This is the second pop quiz. If the Midpoint was about changing from reacting to acting, then Pop Quiz 2 is about changing from loosing to winning. Readers everywhere see this as a sign that ultimate victory is possible for the main character.
This doesn’t mean you make it easy for your character. It needs to look like your character is going to loose – to the reader and the character both – until the big turn around. Sound familiar? Yup, kinda like the big finish only less intense.
So why the big turn around? I think there are two reasons.
First, reader psychology. A win now will make the next defeat – the one that triggers the final battle – all the more painful and unforeseen. After all, the reader has seen that the character can win and there is an emotional high from winning that will make the crash of defeat all the more bitter.
Second, the character has changed and both character and reader need to know
that the character’s goal, growth, or plan is on the right track. If the plan fails, then you switch to another plan, right? So if you want your character to stick with it then she needs a little positive reinforcement.
But how does the character solve the problems posed by Pop Quiz 2? n a very character-driven approach, the character listens to her heart. She is figuring out her inner conflict, trying to do the right thing, and the insight given by the struggle is what she realizes she needs.
In the other extreme, the main character can pull out a win at the last minute by learning a new skill, grabbing a weapon, or through the help of hard-won allies (so long as the main character is still the main character of the scene).
In my own fantasy, I like a tense battle here decided by the inner conflict element. You don’t have to choose one over
the other, you see. You can combine both approaches. Just keep it tense.