The Try-Fail Cycle: What makes an ending epic.

One of my favorite podcasts, Writing Excuses, introduced me to the idea of the Try-Fail Cycle a while ago, and as someone whose WIP revolves around someone’s competency, it hit pretty close to home.

Summed up, the Try-Fail Cycle is the progression of attempts a character makes toward their goal before achieving it in the end. It’s those failures that keep us rooting for the character and what makes that final win so epic.

This cycle applies to both character and plot development, and when they intersect, it’s this incredible hodge-podge of feels and goosebumps.

Let’s look at last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy as an example. Each of our heroes fails individually as well as a team prior to them coming together to kick total ass in the end. The way the film is plotted, we see that each character has their own issue to overcome because we see them fail as a result. If it weren’t for those fails, the epic ending would feel more like a plot device (looking at you, 2015’s Fantastic Four reboot).

But beyond how useful this concept is in developing our works in progress, I think it also relates to the writing process in general.

We try to write a book >> That first draft isn’t great.

We revise, send to beta readers >> Need to rework some things.

Have a new version of the MS post-beta >> Still need to flesh out and polish.

The glory of the Try-Fail Cycle is that the protagonist usually finds their win in the end. So don’t let your massive revision to-do list intimidate you. It’s just power for the course.

Happy writing!

For more information on the Try-Fail Cycle, check out Writing Excuses, Season 10, Episode 29: Why Should My Characters Fail Spectacularly?. Available on iTunes or their website,

2 thoughts on “The Try-Fail Cycle: What makes an ending epic.

  1. I am a firm believer that fail is not fail, just over-reached or under-reached targets. It’s like you trying to throw a ball into a basket a few metres in front of you. Apart from sheer dumb luck, the first few shots will go over it or land before it. Eventually and with enough repetition the brain learns the patterns connected with the distance, the weight of the ball, and the necessary force that needs to be applied. With enough repetition you can hit target a lot more often or even every time. Change one of the parameters (ball size/weight, distance, basket size, etc.) and you need to start over learning.

    Now can you imagine anyone falling over the first few failed tries and then giving up declaring themselves failures? Or if you prefer, look at how kids learn to walk, by falling a lot. Writing is exactly like that. Every book is a new target with slightly different variables and we need to calibrate our senses and instincts until we get it as good as possible. With every story it’s easier. Learning process. Love it. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Learning to walk is the perfect way to explain learning how to write a novel! Thank you so much for this! Sorry I didn’t get a chance to respond before today. This week has been craaaaaazy.


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