Building Characters – The Moment of Truth, Part Three

I’m feeling a little repetitive, but it’s necessary: I’m still discussing building believable characters using Jeff Gerke’s book  Plot vs. Character. In the last two posts, I discussed the Moment of Truth, which is Step Four in the protagonist’s Inner Journey. This should finish that up and I can move on.

You’ve got your character’s Knot all figured out. You’ve chosen the alternative, the land of promise she could get if only she’d let go of that pesky knot. Now you’re ready to figure out the Moment of Truth. Here are Jeff’s tips:

1. Make it fit. The Moment of Truth must be the collision of the two opposite choices in the hero’s life: the old way and the new way. Don’t spring a third way at the last second–she’s got to decide between #1 and #2. 

2. Make sure both options are compelling. Your hero is stuck in the old way, which hurts herself and those around her, yet it gives her something she values. The new way has to be as attractive as the old way, even if she doesn’t see it at first. It must give her everything the old way can’t provide, and it must solve her problems–but not without cost.

3. Include the cost of purchase. The hero has to understand not only what she gains by choosing one option over the other, but also what she stands to lose. 

4. Provide smaller moments of truth along the way. Think of ways for these two opposing options to skirmish before the final showdown, and show the hero making minor yes/no choices between these two options.

Jeff’s got a fill-in-the-blank form in the book for use in plotting moment’s of truth. Buy the book if you want to see it because it’s just too long for me to copy it here, and frankly, that wouldn’t be fair to Jeff. Check it out, because it’s worth it. You can figure all this stuff out on your own (without the form), so it’s not completely necessary. It just makes things easier.

Now that you’ve got all this settled, it’s time to bring it all together. Answer this question: why now? Why does the hero have to make this choice right now? What forces her to choose without further delay? You, as author, force it to happen–back your hero into a corner and watch her squirm. You’ll find the “why now” component in the nature of the two choices. If the knot is an over-dependence on technology and the alternative is a reliance on something spiritual, your moment of truth will have to be something that forces the hero to choose between those two options. Act now or forever regret it.

“Often the moment of truth will come when the hero’s last resistance has been knocked away,” Jeff says. The hero is at rock bottom, and it’s cost her too much to remain in her old ways. Her eyes are open and she’s able to make a wise choice (or a foolish one, if your ending is tragic).  “Characters don’t change until it hurts too much to stay the same,” Jeff continues. So bring on the pain. Wear your hero down until she can compare both options and evaluate them as equal choices. Think of Frodo on the ledge overlooking the lava flow, if that helps.

In the next post (or four) I’ll look at Step One of the Inner Journey, the Initial Condition. It contains the Knot, which I’ve already discussed, plus some other tasty stuff. 

-Sonja
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