Revisions and the All is Lost Moment

Posted on Posted in Editing and Revision

Revisions. Some writers love them, saying that it finally shapes the form of the book that was in your head but not on the page so the reader has a more compelling story experience.

Other folks read the letter from their lovely editor and cry a little and try not to kick the nearest solid surface – and then go and noodle on the issues inside their brain until they have something which will work.

In most cases – I look at the emotional journey the hero and heroine have gone on and ask how they have changed between the start and the end. Character Arc and Turning points. And they all come together at one transformative point – the pinnacle of the journey – the All is Lost Moment. 

Here is how Steven Pressfield who wrote the excellent ‘War of Art’ describes it:

“What exactly happens in an All Is Lost moment, both in movies and in real life?

What happens is the hero—i.e., you and me—comes face to face with a lie he has told himself, a lie upon which he has based his entire life (or, in a movie, the sum of the events so far in the film.)

The lie is a self-delusion. It’s an act of denial, a cherished belief about ourselves or our prospects. When events compel us at last to see this self-delusion, our reaction is “All is lost!” We believe that we cannot live without this self-delusion. There is no way out. We’re finished.

In Rocky, the self-delusion was that Rocky had a chance to beat the champ. In The Hangover, the guys’ delusion was that they could find Doug simply by re-living the prior evening. In Big Night, the brothers’ delusion was that they could make their restaurant succeed on its own terms. In the All Is Lost moment, each one of these beliefs is shattered, leaving the protagonists defeated, bereft and in despair.

Twelve-step programs deal with All Is Lost moments all the time. The alcoholic-in-denial believes he is not a drunk. He can handle his drinking, he believes; it’s no problem. That’s the self-delusion. That’s the instance of denial.”

Best way of revising? Start at this moment and track back to make this as powerful as possible. What is the belief system of each character? How have you just knocked it on the head?

Hard work, but worth it. :-)


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