In the last two blog posts, we have discussed the trick to writing a fantastic chapter or scene. The trick, of course, is to make chapter have something of a material difference occur. That way, the characters cannot go back to the situation that they were in at the start of the chapter.
Last time out on the trick to writing a fantastic chapter, we ended off with hope. Thus, this time around it only seems right to start off with its polar opposite – despair.
If hope gives characters an injection of optimism, then despair gives them a douse of dejection.
The trick to writing a fantastic chapter or scene that involves despair must begin with the character already being in a bad situation. The despair must kick in, like a disease permeating through a body, when the character realises the sheer hopelessness of his/her predicament.
Example – Bruce Wayne In The Pit
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne/Batman gets beaten badly by Bane. After being knocked out unconscious, Bruce wakes up in a pit that Alfred, Bruce’s butler, once called “hell itself” and what Bane (chillingly) calls “home.”
Despair percolates his every fibre as he appreciates that it will be impossible in his present state to get out of the pit. His back is broken, and the only way out of the pit is to make the climb.
Yet, while Bruce rots in this medieval-like hole, Bane is free to terrorise Gotham. And he does, fomenting violence reminiscent of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. Bruce watches Gotham descend into carnage from the pit. He knows he can do nothing about it, thereby tormenting his soul mercilessly; hence, the despair.
Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale), battered and broken, watching as Gotham tears itself apart in Bane’s revolution. It is no wonder he looks anguished, as despair seeps into soul.
It goes without saying, but when a character achieves victory, he/she has defeated his/her enemy. Therefore, the trick to writing a fantastic chapter when it comes to showing victory is as follows – the chapter must begin with the protagonist wanting to defeat the antagonist, and by the end of it the hero/heroine has defeated his/her enemy.
Victory also means that the victor is in a position to determine the fate of the defeated. The victor can then choose to either:
Kill the antagonist;
Spare the life of the antagonist, but keep a hostage for good behaviour;
Banish the antagonist into exile;
Ask the antagonist to enter into an alliance with him/her.
Example for 1 – Snow White Kills Ravenna
During the climactic battle of 2012’s Snow White & The Huntsman (a film better remembered for its director, Rupert Sanders, having an affair with Kristen Stewart than the quality of its content), Snow White and her armies storm the castle, held by her enemy, Queen Ravenna.
After taking the castle, Snow White confronts Queen Ravenna. After a magical duel, Snow White slays the evil Queen. Subsequently, the Kingdom is at peace, Snow White is crowned Queen and she chooses to rule wisely.
Snow White (Kristen Stewart) smiles after being crowned Queen, having defeated her enemy and decided to rule wisely until the end of her days. (If only ruling were that simple.)
Example for 2 – Theon Greyjoy Becomes Ned Stark’s Ward
Nine years before the story of A Song of Ice & Fire begins, Lord Balon Greyjoy rose up in rebellion against King Robert Baratheon. The Crown heavily defeated Lord Balon. Nevertheless, King Robert decided against executing him. Instead, King Robert let him live as well as allowed him to keep his titles and ruined castle.
But this came at a price. Lord Balon had to give up his last remaining son, Theon. Lord Eddard Stark took Theon as an honoured guest (a hostage) to ensure his father’s good behaviour.
Example for 3 – Peter Pan Defeats Hook And Offers To Banish Him
In Hook (1989), during the hilarious battle towards the end of the film, Peter Pan (Robin Williams) defeats Captain James Hook (Dustin Hoffman) in a swordfight. Peter has Captain Hook on his knees, unarmed. But rather than kill him, Peter offers Hook a second chance – so long as he leaves Neverland and never comes back.
Treacherously, Hook rejects the offer and soon afterwards is swallowed whole by the same crocodile that ate his left hand. But that is not the point. Peter showed mercy to his fallen foe. It is a choice that victors can offer the defeated, regardless of how the defeated respond to the offer.
Peter Pan could have killed his nemesis, Captain Hook, at this moment. The man is unarmed, after-all. But instead Peter offer Hook life, so long as he leaves Neverland for good.
Example for 4 – Octavian Forms An Alliance With Mark Anthony
In the historical fiction series, Rome (2005-07), Emperor Octavian Caesar defeats Mark Anthony at the battle near the Po Valley (in today’s northern Italy). Rather than smash Mark Anthony and the remainder of his forces, Octavian decides to form an alliance with him. This is so that he will have a larger army to fight Marcus Brutus, the man who assassinated Octavian’s adopted father, Julius Caesar.
Octavian proposes to ratify the alliance with Mark Anthony by having him marry Octavian’s sister, Octavia. Thus, the former enemies are now brothers in law and form the Second Triumvirate (along with Lepidus). They then go on to avenge Julius Caessar at the Battle of Philippi.
Victory and defeat are two sides of the same coin. However, for the purposes of a story (and for the trick to writing a fantastic chapter or scene to work), POV characters cannot just accept defeat and be submissive. This is because POV characters cannot be passive and let others dictate their fate. They must have agency and make decisions, even in defeat.
Therefore, after being defeated, POV characters can either:
Flee (and live to fight another day); or
Work within the system to bring down the system.
Example for 1 – The Remaining Jedi Flee And Disappear
Yoda, Obi-Wan and Bail deciding what to do after fleeing into exile, following the defeat of the Jedi.
At the end of Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, the Jedi have well and truly lost. Obi-Wan Kenobi fails (refuses) to kill Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vadar and Yoda fails to beat Darth Sidius/the Emperor in separate lightsaber duels. Thus, they and the remaining Jedi flee into exile.
On an asteroid, Yoda regroups all that is left of the Jedi. There are too few left to bring down the First Galactic Empire and their only hope, Luke and Leila, are newborn babies. As a result, Yoda decides that all the remaining Jedi shall remain in exile. Indeed, he urges them to disappear until the time is right for them to fight again, and agrees that Obi-Wan should train Luke in the ways of the Jedi as he once trained Anakin. (The story picks up again in Episode IV: A New Hope, many years later, when the Jedi come out of exile.)
Example for 2 – Margaret Beaufort
In Philippa Gregory’s historical fiction novel, The Red Queen, after her cousin and fellow Lancastrian, King Henry VI, is brought down and murdered by the York brothers, Margaret Beaufort spends the next 14 years trying to get her son, Henry Tudor, back to England to claim his lands and the throne.
To get close to power, she marries Lord Thomas Stanley, a member of King Edward IV’s (and later King Richard III’s) court and becomes a handmaiden to Queen Elizabeth, Edward’s wife, all for her son, who is in exile in France.
Moreover, sensing opportunity, when King Edward dies, Margaret (indirectly) orders Edward’s young sons (the fabled Princes in the Tower) to be murdered, again to give her son a leg up towards claiming the throne. Margaret succeeds on all fronts, through political shrewdness, luck and prayer. In 1485, at the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor defeats Richard III and becomes Henry VII of England.
Margaret Beaufort (as portrayed by Amanda Hale in the TV adaptation, The White Queen, praying for all that she has worked for to come to fruition, so that her son will become King Henry VII.
I would like to thank you for reading this and the previous two blog posts on the trick to writing a fantastic chapter. The list of material consequences for a chapter is non-exhaustive. So, please, let me know in the comments below what material consequence I have not mentioned. I would love to hear your thoughts.
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