I had a hard time getting up this morning. Yesterday was particularly rough, I woke up in the middle of a nightmare that left my heart thudding alarmingly hard, and I discovered that I'd missed my alarm by over two hours even though I didn't remember hearing it. (Thankfully, I didn't miss any scheduled activities.)
And of course, because my old "friend" depression is a jerk, it tried to take advantage of all that. I started having thoughts like these:
I don't wanna get up.
What's the point?
I've already wasted a big chunk of the day anyway.
I'm a failure.
What have I really done with my life?
As I said, depression. Is. A. Jerk.
So I set about psyching myself up. I prayed and listened to "The Next Right Thing" from Frozen II. Then I decided to literally take the next step and get out of bed.
And I stepped right on the clip of my FitBit charger.
Being very protective of my feet since my Lisfranc injury, I jumped aside.
And slightly twisted my ankle on landing.
At that point, I started laughing. It was just plain ridiculous. I'd made all those efforts to start doing something hard . . . and immediately been rewarded with pain. Some motivation, right?
But, given that I'm writing this from the couch in my living room, I did get up. The painful setback wasn't enough to stop me.
If you're writing any kind of story, your characters will likely experience a more intense version of what happened to me. One of my professional heroes, Blake Snyder, calls this part of the narrative "the Dark Night of the Soul." (See this blog post for an overview of Snyder's theory of story beats. I highly recommend purchasing the actual books!) This is the protagonist's reaction to the moment when everything falls apart and all seems lost. It's when <spoiler alert> grief-stricken Anna is stuck at the bottom of the dark tunnel after losing both Elsa and Olaf in Frozen II, or when Luke Skywalker and his friends (very briefly) mourn the death of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. </spoiler alert> It's often the lowest emotional point of the story. How can anything ever be okay again after what's just happened?
And yet, in most cases, the story doesn't end there.
Somewhere in the middle of the darkness, the protagonist comes to grips with some truth that they've needed all along but couldn't or wouldn't see before. That revelation gives them the strength to "make the choice . . . and do the next right thing." At this moment, which Snyder calls "Break into [Act] Three," they brush themselves off, pick up their gear, and start climbing out of the hole.
Of course, it's not easy. Just as I stepped on the charger, the protagonist encounters setbacks on the way up. They might seem minor compared to the story's overall conflict, but in the protagonist's weakened state, they're a big deal. Handholds and footholds crumble. Slips and near-falls occur. Muscles become fatigued and start to shake or weaken. Hands, fingers, and other body parts get cut, scraped, and bruised. With their determination still new and fragile, the protagonist might be tempted to give up in the face of these obstacles. But they don't stop until they've reached the top. They might need to rest there for a few minutes. But then they get up and go on.
Sometimes as writers, we encounter our own Dark Nights of the Soul. Just as the protagonist often has help from a friend to learn the critical truth they need, I'm here to help you find your way out of whatever writing hole you've gotten stuck in. Click here and select "Services Offered" to find the specific kind of help you need.
(Thanks to Brad Barmore for sharing their work on Unsplash.)