TAP020, How to Write the Dark Night of the Soul Scene of a Novel
TAP020, How to Write the Dark Night of the Soul Scene of a Novel
So, you’ve reached the start of the third act of your outline or in your first draft, and you’re not sure how to propel your protagonist from the second act to the third act. There is a scene in story structure that creates a doorway or a transition between the final two acts. It’s generally referred to as the second turning point, second plot point, or the Dark Night of the Soul. If this is coming you’re struggling with as you’re writing your first draft or brainstorming your story outline, then this episode is for you. In this episode, I will discuss, the essential elements, and provide five tips on how to write a compelling Dark Night of the Soul scene.
So, let’s get started.
About the Series
Before I dive into the writing tips, this is the ninth instalment in my series on three-act-structure. If you’ve just joined me on this episode then, I will link the previous eight episodes below.
- TAP012, What is Three-Act-Structure?
- TAP013, Plot and Structure: The Hook
- TAP014, How to Write a Great Ordinary World Scene
- TAP015, How to Write the Inciting Incident
- TAP016, How to Write the First Plot Point Scene
- TAP017, How to Write the Rising Action Scenes
- TAP018, How to Write the Midpoint of a Novel
The Dark Night of the Soul In a Nutshell
The Dark Night of the Soul needs to occur at the beginning or slightly before the seventy-fifth percent mark in your story. Or, even as early as the seventy percent mark. And, can span over several scenes depending upon the length of your story. The third act should begin with another life-changing, but nonetheless impossible plot point that brings the protagonist and plot back to its central theme. This moment causes the hero to look within and find the courage to go on in amidst defeat and move toward the final conflict and climax of the story.
Tips on How to Write A Compelling Dark Night of the Soul Scene
Now, that we’ve established what the story element is, it’s time to discuss how to write a compelling Dark Night of the Soul Scene. As I’ve looked back on my fiction novels and stories written by screenwriters and authors, I’ve created a list of five tips designed to help you write a page-turning scene. I know this sounds like a lot of things to think about as you write or outline, but I wanted to break down the elements, so it’s easy for you to follow.
Tip #1 – Put Your Protagonist in an Impossible Situation
Yes, this means there’s more pain ahead for your protagonist. As the name suggests, this is your main character’s darkest moment. There now faced with a situation that they perceive as hopeless. In fact, it seems impossible but not just for your protagonists, the reader needs to believe this as well. It’s in this moment that the Protagonist realises there’s going back—the only option is to face the impossibility of the challenge ahead. And that means striving towards the goal in amidst adversity. All of this is often done without the support of allies the protagonist had relied upon before. He’s all alone.
So, what does an impossible situation look like in the mystery, thriller, or romance genres? In a mystery, figuring out the truth seems impossible. In a thriller, the antagonistic force seems to have won. In a romance, the hero loses all hope of getting the girl, or vice versa. It’s a moment of despair.
Tip #2 – Provide a Believable Solution
Even though the situation the protagonist is in seems impossible, the solution to this problem needs to be believable. This means your Protagonist needs to draw from his strengths and talents overcome the challenge presented by the Dark Night of the Soul. So, that’s no to moments where other supporting characters rush in to save the day. I’m also not saying that your Protagonist can’t get any aid from an ally, but they need to be the one who saves the day in the end.
Another moment you should avoid in the third act is your protagonist suddenly having a special talent or skill that conveniently gets him out of trouble. These ‘special talents’ need to be foreshadowed earlier on in the story, just like in the Hunger Games. Earlier in the story, the author points out Katniss’ archery skills, which later come in handy during the games, and is one of the things that help her to survive. This foreshadowing makes the victory believable.
Tip #3 – Let Theme Play a Central Role
Theme is at the heart of the Dark Night of the Soul scenes and the final scenes in your story. When you’ve just started out writing theme can be a confusing story element. So, what is the theme of a story? In a nutshell, your story theme is what your story is really about. It’s your protagonist’s inner motivation, but it becomes universal.
The Dark Night of the Soul often reflects upon the theme of your protagonist. And, it forces the hero to confront his feelings about the events that have unfolded in the story. If you’re writing a longer story, like a novel, you may want to include a separate reaction scene where your protagonists come to terms with how he feels, and give the theme a more significant moment.
Tip #4 – The Dark Night of the Soul should Tigger a Moment of Truth
As a part of the Dark Night of the Soul moment, there is a transition between hopelessness and determination. It’s not until someone hits rock-bottom that he or she finds the determination to move forward despite the odds. This is the moment of truth that comes before the protagonist takes the final actionable steps toward his goal.
It’s in the moment of truth that the protagonist finds this determination. In this scene, we see the protagonist at his lowest emotional point and on the verge of giving up. However, this moment of truth is what the protagonist needs to reflect upon the journey thus far. It’s within thoughtful reflection that he summons the courage to prepare for the showdown with the Antagonistic force.
Tip #5 – Set the Protagonist on the Path Toward the final conflict
The third act will begin with another life-changing plot point. It’s important that this moment sets the protagonist’s feet on the path toward the final conflict in the climax of your story. Even though life is often illogical, your story does not have that luxury. Your story needs to make sense. There needs to be a logical sequence between the opening of the third act and the climax of your story. However, this doesn’t mean you cannot surprise the reader.
Your protagonist needs to go from their darkest and lowest moment to engaging in a conflict with the antagonistic force. It’s the role of the Dark Night of the Soul scenes to point the protagonist in this direction. In a romance, the hero loses all hope of getting the girl but finds the courage to put his heart on the line to win her back. The actual winning the love interest back is the climactic moment of a romance novel, but the path needs to be set in the Dark Night of the Soul moment.
Are you struggling to write the Dark Night of the Soul scene for your novel? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing in the comments where you’re struggling and the steps you’re going to take to improve your story.
Thank you for listening, and I’ll see you in the next episode of The Authorpreneur Podcast where I’ll discuss how to write the climactic sequence of your novel.
I’m Amelia. When I’m not hosting the Authorpreneur Podcast™️ and the Book Nerd Podcasts, I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Suspicion, the Lawn, and the Candidate.
On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process.
Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Suspicion, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.