6 Tips for Writing Your Story's Disaster
Chapter 6 “Plot Points” – Section 7 “Disaster”
“There's a victory, and defeat; the first and best of victories, the lowest and worst of defeats which each man gains or sustains at the hands not of another, but of himself.”
After your protagonist is defeated in the Midpoint, comes the point at which they will have an emotional spiral into turmoil and dire consequences for everyone who had stakes in your protagonist's victory. Your protagonist will be impacted by this failure more here than anywhere else in the story—feeling like they have just been thrown to the bottom of a pit from which there is no escape or hope of reaching their goals. This plot-point is called the Disaster. In Star Wars – A New Hope, this point is seen in Luke's emotional turmoil at Ben Kenobi's death, and the subsequent fallout when Han Solo abandons his friends.
Tip 1: Note the variability in the Disaster plot-point.
You'll note that most of the plot-points we've discussed up to now have been dynamic and complex enough to merit a chapter into itself. However, as you progress into the later plot-points of your book, this will become variable, and with the Disaster in particular. Some stories will contain a Disaster that lasts entire chapter and others one that last only a page. While A New Hope had an extremely brief and nearly unnoticeable Disaster plot-point, for example, The Empire Strikes Back has a much more significant and prolonged Disaster. In it Luke discovers that Vader is his father, finds that all his mentors had lied to him, and he even loses his hand. And while, ultimately, the choice of a long and important Disaster vs a short and subtle one is yours, I do recommend that you start your first draft with the former since it is easier to cut down something that already exists than to add a new factor that didn't exist before.
Tip 2: Empathize with the deep and detailed emotions of your characters during this period of loss.
When you focus so much on the overarching plot of the story and see the real stakes of the story, from the viewpoint of a god (as we naturally do as writers, especially nearing the end of a story), it is easy to lose your perspective when it comes to empathizing with your characters. For example, when your character's mother is dying of cancer, it is difficult to accurately portray how the character would react if their car suddenly stopped working. As the writer, clearly seeing the things that truly matter, we might not see how this would emotionally devastate our character, and feel like they might—as if the universe itself were spitting in his or her face by not only hurting the character in big ways but in the small ones too. So look at each and every stressor, pain, and disappointment—list them out if you have to—and make sure that each is recognized and has an effect on your protagonist. Really put yourself in your protagonist's place and feel all of the pain of loss that they have, so that you can portray it accurately.
Tip 3: Allow your protagonist to reach a point where nearly everything is lost.
Sometimes it is difficult to gauge how much you want the failure of your Midpoint to devastate your protagonist during the Disaster, without just being a sadist. After all, why do we want to hurt the characters that we love so much? The answer is that the closer your protagonist gets to complete loss and devastation, the greater the challenge they will have to face in order to overcome adversity. And by eventually having them overcome the challenges set against them, you create in them a strength of character, and an increasingly deeper level of admiration that your audience will have for that character when they eventually manage to succeed or even fail. These levels of adversity set against your character can then include devastated emotions, giving in to personal flaws and evils, the establishment of physical limitations that seem impossible to overcome, broken trust with other characters, and anything else you can imagine. Just make sure that they are relevant to the plot, genre, and personality of your character. In a lighthearted children's adventure story, for example, you don't want to cut off the child protagonist's hand and kill off their best friend; so just be appropriate to the type of story that you are trying to create.
Tip 4: Find how the events of the Midpoint/Disaster affects each character/group in your story.
It is too easy to limit the failure of your hero to just them—making the failed confrontation seem like an isolated incident. But unless your protagonist is literally the only character in most the book (if, for example, it was a story about a woman facing a snowstorm), know that it may best serve your story if the Disaster affects all of your other characters. As a point in the story following the uniquely critical events of the Midpoint, the Disaster provides a unique opportunity to bring your entire story and all your characters together as only tragedy, failure, and desperation can. Using the Disaster, you can make all of these elements seem more unified and less like a conglomeration of loosely related story-arcs, particularly when you have multiple secondary protagonists and supporting characters. Take the time to consider the Disaster from multiple points of view. Will your supporting characters feel sympathy? Will they lose hope? Will the Antagonist feel pity, disappointment, gladness? Will the protagonist lash out at their friends? How is the World affected by this failure? Just like in real life, no man is an island, and the meaningful actions of one character should create an effect in others; your job is to figure out what that effect is.
Tip 5: Have your Antagonist use the Disaster as his/her greatest opportunity to act.
While you primary antagonistic force may be sad for the protagonist, indifferent, or happy to have caused their failure, remember that this is their opportunity to push their own agenda forward with the least amount of resistance. Even an internal antagonistic force (like an emotion or belief) now has a completely malleable protagonist to toy with, building both their own power and the power of the story as the odds become ever more in the antagonist's favor. Not only is this the most logical course of action for the antagonistic force, but its a necessary window of opportunity for the writer to start setting up for the upcoming ending of your story. Note that if your primary antagonistic force is not a sentient being but something like a storm, an animal, or a monster, then it will of course be less capable of this sort of deliberate action; however, you can allow it to rest, to feed, or to build in power.
Tip 6: Prepare to reach your Second Pinch Point.
Very similar in purpose to the First Pinch Point, the Second Pinch Point is the point of the story at which the villain does something that creates a need for the protagonist to confront them. In A New Hope, this point comes when the Death Star chases our heroes to the location of the secret rebel base. The Death Star prepares to destroy them, creating a situation where Luke has to fight or allow the rebels to be destroyed. The setup for this plot-point begins in the Disaster phase, where the antagonist has free range to setup everything they need to succeed—building pressure for the protagonist to soon need to stand back up. Note that like the Disaster, the Second Pinch Point can be of variable length and degrees of emphasis, and that the two plot-points can actually happen simultaneously if you decide that this would best benefit your story.
Weekly Recommended Reading: Daredevil - Born Again by Frank Miller (In this fantastic graphic novel, Miller takes particular emphasis in his creation and utilization of the Disaster plot-point, in which he takes everything away from Daredevil, including his sanity. This level of such total despair reaches to a point that the reader begin to doubt that the hero can ever succeed, making his eventual triumph a truly epic feat.)
Write-a-Novel Exercise 6.7
Write your story's Disaster, following the steps above. Click here to submit it to the gallery.