How I Got Through My Dark Night of the Soul: When Night Breaks, a guest post by Janella Angeles
In any story, something always has to go wrong.
In the mechanics of story structure as seen from Snyder’s Save the Cat method (I read Jessica Brody’s take on it for novel writing), the end of Act 2 brings an emotional beat known as the All is Lost point where what happens is exactly what it sounds like: the bad guys close in and all is lost for the hero, leading to the rock bottom of their tale. To add insult to injury, the next step is something called the Dark Night of the Soul—the rock bottom of the rock bottom. The part of the story where your character is truly at their lowest, and we as the reader don’t know if or how they can rally after such a devastating blow or loss. Can the hero rise and continue their story, or is this where it all ends?
I never used to reference beat sheets or craft books before; the chaotic, pantsing writer in me never thought she needed them. But after obsessively studying story development and beat sheets for the past two years to fix a book I thought was beyond repair, it was inevitable I would start trying to make sense of my life in the terms of the hero’s journey.
Getting the deal and book buzz for Where Dreams Descend felt like the promising call to action to the first half of Act 2, in which the hero familiarizes themselves with the new world they’ve fallen in, encounter new characters, enjoy the fun and games portion, and add B plots to further texture their story. Despite the tests in between, all seems to be going as well as can be, until you hit the midpoint reversal—the point of the story where everything turns on its head, either for a false sense of the better or a downward spiral toward the worst.
If you see where I’m going, then it should come as no surprise that the period when I was writing When Night Breaks became my own personal Dark Night of the Soul. And it went on for a lot longer than I wished it to, for many reasons. And many rock bottoms.
Everyone always told me that the second book in your author career would be the hardest. Whether it’s the next in a series or a new standalone, there’s the pressure of contractual deadlines colliding with life hurdles, the newness of writing for readers now waiting with expectations, and that feeling of responsibility hanging over your head when an entire team of people depends on your words to move forward on the ever-moving gameboard of publishing and publicity schedules.
During normal times, Book 2 Syndrome hits hard. Add a worldwide pandemic, massive industry shifts, crumbling mental health, and escalating uncertainty to all structure and stability outside of writing—all of that can make Book 2 Syndrome feel more like a full-blown house fire in the middle of nowhere. Despite extra amounts of time and padding you may get to try putting the fire out, as a contracted author, you still have to work through it as though the fire isn’t happening.
Enter, the Dark Night of the Soul.
It helped to call it that, because with so much uncertainty surrounding me, at least I was familiar with storytelling terms and phrases. Even when I’d quite literally forgotten how to write a book, just from all the challenges thrown at me during my All is Lost section. In between debuting and promo and my mental health declining, I was still trying to piece together the broken drafts of When Night Breaks. I was exhausted, burnt out, and wildly unwell—all of which could be seen in my writing process and inability to finish.
And that was when the Dark Night of the Soul truly took form. Not for the loss of a normal debut experience or pandemic sales or dream marketing plans disappearing. My strong gut for storytelling and love of reading I could always lean on—that prompted my hero’s journey in the first place—was gone in the aftermath of a midpoint reversal that left me reeling.
I kept telling myself the Dark Night of the Soul, logistically, would be over in the near future. It’s the end of Act 2, and soon, I would find my way to rally and break into Act 3 where some triumphant comeback/lesson learned takes place. That’s how story works, right?
Imagine my horror when the Dark Night of the Soul went on for months. Over a year.
Sounds strange to call it a name, but it brought me a lot of comfort to look at life in terms of story that gave me some illusion of control where I felt all control was lost. But it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember that the most important thing about storytelling is not how well it adheres to structure or lines up with the predetermined beats. Those are elements that can make a story good.
For a story to be great, it all comes down to the hero. The story doesn’t push things forward, the hero does. The hero needs to act, to make the moves necessary for those dominoes to fall into place.
The idea of character agency is so absurdly simple, probably the first lesson we learn as writers, but those are often the realizations we lose sight of first. The ones staring at us right in the face.
So let’s look at character development of a hero’s journey now: at the core, the hero goes on said journey to achieve what they desperately want, not necessarily what they need. The first half of a story usually covers the hero hitting plot points and beats all to reach what they want, while sometimes falling farther from that need (or purposely denying it). However, while the dark shift of the midpoint reversal thrusts the hero into a storm of loss and hardship that challenges them, it’s also the point where character development shifts just as drastically. All of a sudden, the hero’s journey toward what they want is over, because now they have a sense of what they truly need and can no longer ignore it. A hard way of learning a lesson, but a lesson learned no less.
In no way do I fault myself or anyone for how long their own Dark Night of the Soul goes on. Given the circumstances, I’d say it’s pretty understandable to feel like we’re all drowning and overwhelmed, that deep down we’re waiting for some deus ex machina to come out of nowhere in the form of a good news email that will magically turn everything around.
But waiting for something to happen is the trait of a passive character. And for a hero’s journey to remain propulsive, the hero must act.
So when I felt ready to act, I reached out for help. I received a proper diagnosis and entered therapy. I became more unapologetically honest and transparent about my situation, not just with my publishing team and day job, but with my readers. I channeled my energy into reader engagement I found personally fulfilling and meaningful instead of what could sell the most books. And rather than trying to use When Night Breaks as an escape from my reality, I let my reality bleed into the pages and the hearts of my characters.
While things didn’t dramatically change overnight with these changes, I never expected them to. We’re still in the midst of the pandemic, When Night Breaks still released under the same shadow that fell over Where Dreams Descend, and the dreams I always held onto of being an author still hurts to think back on given the current reality that’s here to stay for a while. I’m not sure if I even want to keep writing and publishing books after finally starting to heal from it all.
But for the first time, I no longer feel stuck in the Dark Night of the Soul.
Right now, I’m finally the hero who wakes up to a new morning in the next chapter.
Meet the author
Janella Angeles is a Filipino-American writer and bestselling author of WHERE DREAMS DESCEND. Her writing journey began with many trips to the library and a whole lot of fanfiction. Since then, she’s never stopped looking for magic, and enjoys getting lost in any form of great storytelling.
Website – www.janellaangeles.com
Twitter – www.twitter.com/janella_angeles
TikTok – www.tiktok.com/@janella_angeles
About When Night Breaks
In Janella Angeles’s When Night Breaks, the dramatic last act of the Kingdom of Cards duology, the stage is set, the spectacle awaits… and the show must finally come to an end.
The competition has come to a disastrous end, and Daron Demarco’s fall from grace is front-page news. But little matters to him beyond Kallia, the contestant he fell for who is now missing and in the hands of a dangerous magician. Daron is willing to do whatever it takes to find her. Even if it means unearthing secrets that lead him on a treacherous journey, risking more than his life and with no promise of return.
After falling through the mirror, Kallia has never felt more lost, mourning everything she left behind and the boy she can’t seem to forget. Only Jack, the magician who has all the answers but can’t be trusted, remains at her side. Together, they must navigate a dazzling world where mirrors show memories and illusions shadow every corner, ruled by a powerful showman who’s been waiting for Kallia to finally cross his stage. But beneath the glamour of dueling headliners and never-ending revelry, a sinister force falls like night over everyone, with the dark promise of more—more power beyond Kallia’s wildest imagination, and at a devastating cost.
The truth will come out, a kingdom must fall, hearts will collide.
And the show must finally come to an end.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Kingdom of Cards #2
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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