This week as we continue our journey through story structure, we are tackling the second pivot point of the novel with the New Info Phase—which is often referred to as the Dark Night of the Soul! 😱
The first plot turning was during the Inciting Incident. This is why it is so important that the mini-short story of the Intro DOESN’T have the result that is anticipated. It must cast the character forward into the unknown and drag the reader along with her/him.
After that, the character moves into the Reaction Phase, which is the very poor attempt of the main character to adapt to the changed circumstances of her/his life. Not much positive happens in this phase, unless you count managing to survive as a plus! During it, there are usually new friends, helpers, and allies who appear. They keep the character from stumbling too far into the abyss. But the overall tone is one of struggle and barely scraping by.
The Dark Night of the Soul
As I hinted at above, this phase really has two faces. It is also called the New Info phase in the Seven Steps of Story Structure, but how can I not use “The Dark Night of the Soul” as a dramatic title to introduce you to it? 🤣
The names hint at what this important moment in the story is about—something dramatic occurs. Specifically, news that is so earth shattering or a tragedy so soul shaking sends the main character in a new direction. It is that simple… well, nothing in writing is ever that simple. This moment ties in a lot with character arcs as well as the plot. And, just as importantly…
IT CANNOT GO ON TOO LONG!
The reaction phase is important, but it is exhausting. You don’t want your main character to become the “victim” who can never succeed without tons of mentors and guides. How boring! Plus, it doesn’t fulfill the character arc!
All the events during the reaction phase are designed to thwart the main character from getting an easy win of their outer motivation. Instead, life keeps batting them down until they realize their true purpose and meaning of their hidden inner motivation.
And this turning point, the 4th phase of the Seven Steps of Story Structure, is the revelation of the inner motivation and the enlightment of the main character to how foolish and lost they have acted since the inciting incident, both in blindly pursuing the outer motivation AND in just wanting to go back to whatever it is they are yearning for from their life prior to the inciting incident (security, family, friends, recognition, etc).
But because it is a turning point, the moment doesn’t go on too long. Instead, it is something incredibly impactful that leaves the main character reeling, whether because it is a startling revelation or the loss of someone dear. This shouldn’t take chapters to accomplish but come swiftly and overwhelming in one chapter.
New Info or Dark Night of the Soul?
Now, how the revelation comes is the heart of what type of phase this is, and a bit about what type of story you are writing.
If you are writing noblebright, this fourth step often comes as New Info. It may be exciting! It might be a bucket of cold water in the face as a wake-up call. In other words, it runs from pieces of the puzzle clicking to a big moment or even a stumbling block that, when recognized, begins the next part of the journey.
If you are writing something a bit darker or are dealing with deeper subject matter (or a really stubborn character that will need a BIG pivot to change), this stage is often called the Dark Night of the Soul and is brought about by terrible, tragic, and stupid loss. The character’s best friend or mentor on the journey dies from either an ill conceived action (like not listening to good advice) or as a sacrifice to save the main character. And it HURTS.
The character breaks down, recognizes their demons, their shallow pursuits, and vows to change. They might not have full awareness of the inner motivation, but they are put on the right path to recognizing it.
You have to pick which revelation fits your story, the plot, its tone, and is enough to spur the main character forward with a plan toward the newly understood inner motivation. What does that phase look like? That is the Planning Phase and we’ll look at next.
Back to Our Example
For now, let’s jump back to our goat girl. This story is feeling a bit YA to me. That doesn’t preclude death or other deep moments (look at Harry Potter!) BUT, I’m leaning toward a New Info sort of discovery instead of a Dark Night of the Soul Moment. Plus, I think it should be something not quite as obvious as untutored kids conjuring something in the woods and causing chaos. The goal is to tie this turning point with the larger arc of the story as well as propelling the character forward to become a new person and complete their arc.
So instead of childish shenanigans, the arch-mage from the beginning of the story comes to the island to check on the students, especially the main character, whose abilities intrigues him. Along with him comes his new protege, the girl’s arch-nemesis from her previous school.
At first, the main character is incredibly jealous, seeing her arch-nemesis standing serenely behind this master mage. But our heroine’s new friend points out the arch-nemesis looks almost zombie like. The arch-mage’s new protege doesn’t actually recognize her old “friend,” nor remember anything about life in the town.
When the arch-mage’s attention lands squarely on the main character, the teacher who had remained in the background protects her. For once, our intrepid main character, sensing something amiss, accepts the teacher’s help to appear unskilled and unruly—something she never would have done in the past.
This one chapter, because this is all that the New Info or Dark Night of the Soul should encompass, ends with the teacher joining the band of renegade students to help hide their magic as well as to train them, so they don’t become the mindless zombies that exist simply to feed their power to the arch-mage, who grows stronger with each apprentice claimed and sucked dry.
And that is it for this short but impactful turning point of the novel!
For more tips on plotting, check out our Plot Development Book! Learn not only how to plot, but how to create characters, align them with character arcs, and tie the character’s journey with your plot to create tension filled, character-driven fiction!