Reviews & Writing

Friday, September 24, 2010

Try and Fail Cycles

A Try and Fail Cycle is, basically, a rule that says your protagonist must fail at least twice at doing something before they can succeed. Sometimes these failures are hidden as successes.

For example, (Warning: Matrix spoilers follow. If you haven't seen this movie yet, go and do that now. It's awesome.) in the end of the Matrix you have Neo beating up a bunch of bad guys. Even though he beats them up, never is his problem solved right after. He still does not rescue Morpheus. He goes through at least two of these fights, and then he has a third fight after which Morpheus is saved. This is an example of a Try and Fail cycle hidden by success.

So, your story should take the shape of these cycles. Here is how.

Problem: Your character encounters a problem, like Morpheus is kidnapped.

Planning: Your character has an emotional reaction to this problem and then makes a plan to fix it.

Then one of two things happen. Either the problem is:

Fixed, but now there is a new problem that is even worse.


The problem is not fixed, and now it's even harder.

Then once again you have a planning section. This section is then followed by again either a failure, or a success and a new even worse problem. As you can see this gives you a never ending cycle.

New Problem, or increased difficulty.
New Problem, or increased difficulty.

This cycle allows you to build all of the events in you novel with the first problem being your inciting incident. Then you can have as many try and fail cycles as you want.

In rescuing Morpheus the events have the increased difficulty problem, because each fight Neo goes through to get to Morpheus is harder.

When instead of having a new problem or increased difficulty you have a final resolution, then your plot is over.

So, now you know how to organize the events of your book. If you know about scenes and sequels, you'll even have a better understanding.

Scenes have an action taking place and a character trying to solve a problem. Sequels have a character reacting to a problem and planning to fix it.

So here is your story structure.


Each scene is a problem. And the sequel is the new plan. Now, remember that scenes and sequels could be in the same chapter, however they should keep taking turns--going in a cycle.

Once you have your many problems you're almost set to write. However you should spice up the problems with dilemmas.

Dilemmas often take the forms of either Conflict with Self, Conflict with Good Guys, or Conflict with Setting.

For example, maybe your character has a plan, but the cops won't let him do it. That's a dilemma. Or you character needs to kill someone, but it's against his morals--another dilemma. Or your character needs to get to New York in a day, but he's in a desert with no transportation.

See, each dilemma complicates the problem.

So, once you have each of your plots identified, come up with a series of scenes and squeals for each one that lead to the resolution of each plot. Of course, certain scenes can lead to the resolution of multiple plot lines. That is why I recommend that you organize and group your plots together first.

The post on plots can be found here.
The post on problems can be found, well, also here.

Next up, tips on how to organize all of your plots into something that actually looks like an outline.


  1. nice article! It makes sense and is a great way to help you weave a tangled web for your MC to try and get out of! Love it :)

  2. Love it?

    I love you as well...

    ...though, I love all my readers.

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