Story and setting. If we extrapolate from the fears the protagonist holds, the hatreds they feel, and the antagonist they’re up against, what does the darkest moment in the story look like? What has to happen in order for the protagonist to be hopeless or on the verge of giving up their goal? What kinds of circumstances would make the audience fear that the protagonist might lose as well? This moment, which usually occurs at the three-quarters mark of the novel, should be one of the most emotionally charged moments in the novel. It’s the darkest moment before the dawn so that the protagonist and the readers appreciate victory—if they can even claim one at all—after the struggle of the climax.
Action Plan: Envision this “worst-case scenario” for your protagonist and answer the following questions in your writer’s notebook:
For example, GRRM isn’t shy about killing or maiming characters even books-deep into his Song of Ice and Fire series, so the audience never feels like their favorite characters are safe. How can you show earlier in the story that the antagonist is serious business or that the protagonist has some major issues they have to work through if they want to get what they want? Add these scenes to your list!
Additional Reading: “The ‘All Is Lost’ Moment” from Steven Pressfield