This week I'm celebrating hopelessness. You know--the paragraphs in a story when the heroine loses everything she's worked for. The precise point where she believes she's a complete failure. This is the black moment, when all hope is lost.
Without this critical plot point, there can be no redemption, no summoning of strength as the main character regroups and overcomes, no happy ending. This is when the reader KNOWS the time invested in your story has been worth it.
The word count devoted to the point of hopelessness varies on the story. If the hero is clinging to a scraggly root protruding from the side of a cliff, and the bad-guy sheriff repeatedly whacks the hero's hand with a 2X4, the hero has a few seconds to prepare to die. Then the sheriff stops to savor his impending triumph. He bends down with the 2X4 extended and gloats. The hero summons his strength, yanks on the board, and pulls the sheriff over for a justice-prevails swan dive.
In a contemporary romance, the heroine has lost her job. (She's already lost her man.) She reflects as she packs her belongings into her beat-up pickup--she was a fool to think the cash-strapped city would grant a permanent home to her non-profit community garden when the mega-corporation was willing to pay millions of do-good dollars for the site. Her charity boss knows she slept with the mayor and believes she'll violate any ethics rule to get what she wants. What they don't know is how much she loves Mr. Mayor, despite the insults she hurled at the showdown city council meeting.
She did things wrong. She'll move to another big city, find another rundown neighborhood and start a new garden project. Start by picking up broken bottles and used needles. She's rebounding from defeat and is ready to try again, and her inner manifesto on how to be stronger and wiser.
She goes back into her apartment for the last box. As she drives past the verdant garden, people of all ages from the neighborhood are blocking the street brandishing homemade 'Save our Garden,' and 'We have the Vote' signs. TV news crews are everywhere. Someone recognizes her and urges her out of her truck. The mayor (who is up for re-election) is in a stand-off with the community. She's pushed to the fore.
The music can't swell in a paperback. Words have to convey abject loss so we can get to the triumph. The HEA needs hopelessness.