Weekend Workout: Reversal of Fortune

AuthorSalon.com is an intense virtual writing workshop through which, having done your due diligence, the organizers of the site present your manuscript and pitch packet to their agent and publisher contacts. It’s a fantastic concept, and it’s a lot of work. Work you have to be willing to do as a writer.

One of their requirements is a Plot and Conflict Outline, and as much as this sounds like homework, or strikes terror into your heart, it’s a great way to see how well your story holds together. For instance, do you have escalating complications that get in the way of your protagonist’s exterior goal? Do you have a major reversal en route to the climax?

These are things that were drilled into me during my screenwriting program, and things I have taught in my classes. But oftentimes when I’m writing I don’t even think about them anymore, because storytelling has become much more intuitive for me. Taking a step back and working my W.I.P. through the plot and conflict outline got me thinking about these important plot elements again. In particular, the “reversal.”

A reversal means a reversal of fortune. From good fortune to bad fortune or bad fortune to good fortune. Comedy relies heavily on reversals (the movie “The Jerk” with Steve Martin comes to mind, the way his fortune keeps turning from good to bad and back again). Reversals can happen as a result of your character’s choices and actions or influence their choices and actions. There may be minor reversals in your story (i.e. the shy boy has finally gotten the nerve to ask that girl out, only to find she’s just gotten engaged), but a major reversal has the ability to stop your protagonist in her tracks and change her exterior goal to solve something more immediate and ultimately more important (which addresses her interior need).

For instance, in my W.I.P. Intergalactic, IdoLL’s exterior goal is to save her waning career at all costs, either through her tour or by immortalizing herself in some way so that she doesn’t become obsolete. She’s lost in a false identity and afraid of being a nobody, afraid that who she really is isn’t enough.

She keeps taking a step forward, then falling two steps back as complication after complication curses her tour. A stowaway princess igniting an interplanetary war is the major complication standing in her way. When it looks like she’ll finally get a break and be immortalized at the Hall of Famous Fame, she loses it all when her bandmates are kidnapped, and she must team up with her nemesis in order to save them.

When she finds herself alone with her nemesis, her goal changes and the story addresses her interior need. With the tour demolished, she now seeks to save the people who have been her loyal friends, as she realizes how much they mean to her. Her interior need is to become vulnerable, to express her true self, and she does this through her personal sacrifices. Ultimately, she goes from being self-centered, hiding behind a mask, to being a true and grateful friend.

It is only through this major reversal, when she is stripped of everything and everyone she hides behind, that she can finally get what she really needs.

Art by Alison Woodward, Click for source

Your Workout:

Set your timer for 5 minutes.

Start at the top of the page with the following startline:

1) My protagonist is closest to reaching her goal when. . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 7 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

2) Things are looking up for my protagonist until . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

When the timer stops, Set your timer for 10 more minutes.

Start with the following line: 

3) When my protagonist realizes she won’t reach her goal she . . .

Write, don’t stop, don’t edit, don’t cross out.

Read your exercises, make notes, highlight what makes sense.

Happy Weekend!


  1. Jack Remick
    Sep 29, 2012

    Danika: Very good structural exercise here. Thanks for posting it. Are you writing with Tony now?

  2. In theory. We’ve started a sort of “Louisa’s North” – small, but scrappy at the moment. But I haven’t been able to attend for a few weeks. It’s getting to be a regular thing and I’m sure it will build momentum.

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