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Normally this sort of thing is easier than actually writing the piece for me but this time I can't get anywhere with the overall structure of the story:

I want a character to win a great victory, at great cost, a cost that comes to define his continued existence, is there a way to place such a moment within the body, rather than at the beginning of a piece such that the piece doesn't feel anticlimactic to that character moment?

I've seen examples where such moments are used to end a section of a serial, such as the end of The Gunslinger but I'm kind of set on the idea of using it as a central moment in a relatively small piece.

Any insights would be most welcome.

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    You don't want this great Pyrrhic victory to be the climax of your story? Then you'd need another climax coming up later.
    – Alexander
    Nov 20 '17 at 18:50
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One 'classic' structure of a journey is to write ~ 10-20% of the story establishing the character(s) and their original settings. A switch (marking a decision, a change, a new course for the MC) happens at that point, and the bulk of the ensuing story is 'adventure.' The MC learns the skills and so on that will be needed at the end of the story. There is a final crisis, somewhere around 75 - 90% of the way through the novel. The character faces the final crisis, uses her skills, and he either succeeds or fails in this challenge. The last 5 - 15% of story is resolution.

You are asking if a climactic moment can occur halfway through, and I imagine you have ideas for what comes before, and after, that climax. I have two ideas in response.

  1. If there is an overriding arc that fits a classic structure (the one described above, or another), then you may be able to blend your idea onto it. Perhaps the pivot for your character happens as he is acquiring the skills she needs to face the inevitable crisis. (The death of Obi Wan was a pivot for Luke, but the ultimate crisis was blowing up the death star.)

  2. Or, throw everything out the window and just write it the way you want. The human brain can adapt to a lot of different ways of storytelling. The Lord of the Rings saga seems to have character pivots (and battles) all over the place. I found it tedious, but the story is successful, and perhaps some analysis of that story structure (which surely exists online somewhere) can give you clues.

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  • So the answer would seem to be "no" there is not really a way to put the big character moment that late in the piece, at least not with a sole protagonist. In my opinion LOTR only does as well as it does (which is not that great) by being an ensemble outing and telling half a dozen or more stories in one go.
    – Ash
    Nov 20 '17 at 16:33
  • @Ash Well, you said it is a short piece. Flash fiction (etc) has other pacing. And rules are meant to be broken. The classic hero journey is successful because it reflects our own real journeys. We enjoy them because they tease at whatever we're dealing with ourselves. (I'd argue that most people are on hero journeys at most times). But I routinely pick up books with different structures. They don't satisfy the same itch, but they intrigue me in different ways and are successful. Just started The Book Thief and the beginning is almost poetic. I'm curious if it will develop into a hero journey.
    – DPT
    Nov 20 '17 at 16:47
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Nearly all successful stories fall into the three act structure; the first act is the setup and definition of a problem or pivotal change in the characters life. In the first Harry Potter novel, ACT I consists of Harry turning eleven, Hagrid coming to his house at that moment to inform him he is going to Hogwarts, and Act I ends when Harry boards the magical train (chapter six; on page 116 of 584 in my copy, 19.86% of the way through) and enters another magical world.

This event was set up by Harry turning eleven, on page 56, the end of chapter 3 (9.6% of the way through, and almost precisely halfway through the first act). This is the life changing event for Harry, something happens to him that will change everything, even though he doesn't realize this on page 56.

In your story, you have (as DPT said) about 20% of the length to set up the story and central conflict. Your character's moment should begin at 10%, and probably peak around 15%, and then wind down the consequences by 20%, when the reader realizes that act will be "defining his continued existence".

The first 10% is to get the reader accustomed to how the character acts and thinks before the instigating event. Then 5% to progress to "the great victory at great cost", then 5% to deal with the consequences of "the great cost", the perceptions of fame and/or villainy, the emotional reactions of the MC.

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You can integrate your character pivot at any point in the story that you want. That moment when victory is achieved and the cost is revealed is a beat -- a point where the plot changes.

That means you can include it in any scene in your story, at any point in your story. If it is believable, then it changes how people react to your story, and can be an element to make your m/c more interesting by being more sympathetic. Everyone can relate to winning something only to realize you lost. Win an argument with someone you love, and break their heart. Defeat an existential evil only to have your significant other cheat on you because you were not paying enough attention to them.

If you put it in the end, your story might be a tragedy -- the m/c confronts and tries to come to terms with what happened.

If it happened before your story started, then your story could be one of redemption -- as the m/c comes to terms with the results of his actions and works to make amends.

In the classic hero's journey, this could be at the end first act -- the m/c has to pick themselves up off the ground and accept what happened and keeps moving forward -- the its not how hard a hit you can take, its how hard a hit can you take and still get back up.

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