“Should I, after tea and cakes and ices, Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?” —T.S. Eliot
I’ve been thinking about crisis points lately. A crisis is a moment of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, but what is interesting to me is that the word originates from the Greek krisis, which means decision. These difficult moments are the times when people make choices (sometimes without even realizing that they are doing so) that will either cause circumstances to become worse...or to become better.
In fiction, the crisis point is the height of the climax. For the main character, this point is the culmination of a series of moments (scenes) that have come before. And this is the moment at which the character must make a decision and take action. That action will inform everything that comes afterward, for better or worse.
Our characters often lack this self-awareness and, as a result, make very bad choices.
Struggles and decisions define our characters. Thomas Paine wrote, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph,” and this is true not only in fiction but also in our personal lives and our creative challenges. It is very, very difficult (and sometimes impossible) to remember this when one is in the midst of our own turbulent moments. Of course, our characters often lack this self-awareness and, as a result, make very bad choices. (Anybody else a fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel?) But hopefully we can do a little better than they can. If we can maintain a sense of perspective, this awareness can help us make the best, most constructive decision possible, even when our characters don’t.