Vivian his 'beck and call' girl, but she refuses (because she values herself more now) and it looks as if they're going to go their separate ways.
How to Lose A Guy In 10 Days: Andi and Ben's secrets are out and there's a huge bust-up at the ball.
Sweet Home Alabama: Melanie loses both Drew and Jake on the battlefield.

Don't be tempted to skip over this part of the story. Your characters may have made some wrong choices and you need to let them experience the pain of them. The greater the depths here, the sweeter the reunion later. That said, make sure you don't descend into melodrama. The wretchedness of this moment should lead your characters into pondering just how they ended up here. This moment of self-awareness, and the impetus it brings with it, will help your characters not to wallow and will push the plot forward.


This set back often brings enlightenment in its wake. Whatever they got an inkling of at the midpoint of the story is now brought to full consciousness. If they had an idea that maybe they needed to change back then, now they see the urgent necessity of it. They know without a shadow of a doubt that their flaw has got the better of them, and that if they want their HEA they have to change their ways once and for all.

So, they’ve realised what they’ve been doing wrong. So what? How’s that going to help them face the final battle? They’re feeling weak and helpless and more useless than ever! BUT they’ve slowly been learning their lessons along the way and their character arc is now almost complete. They are better equipped to achieve that goal they’ve been pursuing for most of the story. They can use the things they’ve learned on the journey and apply them to both the external plot and the broken-down relationship – they just have to work out how.

I often find my characters will have an “a-ha!” moment at this point. They’ll see something, or someone will tell them something and they’ll have a sudden moment of clarity about how they can put that last puzzle piece into place. Some characters complete their arc at this point – like the hero who suddenly realizes he loves the heroine, but now he has to convince her of the fact after leaving her broken-hearted. Other characters still have one last bit of that ‘old self’ they need to let go of, and it’s going to take something as momentous as the climax of the story to shake it free.

But more on that next time…

Fiona’s latest release Snowbound in the Earl’s Castle is the first in the Holiday Miracles trilogy with Donna Alward and Shirley Jump. Three sisters get three letters, each asking them to do a favour for their beloved Grandmother. Little do they know one simple letter will change everything – what they believe about life, family and definitely love.

Available in the US (eHarlequin and Amazon) and in the UK you can get all three stories in one volume, entitled A Christmas Letter.

Forthright Faith McKinnon is driving English aristocrat Marcus Huntington crazy! Ever since she turned up at his castle to research a valuable stained-glass window, Marcus can't stop thinking about her. Faith might try to hide her true self behind a facade of feistiness, yet to Marcus she's as transparent as the glass she studies. What's more, the vulnerable woman in hiding is frighteningly appealing.

Marcus and Faith don't believe in fairy tales, but being snowed in together over Christmas feels like magic. And the best gift of all would be discovering that happy-ever-afters really can come true….


  1. Fiona, just a quick note to say how much I like the sound of your Christmas story!

  2. Hi Fiona, I really love all your books and am looking forward to reading your Christmas story. You always give the impression that everything in your writing has flowed effortlessly from your pen, and that's such a great skill to have. You work really hard at your craft - thanks for the trememdous stories and am looking forward to the next.

  3. Ooh, glad you like the sound of the book, Annie!

    And I WISH all my books flowed effortlessly from my pen, Helena. Sadly that's not the case. It's one thing to stand back from a distance and see where it's all going right/wrong and another thing entirely to recognise it when you're in the writing jungle and just hacking your way through. I find that this kind of stuff helps a bit with plotting and a lot with editing and revising. (And thank you for saying you love my books!)