An epiphany is a sudden, unexpected moment of revelation that causes a dramatic internal change for your protagonist. In literature, the epiphany moment comes after events force the protagonist to call upon previously untapped inner resources to make a crucial decision. The epiphany comes as an internal revelation of a previously hidden truth about the protagonist’s character and abilities.
Plotting a Novel in Three Acts: The Epiphany
Let’s return to Gone With the Wind. You may recall from my post, Plotting a Novel in Three Acts: The Black Moment, that after escaping the burning of Atlanta, Scarlett returned home with Melanie and her newborn baby only to find her mother dead, her father out of his wits, her sisters ill, Tara looted, and the world she knew gone forever. Scarlett is frightened and exhausted but finds no comfort at Tara. She is hungry, but when she tries to eat a lone radish she finds in the garden, it comes back up. With the whole household now depending on her for survival, she can’t even nourish herself!
As a spoiled southern belle, Scarlett depended on others to provide for her, but none of the people, conventions or abilities she once took for granted can help her now. All her proficiencies have failed, and there seems nothing she can do but despair. Scarlett faces two life-or-death choices. She can give up, in which case both she and her family will starve, or struggle against crushing odds to provide for herself and her family. There is no middle ground.
Scarlett discovers inside herself and finds the strength she has owned without realizing it all along. In a defining moment, she stands and raises her fist to the sky and vows, “as God is my witness,” that she and her family will never go hungry again. While Scarlett’s tactics (“If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill”) might be questionable, her passion to survive rings true. She has connected with herself in a visceral way that changes her mindset. From here on out, things will change. And they do.
In case you missed it, here’s the scene again:
Decide what your protagonist’s main epiphany will be. Bear in mind that your main character might experience more than one epiphany in the course of your story, but there needs to be one compelling epiphany moment which will lead to the solution of your story problem in the climax of your book. Make sure you know the big decision your character will make to move your plot toward its resolution.
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