The Final Battle: Finishing the Inner Journey for your Hero

We’ve been talking the past two weeks about the Black Moment, and the importance of it in our hero’s and heroine’s journey.  Just to reiterate, without the Black Moment, there is no point to the journey of our character, no moment of change.  It’s in the Black Moment that they discover why they’ve gone on this journey.  In a romance, it’s when they lose the one they love, and realize they can’t live without them.  It’s also when they learn they must change in order to get what they want.  (or accomplish the goal they’ve set out to at the beginning of the story). 


Now that our hero has confronted his Black Moment and seen the light, then we’re NEARLY ready to finish our story.  But, we have to know that he’s changed, that the Black Moment and the Epiphany have worked and that our character has truly learned his lesson and changed.


How do we show this?   There are a number of key elements you want to weave into the last section of the book – let’s say the last two – three chapters that will help you prove this. 


First, we want to see that your hero/heroine is truly a NEW MAN.  (By the way, I explain character change in depth in my new advanced writing book,  Deep and Wide, available through the MBT Store.)   It’s the confirmation and presentation of the changed person he/she has become, complete with new skills, new beliefs, and new courage. 


This New Man moment happens right before the finale of the story.  We want to glimpse what our new man looks like.    


A great example is in Independence Day – remember the black moment in the Mother Ship of the aliens, where our heroes can’t disengage and fly away after uploading the virus?  They realize that they have to sacrifice their lives, and that it’s worth it.  (Something that the scientist (Jeff Goldblum) wasn’t ready to do at the beginning of the movie).  Only THEN are they willing to shoot off the rocket, and then race for their lives out of the ship (against all odds).  But first, we see the new men….they sit down in the ship and smoke a cigar together.  This is their new man moment.  It’s brief, but it shows us who we are rooting for.


THEN….you are ready for the finale.  The TEST of the new man through the Final Battle.


The Final Battle is the section where they we test their change.  It’s the cementing that yes, the truth is RIGHT and with it they can win the day. 


The Final Battle (and it’s not a real battle, just a metaphor for the concepts, just so we’re clear) has five parts:  Storming the Castle, Lie, Loss, Truth, Victory


Step One:  Storming the Castle

I like to use the Patriot because it is an actual battle, but like I said, that is the metaphor for the ending section of a story.  See, armed with the Truth, your character will face their last challenge.  In that last challenge, they’ll come face to face with the lie, falter, and then forge ahead in victory.  So, your character must Storm the Castle.  You need to give your hero/heroine something they must do.  A proactive event that will challenge their truth.  Maybe it’s a confrontation, or a declaration or a surrender, or a challenge…whatever it might be.  It has to be something that will test their mettle. 


In the Patriot, Martin’s militia is asked to fight on the line.  It’s not something the militia does (and admittedly, it’s a bit crazy.  Stand there and let the enemy shoot at you?)  But, this is their task, and Martin convinces them.  


In my book Nothing But Trouble,  (the first PJ Sugar book), her black moment is when she is arrested at the end for something she didn’t do.  She wants to run. But, she has learned that maybe God made her with a curious bone and all her crazy skills are a good thing.  So, I have her go to get her nephew from where he is staying and, when she sees the potential mystery solving clue, instead of giving up, she takes a chance, digs deep into her toolkit of skills and saves the day. It’s short, but it confirms that she’s a different person. 


I often figure out how they will Storm the Castle by asking:  What can’t they do at the beginning of the book that they can at the end?  For PJ, it’s keep her commitments.  For Benjamin Martin, it’s fight honorably.


Now that we have the Battle overview, and their Storm the Castle action, now we have to add some conflict.  Because only in conflict do we test/reveal the mettle of a man (or woman!)


The next thing we must do to test our character in the Final Battle is resurrect the Lie.


Step 2:  Resurrection of the LIE.


Your hero has to believe that he will lose the battle.  This is where the lie raises its almost dead head.  We see it again…and is it going to win or is our man truly a new man, armed with the truth, willing to escape/defeat the lie?


In The Patriot, as the battle ensues the line begins to falter and the militia begins to retreat.  Martin’s lie is that wars cannot be fought with honor, and clearly, when the militia begin to retreat, this is proven true.  Again, it’s fast, just a moment, but the lie has started to rise again, and it just might be confirmed. 


PJ Sugar fails in her attempt to subdue the villain, and finds herself in trouble.  She’s NOT amazing, she’s just a mess. (That’s the Lie). 


Right on the heels of the resurrection of the Lie is a glimpse of what they might lose.   


Step 3:  Glimpse of the Loss


With the rising of the LIE, there is also the Loss of the goal.  The realization that the victory could pass out of their reach. 


For example, as the line falters, Martin, meanwhile, has in his sights Tavington – the man who killed both his sons.  He is running forward to kill him when he realizes that his men are fleeing.  So, he has to make a choice – does he go after Tavington or help his men stay in the fight?    


If he goes after Tavington, the lie is true, he’s only ruthless and thirsty for revenge and there is no honor in war.  If he doesn’t, he loses his chance to fight. This is his LOSS. 


For PJ, if she’s killed, the villain will also hurt her nephew, who she’s sworn to protect.  She’ll lose her sister’s love and her mother’s confidence.  She really will be Nothing but Trouble.


Give us a glimpse of the loss…and then follow it quickly with a reminder of the Truth.


Step 4:  Reminder of the Truth.   At the pivotal moment, the hero/heroine has to remember the Truth and what  they’ve learned.  Just like all of us right before we do something we know is wrong, and we hear the voice of Truth that stops us – the Truth stops our hero. 


In The Patriot, in a very metaphorical moment, Benjamin Martin sees the flag on the ground.  Remember the flag represents honor, and it was used in the Truth/Epiphany moment early (see last week’s blogs)  And, because of that reminder, our hero chooses truth, throws down his weapon and grabs the flag.  Then he turns and calls his men back to action – choosing honor over revenge. 


For PJ Sugar, although she’s failed at her first attempt knows that she knows the truth about the mystery and blurts out the plot to the killer.  He accuses her of babbling and pounces on her…but it acts as a diversion so the good guys can burst in.  She’s saved the day with her crazy, everyday skills. 


This Reminder of the Truth is the key to cementing that character change, and leads us to Victory.


Step 5:  The Victory!


Then, of course we must have that Happily Ever After that gives the Hero and Heroine what they want.  In the Patriot, with the troops rallied, Benjamin Martin is free to fight Tavington, having defeated the lie and realizing he can choose honor over the bloodthirsty man he’d been. 


PJ Sugar, having saved the day with her crazy skills, doesn’t have to run from her past anymore.  She a heroine in her town. 




Mapping out the inner journey can be as extensive or as minimal as you want.  I like to define the Steps that I’ve just outlined and let the story and characterization take it from there.


One of the tricks that really helps me is to post the lie and the truth on my computer as I write so I know where I’m going.  Maybe you want to plot each point, and write out a long theological statement for every leg of the journey. That’s fine too — whatever helps you stay on track and ends with your hero at his destination:  The Truth that sets him free.


So, be a Book Therapist and look at your own stories.  Do you have a Final Battle?  Here are the questions to ask:  


What is the Battle?

How will your character Storm the Castle?

The Lie?

The Loss?

The Reminder?

The Victory? 

(Remember, in victory they get that thing they’ve always wanted)


Just a reminder:  If you want a crash course in writing a best-seller, from plotting to characterization to scene building, Chip MacGregor and I have one more Bestselling Fiction Master Seminar in Denver June 18-19.  A great way to learn the foundations of story-crafting, and getting feedback on your story idea.  Go to:


And, if you need help with the Final Battle, head over to the Voices forum – we’re discussing Black Moments and Final Battles!


See you next week when we start discussing the Happily Ever After ending and specifics on how to use the Black Moment and Epiphany in a ROMANCE. 


Heading to Seattle tomorrow to host the Polish (that’s Polish, as in Spit-and-Shine) conference.  We’re going to have some amazingly shiny stories and pitches when we’re done! 


Happy Writing!

Susie May


Set me Free!

The Truth Journey (or Inner Journey, or Spiritual Journey) for your character Part 3


Okay, I’m just going to say it, and I’m using my Mom tone.  The Black Moment is the POINT of your story.  Because without the Black Moment, there is no epiphany and no character change, and if you are writing a romance, it is Absolutely Required. 


If you don’t have a black moment in your story, then you don’t have a story.  Sorry if that hurts…BUT, we’re going to fix it, right? 


Last week, I talked about building the black moment.  Today, let’s revisit that a moment, and talk about how to weave in the lie for effective character change!

Step Five:  The Black Moment


In this step, the lie rears its ugly head, and the hero is caught in the darkness.  This is RIGHT BEFORE the epiphany, and in a great inspirational story, the emotional and plot black moment can be entwined with the spiritual black moment.  This is when, after he’s tried to escape on his own, he realizes he can’t – that the lie is pulling him back in.  So, he drops to his knees and lets the lie cascade over him. 


You know when this is in the Patriot – it’s set up wonderfully in a previous scene, right before Gabriel’s wife dies, when Martin finally tells his son what his fears are:


When I went to war, it changed me.
And I didn’t want that to happen to


Gabriel says in essence, Don’t worry father, you taught me well.  But then his wife is killed, and what happens – -Gabriel turns into a man bent on revenge and ends up getting killed.  Martin is devastated, and he goes back to the belief that, although he’s tried to do things honorably, the sins of his past have caught up to him, in a sort of cosmic way. He has lost his children, his life – and if he can’t fight for revenge, then he’s lost his reason for fighting. 


The spiritual black moment is when the lie seems bigger than life, and inescapable.  


Why do you need this?  Because this is when the TRUTH will come in and set them free.  (That’s the next step and we’ll get to that).


First, how do you use the LIE in the Black Moment? 


Sometimes, I have the Black Moment Event and follow up with a reaction where they realize the impact of that Black Moment Event, and thus see the LIE, which is unescapable.


In a romance, I might put the LIE in after he’s hurt the heroine and they’ve “broken up” (and/or vice versa for the heroine).  Or, I might push it back to the moment when his greatest fears come true and he realizes he’s lost her for good.

A LIE might actually occur BEFORE the black moment event – where his lie CONTRIBUTES to the black moment. 


Or, you could have the BME, then the LIE, THEN have the romantic black moment, as a result of all three.


How to decide when to use the LIE? Look at the rhythm of your story – does the lie cause the Black Moment, or does the Black Moment cause the Lie?  Taking it further and wrapping it into the romance – does the Black Moment cause the Breakup, which results in the Lie?  Or does the Lie cause the Breakup, and thus the Black Moment? 


We’re going to stop for a moment and just think that through –


Let’s take a look at Return to Me:  The lie is that she stole her boyfriend’s wife’s heart and he can’t love her because of it.   Let’s look at the sequence of events:  She feels guilty about the heart (we see that in earlier scenes) so the lie is ever present.  She then sees her thank you letter on his desk.  The lie revives, she runs (her black moment), she confesses to him her pain and he walks away (the romantic black moment and confirmation of the lie) So, the lie leads to the black moment, which leads to the breakup, and the confirmation of the lie.  


For him, he wonders if he can love again.  He loves her…until she leaves him and then he finds out about the heart.  It’s the romantic black moment because he wonders if he really loves Gracie, or if it is something else.  Black Moment Event leads to Lie…and the Romantic Black moment when he walks away.  Then, he realizes he misses her (the epiphany!) and has that moment where he says…I’ll always miss my wife, but I ache for Grace.  (ah!) 


Which leads us to:

Step 6:  The Aha!  The truth that sets them free –


At some point during the black moment, you need to interject some light. It’s wonderful if it is delivered in a metaphorical moment, but it’s also good via another voice of truth –


So, there’s Martin in the Patriot, after Gabriel’s death, and his fellow soldier – a friend, comes in and tries to console him.  He tells him that his losses matter to everyone, and that he has other children to fight for –


LEE says:
Nothing will replace your sons but
if you come with us you can justify
their sacrifice.


And then we have the poignant scene, where the militia and Continental army are leaving…and Martin looks like he’s turning back…and sees Gabriel’s mended flag.  And although it doesn’t have scripture at that moment, we understand that there are some causes worth fighting for, and that he can fight for honor rather than revenge. 


Of course, we’ve just talked about RTM – the truth is delivered through his friend’s reaction to the letter – wow.  And then, through his own words…


Book Therapist Question:  What is the truth that will set YOUR hero free? 


Next week, we’re going to talk about the LAST step in the journey, something I call Storming the Castle.  If you have any questions about the LIES (and the spiritual journey), hop over to Club Book Therapy Voices and join the discussion!


Just a reminder:  If you want a crash course in writing a best-seller, from plotting to characterization to scene building, Chip MacGregor and I have one more Bestselling Fiction Master Seminar in Denver June 18-19.  A great way to learn the foundations of storycrafting, and getting feedback on your story idea.  Go to:


I have a lie, really?

The Truth Journey (or Inner Journey, or Spiritual Journey) for your character Part 2

Yesterday we started our charcter’s spirutal journey by asking:  What lie do they believe?  (by the way, I often use this when chatting with children, or eve myself when confronted with behaviors that might not be healthy…it’s a good exercise!)  Anyway…Armed with the lie, the first thing you want to do on the journey, probably in that first scene is PROVE IT. 

Step Two: Confirmation of the Lie – Proof

            What can you do to convince the hero that his lie is true?  You want to do something at the beginning of the book that will cement him into this lie – of course, it needs to be something that only pushes him deeper in trouble. 


In my current book, Nothing But Trouble, PJ Sugar, my heroine believes that she can do no right – and that God isn’t on her side.  In fact, that she’s a sort of misfit, and that He has no use for her, even though she is saved.  And, in the first part of the book, we really see this as true – her “pastor” boyfriend rejects her, her nephew whom she is supposed to take care of hates her, and when she tries to help a friend in trouble, it only backfires on her.  She is convinced that she is trouble. 


Let’s take another movie – the Patriot.  There’s a great line in the beginning of the movie – I have long feared that the sins of my past would come back to revisit me.   This a great line because it not only tells the lie – that he believes that because of his past, that he’s beyond redemption, but then and he “proves” it throughout the movie – up until even his oldest son is killed.   Set up the lie, and then prove it to the hero/heroine.


Book Therapist Question: Do you have a PROOF moment in the beginning of your story?


So…Step Two of building the Lie Journey:  Proof



Step Three:  The Voice of Truth


In every book, you should have someone who is outside the lie.  Someone who see the truth and can declare it – either directly, or in their actions, or in some sub-texted speech to the hero/heroine.  Going back to the Patriot, his father believes  — because of his past, that being “bloodthirsty” is the only way to win the war, and he and Gabriel, who represents the voice of truth – there can be honor in war – have a discussion about the kind of people they should be recruiting.  His son says, as Martin is melting down the chess pieces of his deceased son’s army men,


If you’re here only for revenge,
you’re doing a disservice to Thomas
as well as yourself.


He implants the idea that they are there for a higher purpose.  It’s not about being bloodthirsty, but being men of honor.  Martin struggles to see the difference…because he wasn’t a man of honor before…and isn’t sure he can be one now. 


Book Therapist Question:  Do you have any voices of truth?  Look through your cast – who could deliver truth to your hero/heroine? 


So…Step Three: Voice of Truth


Step Four:  The realization of the Lie and the testing of the truth   


At some point, your hero has to see that he’s been living in the lie, and that he CAN change.  He has to see there is another way – if only he can embrace the truth.  He might even try it –


For example, again, going back to the Patriot, there is moment where Martin’s band attacks a redcoat caravan.  There are a number of soldier who want to surrender, but Marin’s band kills them.  Gabriel, the Voice of Truth, is horrified, and seeing his horror, Martin decides to try it his way – he declares that they will give mercy to all the other captured soldiers in the future.  And then, he sort of “tests the water” by saving the two Great Danes.  Later on, those Great Danes come to love Martin and are loyal to him – a sort of metaphorical truth that when he does right, he will earn other’s esteem and be the man he wants to be. 



Book Therapist Question: Look at your plot – right around the beginning of Act two, is when your hero realizes the lie.  Do you have this moment? 


So – Step Four – give them a realization and an attempt to test the truth


Tomorrow, we’re going to revisit the Black Moment and talk about how to weave the lie in for maximum Black Moment effect! 


We’re talking about The Black Moment (as well as the spiritual journey) on Club Book Therapy Voices – join the discussion! Every Voice Counts!


Just a reminder:  If you want a crash course in writing a best-seller, from plotting to characterization to scene building, Chip MacGregor and I have one more Bestselling Fiction Master Seminar in Denver June 18-19.  A great way to learn the foundations of storycrafting, and getting feedback on your story idea.  Go to:




What Lie do you believe?

The Truth Journey (or Inner Journey, or Spiritual Journey) for your character Part 1


I recently read the Kite Runner.  GREAT story.  Loved the writing.  And, although it was a secular book, it still contained themes of redemption, forgiveness, grace….everything that makes a book resonant…however, I couldn’t help but think, what if he’d added the spiritual perspective — the understanding that God had given him a second chance. 


As a reader, I don’t want the spiritual plot to be so thick that it strangles me – and as a writer, I don’t want to strangle my reader.  I want the story to intrigue, to draw my reader deeper, to allow them to look at the issues and wrestle with them without feeling as though they are told what to believe and think.  I want a journey for my character that feels unique, and yet personal – both to the character, and ultimately for the reader.


How do we do this? 


Every story has a character on an inner journey – that’s actually the point of the journey – to teach your hero and heroine some truth that will change their lives.  Even for general market books, a character is on this journey – they just don’t point to the source of truth. 


So, whether you are writing a Gen Market or a CBA book, you need to know how to develop that “spiritual “ element.


Let’s start, first, with some of the “truths” we’ve seen character’s learn –

What’s the truth in Return to Me?  That our hero CAN love again. (remember the line about how his wife’s heart fit perfectly into his new love’s chest – that piece that says…she was designed for him to love her).  For her, that she can be free to love this man, that she didn’t “steal” the heart, or him.


How about the Princess Bride:  True Love wins the day!

How about the Hunt for Red October (you know I had to bring this up!)  That peace is worth risking a war.  (or perhaps, winning is worth risking a war?) 



As you’re writing your book, you might start out with a truth you want to reveal.  Or, you might start out on the journey, not sure where you’re going to end up.  Either way, you need a game plan on how you are going to get there. 


My hubby and I love to travel.  We’ve gone everywhere – well, not South America, but Europe and Asia and Alaska….and we’ve discovered that we travel in different ways.  I like a map.  And a destination.  And the knowledge that I get to eat something normal on the way.  He likes to set out and see where the road takes him. The difference isn’t our destinations – eventually we get where we want to go.  It’s the HOW. 


How are you going to move your hero along on his spiritual journey?


Let’s start with a roadmap:


Stop 1 – Spiritual Darkness –    The Lie they believe



In plotting my stories, you know I often start with a story question – and the same thing goes for the spiritual thread.  Whether is it a story about a man fighting his own demons of sin (Dekker: Three), or a woman facing her husband’s career as a pastor (Rivers: Shofar Blew), your character will begin in a place of spiritual unrest.  Defining that for the reader, through metaphor, or dialogue or situation will give you a place to start from, spiritually.


I don’t want to drive you crazy by continueally reiterating this concept, but knowing your hero’s dark past will he pyou understand their lie….


Maybe we should veer for one second and talk about the lie…


Does my hero HAVE to believe in a lie?  


We get this question sometimes when we’re working with clients in a Book Therapy session.  Clients have done so much work creating the character, trying to figure out who he is, and it just seems like another mindless question. 


It’s not.  In fact, I build my characters on just a few key questions, the most important ones that comprise our lives.   The Lie They Believe is one of the essential questions that threads throughout the entire book.  Without the lie, you don’t know what the truth is you’re aiming for.  Without the lie, you don’t know how he/she builds their lives, what their view on the world is, even their everyday choices. 


If you’ve read my book Happily Ever After, you know about Joe, my hero, whose dark past event was that his father left his family after they had a child with special needs.  Joe’s lie is that he is just like his father, and that a child will special needs will cause him to abandon his own family. This life/fear keeps him out of relationships.  Of course the truth is that he is NOT his father, and that with God all things are possible.  (if this was a Gen market book, I might just say…Joe is not his father, and have someone point this out to him).  But, this lie has dictated how he lives his life. 


We now have a picture of our hero, and can determine his everyday choices, and maybe even his mannerisms and behavior. 


So, again, you start by going to that dark moment in their past and ask:  What lie do you believe from that dark moment?


The lie will lead you to the most important question in the interview: What holds them back from a relationship with God?  Try and boil it down to one sentence.


Again, in Happily Ever After, my heroine, Mona needed to trust God and forgive herself (accept God’s forgiveness).  My hero, Joe needed to forgive his father. 


Ie, in Francine River’s book, Redeeming Love – Angel needed to accept God’s unconditional love and forgiveness, and then see Hosea as God’s instrument to love her. 


So….Stop One: What Lie do you believe?


We’re talking about the Black Moment – asking questions and listing our favorite on Club Book Therapy Voices – join the discussion! Every Voice counts!


Tomorrow…we continue our spiritual journey!


Just a reminder:  we still have openings in the POLISH conference. Go to  Or, if you want a crash course in writing a best-seller, from plotting to characterization to scene building, Chip MacGregor and I have one more Bestselling Fiction Master Seminar in June, in Denver.  A great way to learn the foundations of storycrafting, and getting feedback on your story idea.  Go to: