Allow main character to experience crisis of faith

A man vs. himself conflict often elevates a story’s suspense and depth. When a character must face a confrontation with himself, most readers can relate to him. External conflicts that affect a character – such as eluding international assassins or stopping an alien invasion – are great escapism but (mostly) outside the reader’s realm of experience. Because of that, the action often feels contrived, and the reader knows the hero will prevail, reducing the tension.

Because of this, many writers introduce a crisis of faith into their story. This occurs when the protagonist expresses doubt, fear or some other emotion that brings into question whether he will continue to solve the story’s problem. For example, a main character tasked with rescuing a hostage might think about how the odds are against him, as he’s outnumbered and outgunned; perhaps he’ll recall a time when a friend who was better than him at black ops failed in a rescue attempt from a similar building.

A crisis of fate ratchets up the suspense in a couple of ways. First, if the protagonist doesn’t rise to the challenge, then the antagonist will win unless some plot twist occurs. The reader thus is thrown off about how the story’s central conflict will be resolved. Secondly, though the main character will overcome this crisis of faith before the big showdown, it still leaves doubt and fear in the reader’s mind about whether or not it might arise during the climatic scene. That, of course, means the hero has a greater chance of being defeated.

Usually authors place this plot device just before the story’s climax. If it’s placed too early in the story, then it needs to be a dominant conflict that the story centers on. When used as a crisis of faith, however, it is merely a temporary doubt rather than one that drives the entire story.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.