Extreme Book Makeover: Don’t forget the Hurrah Ending!

I love sports movies. They’re so simply constructed – a down-and-out team (for some reason – they’ve lost their coach, or their team is divided, or their star players are taken out, or they’ve been named the underdogs), faces unbeatable odds (usually the reigning champions), fights through their fears and doubts, and in the last play, triumphs in some amazing way.

If you’re a Patriots fan, you’re pumping your fist right now. Sorry, Seahawks friends. But, this year we had a fantastic super bowl.

Last year, not so much. I’m not going to dig up old wounds, but the lights going out ended up being the most exciting part of the game. Why? Because. . .we had no triumphant ending. No white-knuckle, breath-holding, I didn’t-see-that-coming finish.

No Hurrah Ending

The Hurrah Ending is what we’re waiting for in a great sporting event…and in a great story. We trek through every chapter, suffering with the character, waiting for the finish that will make it all worthwhile.

And when we don’t get it, we walk away, unsatisfied.

unbrokenI watched Unbroken this weekend. It’s the epic, unbelievable story of survival by Louis Zamperini in World War two, through plane crash, being lost at sea, then two years in a Japanese prison camp. I loved the book. I devoured it because the unbelievable events kept me at the edge of my seat.  I suffered with Louis Zamperini with each turn of the page.

And when he returned home, despite the name of the movie. . .he was broken. Yes, he survived, but, to be expected, he took the war home with him and it began to haunt him.

And, although relieved he’d survived, I felt as broken as he did. He had lived. . .but he hadn’t triumphed.

Until. . .until the last twenty pages when suddenly everything changed. Desperate, suffering from serious PTSD, and on the brink of losing everything, Louis gave into his wife’s request to attend a Billy Graham crusade.

And, that night, when he went forward to receive and give forgiveness, he went from wounded to whole. From survivor to significant.

The war was over.

Knowing this, I watched the movie, waiting for the triumph. But the movie ended with Louis returning home to his family. As if his survival was enough. Granted, that’s astoundingly inspirational. But it’s not enough to survive on the outside. To simply return home.  We needed triumph over the darkness inside.

Thankfully, there is more to the Louis Zamperini story than what we got in the movie. The book tells us how he overcame on the inside – how he returned to Japan and forgave his captors, his abusers.

They left that out of the movie, telling it in the epilogue lines.

The huzzah ending became a footnote.

Imagine with me, the power of the story if they told the last twenty pages. What if they showed his drinking, his anger, his nightmares. Showed his BLACK MOMENT. . .his greatest fear, that the words of his brother, Pete (if you can take it, you can make it), weren’t true. That after surviving such atrocities he DIDN’T make it, but rather let it destroy what was left of his life? What if, in that moment, he believed the lie (said in the beginning of the movie) that he was nothing?

Then, what if they showed him crawling to the altar, clinging to God, realizing that God was in his suffering, and has a purpose for his life. What if they then showed his life transformed? What if the final shot was not in the footnotes, but in the body of the movie when he returns to Japan, sees the guards who hurt him, has a moment of flashback where he remembers the beatings, then reaches out to embrace them?

That’s a movie that is added to our “must-see-every-year” list. As it is, we enjoyed the DVD extra documentary, “the Real Louis Zamperini” more than the movie because it gave us the hurrah ending we’d waited for.

Great filmmaking. Moving. But if you want to create a powerful story, we need the hurrah ending to make us rise off the sofa and cheer.

Let’s take it apart just a bit here. The Hurrah Ending consists of 5 parts:

Black Moment Event (the realization of your character’s Greatest Fear)


Black Moment EFFECT (the inner black moment, the sense that the lie feels real.)


Epiphany (The Truth that sets him free)


Overhaul/New Man (he steps into his destiny and becomes a new person)


Final Battle (the thing (action) he can do at the end that he can’t at the beginning)


Does your book have a Hurrah Ending? If not, then it’s not finished.


Go ahead, fix it. We’ll just sit here waiting for that last, epic play of the game.


Go! Write something Brilliant!


smw sig without background









Quick Skills: The Final Battle Breakdown and Flow Chart!

How do you create a triumphant ending?  We touched on the why yesterday in “conversations” but today I wanted to put tools to the theory.

Just as a reminder:  the point of the Final Battle is to convince the reader (and the character) that true character change has taken place by putting it to the test.  You are waging an “internal battle” using external elements.

I like to use the movie The Patriot because it is an actual battle, but it also clearly illustrates the internal/external final battle of a story.  The idea is: armed with the TRUTH, which has caused their epiphany, your character will face their last challenge, that thing they couldn’t do at the beginning of the story that they can no do (or are willing to face) at the end.  In this last challenge, they’ll come face to face with the lie (or their inner flaws that have kept them from change), falter, embrace the truth/epiphany and then forge ahead in victory.

If you’re familiar with The Patriot (and if not, I’d suggest watching it – or at least just this part. 😉 ) Benjamin Martin’s militia is asked to fight on the line, a.k.a. fight honorably. They rise to the challenge, but, as the battle ensues, they falter and begin to retreat.  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?

See, Martin has always believed that a man can’t fight honorably in war. His backstory/dark moment is that he committed a terrible crime as a youth fighting the French-Indian war, and he fears letting rage and revenge master him (something that happened early in the movie, and has taken the life of his two sons).  He’s had his epiphany – that he can fight for honor – but now…in this moment, he has a choice.

Can he stay the course, fight with honor, or will he give into revenge?

Martin sees his chance and nearly takes it…until he sees an American flag on the ground. In a very metaphorical moment, Martin throws down his weapon and grabs the flag.  Then he turns and calls his men back to action – choosing honor over revenge.

Of course, then, he is free to fight Tavington, having defeated the lie and realizing he can choose honor over the bloodthirsty man he’d been.  But let’s break that sequence down:

Step One:  Storm the Castle. What is that final thing your character needs to do to prove that he/she has changed?

Step Two:  Falter, or be attacked by the Lie.  How can their fears or flaws, their dark moment from their backstory rise up to make them falter?

Step Three:  Hold onto the Truth! How can they be reminded of the truth or epiphany?

Step Four:  Seize the Day – Victory!  How do they complete their journey by showing they have  confronted the lie, and chosen truth? How can they win?

Here’s a Visual Chart of the Triumphant ending:




Mapping out the spiritual 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 sequence of the Final Battle on my computer as I write so I know where I’m going.

It keeps me motivated that yes…there is a triumphant ending!

QUICK SKILLS:  Plot out your final battle early in your story so you know how you’ll build your triumphant ending!

Have a great writing week! Susie May

4 MORE DAYS TO ENTER THE FRASIER CONTEST!  (http://frasier.mybooktherapy.com)

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling  Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for!  Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

P.P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class.  For more info, check out:  www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team/.  Hope to see you at practice!


Quick Skills: Black Moment Construction

The Black Moment in your novel is the most important part of your novel.

I just had to say that because I see so many manuscripts that pull their punches on the Black Moment.  Authors have fallen in love with their characters and they just don’t want to hurt them.  But creating a powerful Black Moment is what both the character and the reader need to convince them they must change.

So, how do you create a powerful Black Moment?

First…let’s just take a look at the Black Moment Flow Chart:

Dark Moment of the Past (Greatest Fear + Lie) = Black Moment Event = Black Moment Effect = Epiphany = Character Change.

Again, how do we find the Black Moment?  We go into our character’s backstory and find a DARK MOMENT in their past that has shaped them, ask them to tell us about it (in a journal entry, so we can use it later), and then pull out from it the Greatest Fear and the Lie (Black Moment flow chart).   The Greatest Fear is the EVENT you will recreate in some form, and the LIE is what you will make your character believe is True, and inescapable as an EFFECT of the Black Moment.

The result of this is the Truth setting your character free, (finally!) and then a Character Change finale where your character does something at the end they can’t at the beginning.

Now that we have that flow nailed down, let’s touch briefly on how to create a powerful Black Moment (Event and Effect!).

1. Examine their Greatest Fear to find the acute pressure point.

Often, an event like a parent dying isn’t the Darkest Moment. It’s the moment, two months later, at the Father Daughter dance when our heroine doesn’t have a date that this sinks in.  Go to that moment and ask your character…why is this your darkest moment?  Maybe it’s because he always asked her to dance, and she felt silly, so she turned him down.  Or that she spent all year waiting for this dance, and now she had no one.  What does this moment tell her about life, herself, God?

Obviously, when you recreate the Greatest Fear, you can’t recreate the actual event. But you could create the pain of that event.  Regret.  Abandonment.  Anger?   The key is to create a Black Moment Event that produces the same emotions, the same conclusion.  The same LIE.

Think outside the box – turn it over, and take a good look.  It’s the not-so-obvious moments that are the most profound.

2. Build that fear in from page one.  (Hence why you need to know what it is before you start the novel).  You should slowly be pushing your character to confront this fear (even if they don’t know it), with every turn of the page.

You know from the first scene that Frodo fears succumbing to the ring, or worse, having his failure destroy the shire.  You know that Bourne fears he’ll never be more than an assassin.  You know that Richard Kimball fears letting his wife’s killer go free.  All these fears are voiced or shown in the early acts of the movie.  Give us a hint of that fear, and the tension will build as we draw near it.

3. Make the Black Moment Unexpected yet Plausible.  Whatever Black Moment you choose, it must be something that could happen. I watched the latest Indiana Jones movie again this weekend (The Crystal Skull).  And, even though I don’t love it as much  (although Shai LeBeouf is a great addition) the black moment does work.  No, I didn’t like the crystal skulls coming to life to suck out people’s brains through their eyeballs, and then vanish on a spaceship, it was pretty classic Indiana Jones.  After all, in previous movies, the Ark came alive and punched out people’s souls, and then there was the melting man who “chose poorly” in the Last Crusade.  So, even though I didn’t like the premise the screenwriters DID build up enough plausibility for it to happen.  And, let’s admit it – it was sort of unexpected (and creepy!)  So, you can get away with crazy out of this world black moments if you build up the plausibility.

4. The Black Moment should be strong enough to bring them to their knees and re-evaluate everything they believe in.  This will lead them to the Healing Epiphany. The hero must look back to his mistakes, and see what he did wrong.  And only then will he come to some truth that will open a new door to a new future.  In other words, deal with them on an emotional spiritual, even VALUES level to make them re-evaluate everything they believe in.  One of my favorite movies is Planes, Trains and Automobiles.  I always cry during the epiphany where Steve Martin realizes that John Candy, his annoying travel partner has lied to him about his life and has no place to go.  All Steve Martin’s annoyance is put aside by his gratefulness that he has a family to return home to.  His perspective is just in time for the holidays.

Makes sure your Black Moment rends their heart, and their epiphany heals it.

Quick Skills:  Construct your Black Moment Ending before you write the first word of your WIP so you understand how to increase the tension on every page of your novel.

Happy Writing!

Susie May

11 more days to enter the MBT Frasier Contest!  http://frasier.mybooktherapy.com!

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling
Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for!  Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

P.P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class.  For more info, check out:  www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team/.  Hope to see you at practice!


Conversations: Finding the Black Moment and Epiphany

“Are you ready to finish your book?”

Sally laughed as she sat down at the table in the corner.  “I just started and already you want me to  finish it?”

“I’m not asking you to write the end of the book, I just wanted to talk to you today about how knowing the black moment, and the ending actually gives power to your first act. Think of Act 1 and Act 3 as the “bookends” of your novel. They are the before and after pictures of your novel.  Even if they begin in a happy place, there is still something that will cause your hero to become a better person through the book and they’ll with that lesson learned.

“They learn that lesson by experiencing the Black Moment, having their Epiphany and then changing for what we call “the final battle.”  They show they’ve changed by doing something at the beginning they can’t at the end.

“If you don’t know what this Black Moment will be, then you don’t know what you’re aiming for, nor how to set up the fear that it might happen.

“Let’s go back to the conversation we had about Dark Moment plotting.  Remember, we examined an event from your character’s past and pulled out the greatest fear and the lie they believe. These are the two things we’ll use to craft the Black Moment.

Crafting the Black Moment is all about recreating the Greatest Fear in the past in some way so that your character can take another look at it, and this time, find a different answer, one that will change their life for the better.

“Let’s say that your character’s greatest fear is losing someone they love.  I saw Frequency recently, an older movie that I love.  The hero lost his father as a child, and he’s a mess today, in a broken relationship with his wife, dark, broody and miserable.  Through a miraculous anomaly he’s able to talk to his father in the past through a radio.  He warns him of his upcoming death and saves his life…in the past. Suddenly, the son has all these memories of a wonderful childhood…until he wakes up the next day and finds his mother has died instead. Now, he has to talk to his father in the past to discover why his mother died in the past…and stop it.

“His greatest fear happens when both his parent’s lives are threatened, and the bad guy arrives in the present to kill him, too.

“The thing is, our hero has never been able to stay committed to someone, to care about them, and the lie he believes is that he’ll never be like his father, the hero (we see this because he becomes a cop, not a firefighter).

“In a convoluted storyline that works, our hero from the present saves his father from the past, who then saves his son from the present. (does that make sense?)  In short, everyone lives.  And the son realizes he is a hero.  And, in the final scene, we see him with his wife, a son and celebrating family.

This is the magic of the Black Moment/Epiphany in a story.  It changes your character.  So, before you begin your story, you must know how your character will change…so you can show him the opposite way in the beginning.  If will have a good relationship with his daughter at the end, show them at odds in the beginning.  If he fears losing his wife to another man…show that fear in the beginning (and make it come true in some way).

A story is incomplete without a Black Moment/Epiphany.  And, if you don’t know where you’re going, then it’s like setting out to sea without a destination.  You don’t know how to pack, aside from a swimsuit.”  I winked.

Sally was nodding, drawing a big black dot on her paper.

“Let me ask you this. Have you written the synopsis yet?”

“No, I thought I’d wait until I actually did finish the story.”

“Write it now.  You’ve gotten a little ways into the story, you know your characters.  Now it’s time to sit down and tell yourself the story.  You’ll see all the bumps and holes…and you can’t help but run right into the Black Moment, or at least the place for it.  Having a Black Moment destination also keeps you from wandering around in the middle of the book.  Everything that happens in the Second Act leads to the impact of the Black Moment, which usually happens at the end of the Second Act, beginning of the Third.”

“So, my assignment is to come up with a Black Moment, an Epiphany and then tell myself the story?”

“Yes.  Make it as long and bumpy as you need to, for now.  When you submit it with your proposal, it will be around three pages, single spaced (or five pages double spaced).  But this way, you’ll know the end.”

Sally gathered up her notebook.  “I think this is my Black Moment,” she said, smiling.

“You can do it, oh Padewan,” I said, and smiled back.

Truth:  All novels should have a Black Moment/Epiphany to being a character to the point of change.

Dare:  Tell yourself the story by writing the synopsis and you’ll discover if you have all the pieces…and if your Black Moment is truly black. 

Happy Writing!

Susie May

Remember:  Only 12 days left to submit to the Frasier Contest!  Http://frasier.mybooktherapy.com!

P.S. By the way, if you sign up for the daily Flashblog reminder in your email box, you receive the 5 Elements of a Best-Selling
Novel.  A quick class on those foundational elements ever editor is looking for!  Sign up at: http://forms.aweber.com/form/35/866611135.htm

P.P.S.  As you might already know, MBT is now offering an advanced membership with access to our full library, advanced teaching through webinars and video talk shows and a monthly advanced class.  For more info, check out:  www.mybooktherapy.com/join-the-team/.  Hope to see you at practice!