LEAP OF FAITH: Fall or Fly
by Sylvie Kurtz
I believe in happy endings. As cynical as I am, some part of me believes that everything will work out right in the end. And if happy can’t happen in real life, then at least I can make it happen in my fiction.
As writers, we put our characters through a lot as we steer them through the rocky story path. Then they reach that last decision point in the story. Do they take a chance and fly—no guarantees—or do they fall back to the known, however much it’s hurting them?
For the happy ending to take place, the hero will have to face a final obstacle. He’ll have to make some sort of sacrifice, either physical or philosophical.
He has no resources left, except himself. He comes face-to-face with his flaw, his fear, that has kept him following the path of least effort all of these years. Everything the hero believed in has changed, and the story takes a drastic turn. He must make a new decision to face “death” (this could be physical death in a suspense or emotional death in a straight romance) head on. Is he willing to give up his life and/or soul?
The harder you can make that decision, the more satisfaction the reader will derive. Making a decision between good and evil is easy. Making a decision between two equally good or two equally bad outcomes is much harder.
And if the writer sets up that moment well enough, the decision point crackles with energy, making the reader hold her breath with anticipation. I’ve come to think of that teeter-totter of will-he-or-won’t-he as the point of hope.
The decision he makes in that moment leads to a commitment to some sort of action—to a leap of faith. He’s not sure about the new path yet, but he’s willing to take a chance. And that decision to take some sort of action will lead him to his destiny—good or bad. This last action tests his faith, his resolve, his character, and his endurance. He’s pushed to the limit physically, mentally, emotionally.
If he chooses to take the leap of faith, then hope wins, whether or not the hero achieves his goal. He’ll never be the same person again. He’s changed; he can’t go back to the status quo. This action proves to the reader that the change will stick, that the hero has learned his lesson, that the hero deserves his happy ending—or something better.
In Heart of a Hunter, Sebastian’s sacrifice is physical during the showdown with the villain, but also philosophical when he relinquishes part of his control to Liv—when he sees Liv not as Olivia, but as a person of her own—allowing them to work as partners in all senses of the word.
In A Little Christmas Magic, the sacrifice is philosophical. Logan remembers who and what his daughter stood for and realizes that he’s taken the wrong path. He wanted to be a living dead because he thought it was a fitting punishment for the life his daughter wouldn’t have. For him to decide to live and to love is a huge moment. When he shows that change by making a Christmas in the hospital for Beth and Jamie, and involving the whole community, the reader believes he deserves the family he needs.
In the movie Just Like Heaven, David creates the garden of Elizabeth’s dream. He could have chosen to wallow in this second loss of love, but he chose to nurture himself and Elizabeth. He took the leap and won, even though he lost Elizabeth. When he hands her the key and they touch, Elizabeth remembers. Her ghost time with David was real. They have finally connected with each other on every level, and can now reap the reward of a relationship.
In real life, we tend to push back. We don’t face our fears. We stay with what feels safe, even if it’s not working in our best interest. This is why I believe the leap of faith is an important story moment. When the hero reaches this point in the story and leaps, hope sings inside us on a soul level. And maybe next time we face such a decision, remembering his leap of faith will strengthen our own courage.