The Comeback

The Comeback
Original Post: Writer Unboxed

on Aug 03 2011 | Filed under: CRAFT, Inspirations

PhotobucketWe have a deal. Sweet words.

Unless you mean the U.S. debt ceiling. Anybody feel good about that one? What a bruising fight. What childish refusal to compromise. Everyone is sick and tired of our government, including our elected officials. Trip to Greece, anyone?

As the House of Representatives crawled through its vote on Monday night, the mood was sour and tense…until the final minutes. Then a miracle happened. Into the chamber, unannounced and unsteady, came Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who in January was shot in the head. She voted.

On Twitter she said, “The Capitol looks beautiful tonight. I am honored to be at work.”

The chamber erupted in applause as she arrived. The whole nation was lifted. It is beautiful, this big mess of ours, isn’t it? We can look forward in hope. The return of Rep. Giffords reminded us of what’s important. She inspires us. We can come back from anything.

The uplift of a moment like that gets to us extra hard because we previously sank so low. Fiction writers take note. Sink your characters low. Bring them back with high symbolism. Works every time. Let’s get it working for you.

In your WIP, what’s your protagonist’s biggest mistake? Make it bigger. Work backward. Build your protagonist’s commitment to do things right. Now line up what it will cost your protagonist to do something wrong.

Who will be crushed when your protagonist later screws up? Make that person’s high regard of your protagonist utterly important. What’s something your protagonist cannot afford to lose? Tie it in. What principle will your protagonist later violate? Make it foundational.

The screw up itself: Make it bigger, more public, more ill-timed. Make it so that even your protagonist’s closest friends look away, ashamed.

The comeback is not just a return but a redemption. Your protagonist must atone. Give him or her work to do. Impose humility. What’s the lesson? What’s the biggest thing he or she must do to show that he or she has changed?

Again work backward. Focus on the action that will demonstrate change…plant it, make it important in your story world, rehearse it in smaller ways-which is to say, build up its symbolic value.

Uplift is a sweet moment in any story. It fills us with hope, inspires us with its courage. But there’s work behind it, and that work belongs to you. But if you do it faithfully, your readers will love you.

Do we have a deal?

Photo courtesy Flickr’s peasap

Donald Maass is president of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. He has written several highly acclaimed craft books for novelists including The Breakout Novelist, The Fire in Fiction, Writing the Breakout Novel and The Career Novelist. You can follow him on Twitter (@DonMaass) for regular writing tips.

Donald Maass
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