Tell the readers a story! Because without a story, you are merely using words to prove you can string them together in logical sentences.
The All Hope is Lost Scene: Breaking It Down
The All Hope is Lost scene occurs at the end of a series of try-fail cycles. Each time the protagonist and her allies fail, the stakes are raised.
First try-fail cycle. The protagonist and her allies make a plan to defeat the antagonist and achieve the story goal. The plan fails.
Second try-fail cycle. The stakes are higher now but the protagonist and her allies don’t give up. The plan is revised and they try again. The revised plan ends in failure. This failure is more dramatic, more severe—perhaps one or more of the protagonist’s allies die or abandon the quest. Whatever the case, the plan fails spectacularly.
Final try-fail cycle. This is the All Hope is Lost scene. The stakes are now the highest they’ve been but the protagonist is not giving up. She thinks on the fly and tries one lasts thing. Perhaps it seems as though this time the plan will work, but it doesn’t. She fails and she fails spectacularly. There is now no hope at all that the protagonist can succeed in her quest.
What is it?
- Setup. Before the final try-fail cycle—the All Hope is Lost scene—there often is a ‘suiting up’ scene where the protagonist and her allies prepare for battle. This also serves another purpose, it tells your readers what the plan is and all the ways it can go wrong! (This is going to be a sequel.)
- Cause. What causes the final try-fail cycle to fail? It could be anything. Perhaps the protagonist’s plan hinges on one critical element that fails. Perhaps one of the protagonist’s allies is captured or killed, perhaps he turns traitor and gone over to join the antagonist’s band of un-merry men. The point is that the plan contains a critical element and, because element doesn’t come into play, the plan fails.
- Unexpected. What causes the final plan to fail should happen in a way that the audience won’t foresee. Though, looking back it must make perfect sense. Further, the plan will fail in a way the protagonist couldn’t have anticipated, but which in retrospect makes perfect sense.
- Stakes. Part of what makes the All Hope is Lost scene the All Hope is Lost scene rather than, say, the protagonist-is-mildly-inconvenienced scene, is that the consequences of failure are worse, much MUCH worse, than we thought they would be. Sure we spelled out the stakes, but the protagonist had underestimated. WAY underestimated.
As bad as things seemed at the end of the last try-fail cycle, now here, the protagonist plumbs the depths of the true bottom. We have now reached the lowest point in the story. It turns out that what the protagonist thought was the true bottom—the worst things could possibly get—was only a way-stop on the way to complete and total ruin.
Where is it?
If you’re using three acts, the All Hope is Lost point comes at the end of the second act. If you’re four acts, the All Hope is Lost point comes at the end of the third act.
How is it connected to the protagonist’s desires?
At this moment the protagonist’s desires seemed destined to be unsatisfied.
The All Hope is Lost Scene: Examples
I think one of the most effective All Hope is Lost scenes is in the movie Edge of Tomorrow. In that movie the protagonist, Cage, has a special power: every time he dies the day is reset. Why? No one is sure, but it happened when an alien bled all over him as the two lay dying on the battlefield. Something happens to Cage’s blood. The thing is, if Cage ever bleeds to death or has a blood transfusion, his death will no longer reset the day. That would be game over for humanity.
Cage’s external goal is to kill the Omega (the Big Bad). If humanity is to survive, the Omega must die. Toward the end of the second act Cage uses a piece of tech on himself to find the Omega’s location. It works! That’s when the event that triggers the All Hope is Lost moment occurs: Cage gets shot in the leg and wakes up in the hospital having received a blood transfusion. He can no longer reset the day!
Testing the Scene Example
Setup. The setup here was Cage and Vrataski getting the gadget they needed and it was easier than they thought. They are then ambushed and they flee. It is their flight that initiates the All Hope is Lost scene.
Reason for failure. The reason for Cage losing his ability wasn’t exactly unforeseen, but it was a good time to play this particular card.
Stakes. The negative states going into the scene were, “If we fail to get the Omega’s location this time we might be able to get it next time.” It would have been a disappointment, a setback, but not a game-ender. Cage losing his ability is a game ender. It means rather than having tens, hundreds, or even thousands of tries to win a battle, they now have only one. It is a great way to launch into the action of the third act.
How the Midpoint is Implemented in Three Genres: Action, Romance & Mystery
I’ve covered this already with the example, above, from Edge of Tomorrow.
In a romance, the All Hope is Lost scene is where the lovers break up once and for all. Something has happened, come between them, and they realize (or one of them does) that their relationship is impossible. She has been deluding herself; this can never, will never, work.
So, not only is it a break up, it is a finally-final breakup.
Murder Mystery Genre
In a murder mystery this is usually where it seems the murderer will get away with his crimes. The sleuth has a few ideas but he hasn’t been able to come up with the whole picture. He sees bits of it, parts of it, but not the whole thing. There’s a memory flickering at the edges of his consciousness, or perhaps an idea, but he can’t ... quite ... grasp it.
Perhaps something one of the other characters has said has been bothering him, a phrase that keeps rattling around inside his skull. He knows it’s signifiant but he just can’t think.
Every post I pick a book or audiobook I love and recommend it to my readers. This serves two purposes. I want to share what I’ve loved with you, and, if you click the link and buy anything over at Amazon within the next 24 hours, Amazon puts a few cents in my tip jar at no cost to you. So, if you click the link, thank you! If not, that’s okay too. I’m thrilled and honored you’ve visited my blog and read my post. :-)
Today I’d like to recommend On Writing Well, 30th Anniversary Edition: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction by William Zinsser. From the blurb: “On Writing Well has been praised for its sound advice, its clarity and the warmth of its style. It is a book for everybody who wants to learn how to write or who needs to do some writing to get through the day, as almost everybody does ...”
That’s it! I’ll talk to you again tomorrow. In the meantime, good writing!
Word count so far: 9,985
Word count for today: 1400
Total words this month: 11,385
1. What I’m calling the All Hope is Lost scene is also known as the Major Setback.
2. This element could fail to come into play for various reasons. One of the protagonist’s allies doesn’t show up, the widget for the doohickey doesn’t arrive, the parcel isn’t delivered, and so on.