Category Archives: inciting event

Reversal of Fortune Can Be a Good Thing

When it can’t get any worse for your Main Character, it does.

Cynthia Whitecomb

If the story itself is the “why” of your Main Character’s super objective in any given story, then the plot is the “how”; the events and actions the Main Character takes to pursue that objective.  Simple enough.

In the last session of Plotting the Plotted Plot we discussed how the Main Character causes these events, or is changed by them (or a combination of both).  Everything that happens in a story is predicated by what motivates the Main Character; what they want, need, and/or desire in pursuit of their objective.

As we’ve discussed, the reader or audience are looking for a “representation of life” when they pick up a book, or attend a movie or play.  They expect to identify with or relate to the Main Character.  This is the emotional connection between the audience and the story.

Now, take a look at your own life a moment.  I suspect that your life has not be a continual and steady movement toward your own needs/wants/desires.  There have been times when it has not worked out the way you wanted on your journey toward your own goals.  Why should it be any different for the Main Character in your story?  These times of challenge, conflict, or reversals of fortune represent times of growth.  It is the same for your Main Character.  A plot progression with no conflict, no opportunity for change, or no reversal is a story offering very little in the way of any kind of emotional connection with the reader/audience.  In the alternative, a life, or a story that is nothing but a constant reversal of fortunes can be pretty depressing.  It could be a legitimate endeavor to create a story in this vein, but I believe the writer would need to make answering the question of “why” a central part of the telling.

The Reversal in a story can be defined as: “A change in something, so that it becomes the opposite of what it was.”

So, how and when is it a good idea to use this concept of the Plot Reversal?

Typically, the initiating action or inciting event of a story is a standard, and common place for a Reversal.  In the mythic hero structure, the “Call” is a kind of Reversal.  The Hero is living his/her life and suddenly the gods present the “Call” and nothing will ever be the same; and, the Journey begins.  In the middle of a story; at the beginning of the Second Act, is another common place to utilize the idea of the Reversal.  The Hero/Main Character has worked out what he needs to get to his/her goal, and…wham, a new problem arises and the story goes in a different direction.  And, finally toward the end of the story, just as we are reaching the climax is another place one commonly finds use of the Reversal.  The Hero/Main Character is just about to lower the boom on the villain and…nope, one more problem to work out.  Now, these examples of the use of the Reversal are rather common to certain kinds of genre stories; and, on their face, are not particularly original.  Nevertheless, the basic idea of the Reversal is extremely helpful in sussing out the cause and effect through-line of a plot, in even the most subtle of novel forms.