The Night is Darkest Just Before The Dawn

I love it when writing lessons also work in real life.

Have you ever noticed how  discouragement kicks in right before an amazing accomplishment? This is a very powerful writing tool, because almost everybody can relate to it. It makes an emotional connection between the reader and your character(s). Here’s a few examples from movies and TV shows you’ve hopefully seen before. Warning, there may be a few spoilers here:

Voldemort get a wand so powerful that he is unbeatable. Oh, and Harry Potter  (ummm… spoiler alert) DIES!

Aang realizes that in order to save the world he will need to kill the Fire Lord, who is about to obtain an unstoppable source of power. Aang can’t bring himself to kill anybody.

Star Wars had this in each of the three original movies. In the first one, Luke’s mentor bites the dust. In the second one, Luke’s father cuts off his hand during a Father/Son bonding moment. In the third one, Darth Vader stands by and watches while the Emperor laughs hysterically and electrocutes Luke.  Meanwhile, the Rebel Forces are being pulled into a trap and the Death Star is fully operational and taking out the force’s ships.

Kahn kills Spock. Or was it Kirk? Either way, a major character croaks, and there’s a good chance it will lead for a very unsatisfying sequel.

Frodo is overcome by the power of the ring, and he claims the ring for himself.

Rudy Ruettiger gets word he can’t play in the last game of the season. What a waste of four years!

Jar Jar lives. (Actually, bad example, this never did get resolved to my satisfaction)

I love it when I’m involved in a story and think, “Wait, how the heck are they going to pull this off?” They’ll hit rock bottom, but the character overcomes his own obstacle and pulls it off anyway.

I bet you thought of even more examples as you read the list above. If your character doesn’t hit the lowest point of their life right before the climax, I’d suggest taking a closer look at your story.

A caveat: Avoid Deus ex Machina (where the plot is resolved by divine intervention). As much as I loved the last Star Trek movie, a lot of people were upset over the Deus ex Machina of bringing people back to life.  I mean, they found a convenient way to reverse death, for crying out loud! Can you imagine the implications?

In the above examples, the characters made a last minute decision to push on in order to win the day. I’ll expound on one example of them: Rudy–one of my favorite movies of all time.

Rudy gets the news that, despite giving 110% effort for four years, he would not be allowed the play in the final game. There is one more practice in the year left. For four years, he showed up to practice with the hope of running out onto the field one day. Now, he had no hope of pulling it off, so he decides to skip the last practice. I’d be discouraged and not show up either.

After a pep talk from his buddy, Rudy decides to show up for practice anyway. That choice, to see it to the end, lead to the resolution of the story.

I’m sure a lot of artistic liberties were taken by Hollywood on Rudy’s story, but it’s what makes Rudy’s story more inspiring. Even in the face of hopelessness, he chose to fight on.

I began this post by stating that this applies to real life and writing. When you are writing–or doing anything of significance–life often throws something in your path to make you question the importance of your desire.

I’ve heard so many writers say, “Wow, my writing is horrible. Nobody will want to read it and I’m just wasting my time. This is hopeless! I should move onto a new project or maybe just give up on writing altogether.” Authors think this so often, I’m convinced it is part of the writing process.

Millions of books have been written. I’d bet most only got published because the author found inspiration in their hearts to finish the story.

I recently hit one of these low spots in my life. It buried me in the dumps, and I’d considered throwing in the towel on writing altogether. I thought hard about it, and found something in my heart that got me moving forward again. No happy ending yet, but stay tuned! Apparently, this feeling is common among writers. It’s human, and being human is a wonderful thing.

Despite all the great movies, shows, and books, the ultimate decision must come from within YOU. You are the hero of your own story, and happiness is only found when you stop relying on others to solve your problems. Movies can motivate, but external motivation won’t help you finish writing your book. That power is within you. Find it. Embrace it. And keep on writing!

There’s an old metaphor that says that the night is darkest just before the dawn. If you’re at a dark place right now, remind yourself why you began the journey in the first place. What started you on this course of action? Rekindle that motivation and imagine the joy you’ll find when you achieve your goal.

If you haven’t sunk that far yet, know that one day you will. Decide now–RIGHT NOW–that no matter what, nothing will stop you from reaching your destination.  It’s easier to decide now than when you are overwhelmed with discouragement.

If you’ve already fallen to the darkness, maybe it isn’t too late to give it another shot. If you gave up because your book sucked or you doubted it would appeal to anybody, look at it again. Remember, the editing process is what transforms sucky books into tombs of awesomeness.

If you’ve already overcome the darkness, I’d love hearing your story in the comments. Maybe your example can inspire others.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.” It’s one of my favorite quotes. It all comes down to YOU making the decision on either fighting the fight or just walking away.

Fight that fight. Endure the roadblocks and obstacles. Be awesome.

About James Duckett

James is a geeky, nerdy dude. He writes, sometimes. He blogs, sometimes. He's helpful to people, sometimes. He doesn't like to repeat himself, sometimes. He's funny... looking... always.

His hopes and aspirations of the future is to one day find a way that people will pay him while he sleeps. It is his dream job.

Jared Larson
Jared Larson

First, I came here wondering what the heck has happened to the Author's Think Tank podcasts. Why no new ones? Please explain lest I wander the earth with no point for existence. But seriously, your efforts to bring us writers such fantastic info is a fantastic boost. You guys are awesome and as a writer of middle grade, I'd love to hear more interviews from the awesome forces within publishing. Second, as I stumbled around on your site, and ran across this gem of a post. Well done, James. Inspiring read. I do familiarize. I have been at that hopeless point so many times, struggling to find others approval of my work, so I could find fulfillment in my writing by meeting a certain standard of being a published author. But when I failed, over and over again, I wanted to give up. I wanted to let go. But something in me couldn't. My love for story and the creation of that story gripped that desire with sheer passion, and it came to the point where it didn't matter whether I received acceptance or not, I was going to write because I loved to write. I was going to write because I wanted to refine my skills and work hard to become great at something I loved. I decided to work, and let my love, not the desire for glory, drive that work, and nothing more. When I let go, and just wrote, and finished what I wrote, well that's when things happened, and that's when representation came. The journey has only begun, and the challenges are fresh and more are looming as I approach a world of apprehension and uncertainty, but that's okay. No challenge can take away my love for the art. And in the end, that's where the fulfillment is found. Like you kind of said, (and Aang said) "When we hit our lowest point we are open to the greatest change." PS. So, eh, what's up with the ThinkTank podcasts anyway? Are we going to get some more awesomeness soon? Please say yes, lest I wander the earth in my misery, driven by the lack of Author's Think Tank. Peace out.

Donna K. Weaver
Donna K. Weaver

Great post, James. Did you think the original solution for bringing back the lost member (in the original Wrath of Khan, Spock died) was better?

James Duckett
James Duckett

Yes and no. Yes, because it wasn't so much a cheat or a way to bring people back to life. It isn't like a dead person will brain dump into the nearest engineer, die, get strapped to a world-creating bomb, be found, and then have most of the memories returned. So I liked that more than "Oh, just give him a shot." That said, no, because it took Star Trek III to bring Spock back. I haven't seen it in a few years (decades), but I don't remember anything redeeming in that movie. As much as I love Spock, Star Trek II would be a million times more impactful if he had just stayed dead. Though, Spoke was one of the things that made Star Trek IV worth bringing him back to life for. :) Maybe if he stayed dead, Nero wouldn't have killed Kirk's dad!!! Also, Spock's funeral was one of the most awesome movie funerals ever... and Star Trek III negated it.

Amanda K Thompson
Amanda K Thompson

I'm going to bookmark this and I will probably read this more times than I care to admit. Why? Because I do become disheartened, and I do get frustrated, and I do succumb to the darkness. This gives me hope. It inspires me. More than anything, it reminds me that, as horrible and aggravating as this despair is, I'm not the only one who experiences it. It is -unfortunately- natural. Every writer needs to read this every time they feel down. Thanks so much for this, James. I think this will be the dawn of my darkness a great many times.


I needed this post today. I've been at it for three years and writing is the hardest thing I've ever tried to do. It's harder than working out. Harder than getting into the pentagon, or so I hear. Seriously. I hit a very low point this past year and it took me to months to climb out of it. Even with my gently prodding husband and supportive friends. I couldn't agree with you more on making the decision before you hit the low point. That's exactly what happened with me back in 2011. I decided that I would not quit even when that happened. Negativity silences the inner artist and kills the Muse for sure. Whether the negatively comes from within or outside forces, a little piece of me dies each time. Some people can channel that into their writing, but so many of us cannot. An early decision can save the artist. Revive the Muse and restore what is lost. Even if it takes time. At least it did for me.


Great post. It's nice to know we're not alone. I hit rock bottom a couple months ago and was about ready to throw in the towel for the first time in 12 years of writing. I had to find a way to get motivated again. So I went to a conference and spent the day talking to and being encouraged by other writers. Then I bought a couple books that help me with plotting, characterization, and describing emotion ("Ready, Set, Write" and the "Emotion Thesaurus"). Now I've started a new project I'm excited about and am making major changes to an old project!