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Give your protagonist a moment to contemplate his failure. Time to think about his decisions. To wallow in his sorrow. We’ve been talking about the story being a series of ups and downs, like a roller-coaster. Well, the Pit of Despair is the lowest of the lows. It’s when all hope is lost. It’s all but over…

You want to give your audience the impression that the quest is impossible now. That it would take a miracle. They want to see an epic comeback. They want to see the miraculous.

Audiences don’t pay $15 to go see an easy victory - they pay to see an impossible come-back!

When you pay money, do you want to see something typical, or do you want to see something epic?

Of course, it’s not even a choice, you want to see something epic! You can see normal every day. You can see minor come-backs every day. You pay to see something special. You pay to see the miracle comeback.

And, you can’t have a come-back - without a Kardashian sex-tape!

No, I joke, you can’t have a come-back without first reaching the depths of despair. You can’t rise to the top, without first experiencing the lowest of the lows. Give your protagonist a tour of the lows. Show him the pit of despair.

Things look horrible for your protagonist now. Their quest seems a million miles away. Victory was just snatched away from them, cruelly (false-victory), or they appear to have lost all hope (false-defeat). Their goal is now virtually impossible to achieve. Only a fool would have any hope of victory.

Your protagonist has now entered The Pit of Despair! Cue creepy Halloween music.

Before your protagonist can overcome everything that’s standing in his way and succeed at the climax, he needs to be defeated. The task, the quest, the goal he’s been fighting so diligently for - is now an impossible distance away. The antagonist has won. It’s over.

Your protagonist needs to strengthen his resolve and forge ahead. He needs to take time to reflect on his strategy. To contemplate.

His next move might be his last.

He needs to either quit, and run home with his tail between his legs and lose everything - or he needs to re-double his efforts and come at this another way.

So, give him a pit to wallow in and some time to contemplate his next move.

The Pit of Despair.

This usually comes immediately after the mid-point, just before the Second Turning-Point, or early in the Third Act.

In The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne has been wrongfully-imprisoned for his wife’s murder - and, after 18 years, he meets another prisoner who can prove he’s innocent! He’s won! He’s going to get out!

However…

The warden has the prisoner murdered, in order to keep Andy in prison, running the money laundering-scheme! It was a false-victory!

And, after false-victories often come the Pit of Despair.

Andy is sentenced to Solitary-Confinement (it’s practically called the Pit of Despair right there!) and comes out a different man. Almost broken.

In this case, it’s almost more of a Pit of Despair for the audience, rather than for the protagonist himself (because of the information that Andy knows, but we the audience do not).

The audience is led to believe that Andy’s actually killed himself - while, all the while, he’s been crawling through a river of shit.

So, you kind of end up with two Pits of Despair. One with the protagonist in his pit (a false Pit of Despair) and one for the audience in theirs.

In a nod to screenwriters everywhere, they actually called the Pit of Despair in the Princess Bride - The Pit of Despair...:

Writing Your Story’s Pit of Despair: The Pit of Despair!

Screenwriting 101:

PROPER SCREENPLAY FORMAT

SCREENWRITING SOFTWARE

SCREENPLAY TEMPLATE

SAMPLE SCREENPLAY PAGES

BEGINNER SCREENWRITERS

FILM SCHOOLS

SCREENWRITING DEGREES

SCREENPLAY STORY STRUCTURE

HOW LONG SHOULD EACH ACT BE?

THREE ACT STRUCTURE

START WRITING NOW

STORY-STRUCTURE TEMPLATE

THE FIRST TURNING POINT

THE SECOND TURNING POINT

PROTAGONIST’S CHARACTER-ARC

GET COVERAGE


FORWARD

You need to give your protagonist some time to reflect and come up with a whole new course of action. He needs to choose to fight - instead of just giving up.

You need the audience to believe that the quest is virtually impossible to achieve now, that it’ll take an absolutely ingenious protagonist to even come close.

You do all this in The Pit of Despair!...

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