D for Devastation

Your character is there, surrounded only by enemies; they’re ready to destroy him physically or metaphorically (sometimes both). Sometimes the hero will survive; some other times, it’s his defeat that makes him great. Think about the end of 300, with the Spartans ready to die for their freedom, 300 against thousands of soldiers.

Their glorious death makes them heroes, as well as Sir William Wallace, in braveheart (if you didn’t watch the movie, please do so). I remember that when I was reading The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, I was in a sort of panic, thinking about what would happen to the characters.

He mastered character creation so well that you feel what the characters feel and you won’t let anyone leave the scene. I read that book many times, in English, Italian and Spanish, and I thought I was reading it for the first time.

So, this last D is the one that lets you think about the worst. Your character is on one side of the battleground, and the opponent is laughing at him and ready to finish him; there isn’t no chance. A miracle? Maybe, but has to be a believable one.

Devastation.

If an angel comes from the sky and saves him, that’s when you say, “oh, come on, really?”. How comes it was never a single scene with an angel and now this creature arrives just in time? Why it didn’t come before, then? Why waiting the last scene to intervene if it was such a great and powerful creature?

Now, you have the four Ds in your hands, you know how to make the distance between the character and the primary desire, you know how to make it impossible and even beat your character so severely that everyone will think it’s the end (and a bad one).

Not all stories have to conclude with a good ending, so play it well; sometimes, it’s a good ending when your character dies as a real hero; other times, it’s a good ending when he triumphs in the last scene.

Not just that, use the 4 Ds when you’re writing the single scenes. Ask yourself:

  1. What is the objective of the character in this scene, the main desire?
  2. How to make this objective difficult?
  3. How to make this desire impossible?
  4. The desire seems gone, out of reach, but then… is it, really?

Let’s take Forrest Gump. He’s in love with Jenny Curran, from schooldays until the movie’s end. At the end of the film, there’s a perfect example of the 4 Ds; Forrest is rich and bored in his big mansion and hopes of seeing Jenny again. Sometimes he’s sure she’s coming, walking through his garden, but then it’s just an illusion, a ghost, a mirage. One day, he’s gardening when he sees Jenny coming again toward him. He thinks she’s again a ghost, but this time she’s real and she came for him.

  1. He loves Jenny so much that he only wants to see her again.
  2. He is in pain and he starts being delusional.
  3. We see jenny again walking through his garden, but we think it’s just a vision. He’s irremediably crazy.
  4. We were wrong, she’s there, coming back for him, finally reunited with Forrest and he’s finally happy.

All of these actions happened in no more than 2 minutes, but it’s one of the movie’s best scenes because of its pathos.

We finished with the 4 Ds! We’ll focus more on desires and objectives next time. Ready? Keep reading!

D for denial

What is that new D?

We had to deal with two Ds before, one for desire and one for distance. The desire lets us know the character’s wishes and what lies underneath. A desire is something bigger than a simple “oh, I wish to arrive on time.” For instance, the small Neil wants to go to the Moon; he’s always watching that piece of rock fluctuating in the sky and promises himself to do it. He needs to enter a prestigious university to study hard; his wishes are many, but his desire is something else. Ultimately, he will succeed in being Neil Armstrong and having his feet walking on the Moon itself. As we saw, many things happened, but he was driven by a long-shot desire.

Denial, the third D.

Now, the Moon is far, far away from us and it seems impossible to reach, so we don’t only add small steps but some (as my wife would say) pepper to it. Yes, as when you’re cooking, and you decide that following the recipe, your meal would end up bland, so you choose to add some spices. As a good chef, you must understand how to modify the old-fashioned recipes of writing stories to make one unique and immortal for your readers. Neil wants to go to university, but he loses his father the day before. He’s stopped by a dilemma: stay and help mom and the other brothers and sisters, or leave and have a chance to go to the Moon one day? Well, it’s beginning to be an exciting story, right?

Now, welcome to the third D, which stands for denial. We decided that Neil wanted to go to the Moon and we spiced up and planted small traps along his path, so now we need to take another step in this direction. He won’t go to the Moon, or at least that’s what your reader would have to believe and you need to let them. 

I remember the first time I read about the Milgram experiment, which took place in 1960. It’s a famous experiment where ordinary people were paid to inflict pain on others, to the extent that they would kill the unlucky ones. Only a very believable staff would let people think that, at Yale University, people would ever be allowed to inflict pain on other human beings and maybe even kill them for an experiment. But that’s precisely what happened. I mean, not killing people, but cheating them, letting them think that was possible. And that’s precisely what we need to do with our readers. They need to believe that Neil lost his father, so he won’t be an engineer and go to the Moon (come on, really? The Moon?). Later he should have to decide if he has to stay with his young wife, who is pregnant now, or go to explore the universe. The readers have to think he won’t, that Neil is the kind of man who decides to stay with her no matter what, especially at that moment. 

This D is the final decision, the most decisive, where Neil has to prove himself worthy of us reading his 230 pages story. He won’t go to the Moon but wait for a second. He’s already there. I went a moment to the toilet and bam! He’s there, closing his eyes for the countdown! So he did it in the end, that son of a preacher! What happened right there? Something like his wife coming to him, telling him that she will survive alone, but not thinking that she took this life dream from him. Their son needs to have a happy father, while a frustrated man would be worst than a dead one.

This was the third D. Next will come the last one of these beautiful fatty letters, D for Devastation. Keep always reading!