Your Novel’s Demon of Doom (the Plot Beat According to Brain Science)

The doom moment is an internal character arc piece that forces your protagonist to face off with the inner demon that has been plaguing this character

Your Novel's Demon of Doom (the Plot Beat)

Your Novel's Demon of Doom (the Plot Beat)

What Brain Science Says about Writing with Story Structures #13

The insights from cognitive psychology can help us understand the effects and usefulness of story structures, and this is what I break down in this series. In these articles on story structure elements, I dive into the effects of story on readers and how these structures play a part in that. I also offer suggestions for what writers can do to have the best of both worlds — both the joy of just writing and creating a tale readers will want to read.

The flip side of the third-act disaster beat is that your protagonist is brought low. That’s the whole point of the disaster! It’s an external plot beat that forces an internal character arc change.

Get psychological, because now we turn to the inner stuff. This is the point at which your protagonist must be forced to face her inner demon.

This internal battle takes place when your protagonist has no choice but to turn from the path of lies to the path of truth. But first…make it hurt.

The external plot makes things bad. The doom moment makes everything even worse. The worst possible disaster has struck, and now your protagonist is lying stunned, not believing she can possibly go on.

What Is the Doom Moment in a Novel?

The doom moment is an internal character arc piece that forces your protagonist to face off with the inner demon that has been plaguing this character from the start.

The doom moment usually directly follows the third-act disaster beat of the external plot in a basic three-act story structure. It marks the necessary beginning point of your character’s transformation.

Your protagonist is at her all-time low. Everything just came crashing down around her in the plot. Now she’s wallowing in that lowest pit, and she can’t imagine things getting any worse.

All hope is lost.

So then what’s the harm in changing? What else has she got to lose?

But first, that inner demon is going to rear its ugly head. It’s going to try to crush your protagonist’s soul.

Whatever lies she believes, her inner demon will try to convince her of their truth so that she can never pick herself up again. And you need to let her believe she’s all but failed.

The Internal vs. External

Think of it this way: if things are going well enough—or at least OK—is there any reason to change? People are creatures of habit, and the same brain pathway connections are far easier to keep making over and over again than to reroute new ones.

Without some external reason all but forcing a change, your character really has no reason to do so. The protagonist’s inner demon is a powerful fiend that’s been nurtured and fed from whatever past traumatic experience it was created out of—whether that was one major event or a constant drip of pressure over time, it doesn’t matter, and the outcome is the same either way.

This demon is the corrupted, twisted truth. Specifically, it’s the truth that your protagonist needs to learn. Instead, your protagonist fully clings to the corrupted version—the demon of fear and lies. Because your protagonist won’t let go, the demon keeps pulling your protagonist back down with it. It holds your character back from getting the very thing she truly wants and needs.

The epitome of this relationship is what readers need to see in the doom moment. They need to see your character very directly confronting these longheld corrupted beliefs.

Fear will keep your character running from this confrontation until there’s absolutely nowhere to run. She will try to avoid and ignore the problem until she suddenly can’t.

The Showdown

Sure, there’s a battle raging in the plot. Maybe the protagonist’s friends are falling or otherwise lost, leaving the protagonist all alone to drown in self-pity, guilt, loathing, and failure.

But the story that really matters is the one going on inside your protagonist’s head. In sci-fi and fantasy, sometimes this internal battle is manifested in a dreamlike or alternate-reality-type form. Even so, the thoughts and beliefs are still internal and emotionally driven.

It’s not easy for your protagonist to face everything she’s been working so hard this whole time to avoid and ignore. So she’s going to feel like this is the end. All hope is utterly extinguished.

So find a moment in the external disaster during which your protagonist can go a bit inward. The enemy might be approaching, but there are still precious seconds in which your protagonist must see her inner demon in all its horror. Only then will she be able to come to terms with the truth. Not a second earlier.

The Doom Moment in Speculative Classics

Let’s see how this internal showdown works in the midst of the external disaster in other novels. Of course, I’m using the first books in three series in these explorations of story structure. So understand that the full character transformation doesn’t occur in any books that aren’t the finales.

But this is good for speculative authors to see even so. Single books each have a condensed version of the overall series structure. Each beat is still necessary to fulfill in some way, but in cases of non-finale books, the internal change that occurs is either a step toward the overall series transformation or a transformation related to a sub-theme of the series. You’ll see this play out in the following structural examples in which I show how the external disaster leads to the internal confrontation:

The Lord of the Rings:

  • Disaster: Frodo is alone, trying to decide where to take the Ring. Boromir, corrupted by the power of the Ring, attacks, trying to take the Ring from Frodo by force. Corruption of himself and others is Frodo’s deep fear, and Boromir plays that out in a very direct way.

  • Doom moment: In Frodo’s fear of Boromir’s attack, Frodo puts on the Ring and flees to the top of Amon Hen. There he has a vision (note the more visual manifestation in a fantasy setting) and attracts Sauron’s attention. Frodo sees all the dangers he faces, the risks to his friends, war, and, ultimately, Sauron and his Eye searching for Frodo. Frodo is bound by a strong will to keep the Ring on… and Sauron has nearly found him. It’s easy to understand how hopeless his outlook is—quite literally—and how hard it seems to escape from the evil and corruption.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:

  • Disaster: Harry loses his companions through the trials protecting the Stone and must continue to the last chamber alone, where he expects he’ll hold off Snape long enough for Hermione to somehow get Dumbledore’s help. It’s such a longshot there’s hardly any hope, and Harry literally walks through the black flames. 

    Furthermore, when he encounters Quirrell instead of Snape or Voldemort, the truth crashes down on everything Harry’s believed about the situation. Worse, Quirrell ties him up while attempting to find out how to get the Sorcerer’s Stone from the Mirror of Erised.

  • Doom moment: Quirrell tries to use Harry to help him get the Stone from the mirror. Now Harry is becoming the instrument for Quirrell-Voldemort getting the very object Harry has been trying to protect—and threatening his ability to come to terms with his identity and continue life in the wizarding world. (I’ll explain more about how this instigates the internal transformation more in the next post! It’s there, but a little less obvious in this middle-grade story.)

The Hunger Games

  • Disaster: Instead of fighting Cato as expected, they’re all pursued by muttations—the vicious, wolf-like beasts created to look like the other tributes. Katniss faces the trauma of killing other tributes and the very real possibility of losing Peeta to Cato. But when Cato falls and is mauled by the mutts, Katniss tries to keep Peeta awake through a long night until she’s forced to shoot Cato out of mercy.

  • Doom moment: Instead of winning the Hunger Games, the Gamemakers change the rules again, saying only one of them can win. As Peeta is throwing away his knife, Katniss draws an arrow, thinking he means to betray her. She realizes her mistake, her shame, and that death would be easier than living with the trauma of having killed the other. But Peeta makes the choice for her as he takes off his bandage to let himself bleed out. She not only faces her fears but also realizes the lies she’s maintained.

3 Things Your Novel’s Doom Moment Needs to Do

In your own novel, make sure the doom moment is accomplishing what it needs to. It should

  1. Take place internally somehow—it’s a character arc beat, not an external plot event.

  2. Feel like all is lost, there is no hope, and the enemy will win.

  3. Make your protagonist painfully aware of her mistakes, the lies she’s clung to, and the fears she’s avoided.


But truly, it’s worth the creative energy to craft this beat with intention. The doom moment beat will help you pull off your story with huge climactic payoff that wouldn’t exist without it.

If your protagonist simply “finds” more inner strength (like I see in so many stories) without clear reason, how is that satisfactory for readers? Subconsciously, readers are looking to vanquish their own demons. Show the dark side of that process too.

Readers crave that emotional catharsis and need to live it vicariously through your main character. So make your character live it!

Categories: story structure

Are you ready to learn the brain science hacks to help you get your stories on the page or ready for readers? Let me know what you're working on, and I’ll let you know how I can help!

Contact Me


If you would like more resources and writing craft support, sign up for my FREE 3-Day Validate Your Novel Premise Challenge email course. You will learn how to check if you have a viable story idea to sustain a novel and then follow the guided action steps to craft your premise for a more focused drafting or revision experience in just three days.


Cut through the overwhelm and revise your sci-fi/fantasy draft or partial draft one easy progress win at a time! I'll support you through the self-editing process to level up your manuscript. Take advantage of the critique partner program and small author community as you finally get your story ready to enchant your readers. 


Using brain science hacks, hoarded craft knowledge, and solution-based direction, this book dragon helps science-fiction and fantasy authors get their stories — whether on the page or still in their heads — ready to enchant their readers. To see service options and testimonials to help you decide if I might be the right editor or book coach for you,

Hello! I'm Gina Kammer, The Inky Bookwyrm — an author, editor, and book coach. I give science fiction and fantasy authors direction in exploring their creativity and use brain science hacks to show them how to get their stories on the page or ready for readers. 

I'll be the book dragon at your back. 
Let me give your creativity wings.

This bookwyrm will find the gems in your precious treasure trove of words and help you polish them until their gleam must be put on display. Whether that display takes the form of an indie pub or with the intent of finding a traditional home — or something else entirely! — feed me your words, and I can help you make that dream become more than a fantasy.