Stories pick up speed fast when characters we’re writing – or reading – suddenly clash with an unexpected challenge. No matter your favorite genre, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. That point of no return. That simmer of conflict that has suddenly rolled into an out-of-control boil. It’s decision making time, whether you’re ready for it or not.
Admit it, within those pages we all thrive on the surprise. The dangers and secrets that are often at stake. And the possible down-the-road repercussions. So many things hang in the balance and we love every suspended minute of it, don’t we? While we’re rooting for our beloved characters and holding our breath to see if they will rise to the challenge or fall, we can handle crossroad moments like these. But in real life – our lives – do we welcome challenges with that same kind of faith, strength, and courage we hope and expect in our characters?
I imagine this question pops up all sorts of scenarios for each of you and varies heavily on the level of your adventurous spirit. The challenging moment that jumps first to my mind is last weekend’s backpacking trip with my hubby. And I’ll tell you right now, he’s the adventurous one of the two of us by far, so you can probably guess where I’m going with this. 😉 It was my first backpacking experience and we hiked 17 miles through the Paddy Creek Wilderness carrying 35-40 lbs on our backs.
It started out as pretty as any novel setting, towering pines and dogwood trees accompanied our trail with wildflowers at our feet and beautiful rock bluffs above our heads. I do believe time spent in the woods is never a waste, but when we lost our trail for over 3 hours that first day, we were met with an unexpected challenge that had me temporarily wishing I was reading rather than living the experience.
There came a point for me when the back pain, blistering feet, and dizzying noonday heat had me at my breaking point. I didn’t feel like pressing on, but I knew I couldn’t stop for long and catch my breath either. I discovered the point of no return was as emotionally taxing as it was physically. “If only’s” repeated themselves in my head over and over again like an annoying song. If only we hadn’t gotten lost. If only I hadn’t gotten my feet wet crossing the creek. If only my pants hadn’t ripped.
Needless to say, things were not going according to plan. But when do they ever, right? Reality and fiction definitely have this in common.
Little did I know at the time, the Lord was sending doses of lessons my way disguised as difficulties. Here are a few lessons I want to remember when I’m throwing my characters into great challenges of their own. Maybe you or your characters can relate too. Love how the Lord uses real life moments to help us write fiction, don’t you?
Even the bleakest moments have their bright spots. It’s a beautiful mess we live in where the painful and pleasant blend, and the conflict can also bring peace.
–AT THE POINT OF NO RETURN, YOU DISCOVER JUST HOW WEAK YOU REALLY ARE. For me, this sort of thing is easier to read in a book than to live it. How I would love to tell you I faced my recent challenge with unwavering resolve and courage, but I can’t. I survived to tell the tale, yes. 😉 That doesn’t mean I survived the difficult moments with flying colors. I complained. I cried. And I prayed a LOT! Thank the Lord for my hubby and our desired goal that day, which was to reach the spring-fed creek complete with a waterfall.
–YOU REALIZE THE NEED FOR YOUR SUPPORT TEAM. By the grace of God and my hubby, I survived that trip. My heroes were certainly with me. 😉 Do the characters in your story have someone to push them and encourage them onward? Or maybe it’s not a person, but perhaps an impending threat, a regretful memory, or even an animal that encourages your protagonist to take another step. Even if they’re walking alone, they’ll need something or someone to press on for. Give them plenty of motivation to reach their goal.
–YOU ALSO LEARN WHAT’S MOST IMPORTANT TO YOU. You discover what perseverance and endurance really look like up close. And just how rewarding it can be to reach your desired haven. That moment we finally made it to the waterfall on our hike, it was the sweetest, softest music to my ears.
–YOU MUST LEARN TO ADAPT. YOU MUST LEARN HOW TO ACCEPT THE UNEXPECTED. Our favorite books certainly demand a lot of our characters at times, pushing them outside their comfort zones and challenging them through great difficulties and decisions.
Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35:3-4
We shouldn’t shy away from those moments in real life either. Despite my sore muscles, I wouldn’t have preferred to avoid the experience altogether. Sure, I would welcome a few less miles next time and no detour, but you get my point. 😉 Like it or not, conflict is often needed for the outcome to be truly rewarding. Yes, that includes difficult challenges. Even painful ones, perhaps. Our storybook worlds prove that.
But maybe, if we’re lucky, hopefully there will always be a waterfall to finally grace those last weary steps.
Never give up. You or your characters.
And try to not lose track of your trail. That will help. 😉
Has there ever been a “Point of No Return” for you, a challenging moment you’ll never forget and learned a life lesson from?
If you’re a writer, can you tell us about a defining moment your character memorably rose – or fell – to the challenge at hand?