Monday, November 26, 2012

How to Write a Great Climactic Scene

I recently removed a major element of my WIP. Removing major plot elements always leaves holes you have to apply mortar to and brick over, but this one was so massive that it required an entirely new climatic scene. Which was fine.

Except I didn't have a replacement climactic event.

There I was, with a heroine all set to apply newly-realized lessons, and to finally discover the last important pieces of information she needed to know, and with her ready to put the smack down once and for all on her antagonist....and I didn't have any place for them to do it.

The creative well was dry on this one. I needed a setting for all those above items to happen, but no place jumped out. Nothing. I had nothing. So I did what any stuck writer does: I turned to the Internet and watched the kitten web cam. After that, I watched some Limmy videos for a while. When I was done with that, I checked Facebook and Twitter...well, you get the picture. When I had exhausted all my usual diversionary tactics, I got down to work and researched what to do. And I came up with:

3 Important Points about Climatic Scenes

[1] The first point is a quick recap of what a climactic scene needs to accomplish. The climactic scene is a final showdown between your protagonist and antagonist. And the outcome must prove your story's moral premise and theme; it must contain a "moment of truth." A crappy or weak climactic scene will not accomplish the point of your story and it will leave readers feeling let down and disappointed.

So, after that little picker-upper, the next thing to do was refresh myself on the second point, which isn't actually a single point, but more of a header of many points.
[2] What should a good climactic scene contain? (this list is culled many other blog posts and books)
  • It should be an epic confrontation with a clear winner and a clear loser.
  • The hero must confront the biggest adversary.
  • The hero must save him/herself.
  • The scene should be resolved with action and conflict.
  • The climactic scene represents the dramatic highlight of the story.
  • The hero directly affects the outcome.
  • Often, this is done in a location we haven’t seen yet.
  • Sometimes there is a figurative or literal arena in which the showdown will occur.
Good. Now that I had those basics, it was time for the third point:
[3] The details of a good climatic scene. How to get the details? Well, I have to supply those, unfortunately  But you get those by asking yourself these questions (thanks to Stavros Halvatzis for this):

1. What is the primary strength of my antagonist?
2. What is the primary weakness/fear of my protagonist?

Oh, now we're getting somewhere. Stavros (fab Greek name, Stavros, in case you were wondering) says the answers to these questions need to play into my protagonist’s chief weakness\fear while promoting my antagonist’s primary strength. I also need to ask myself what setting best enhances my antagonist’s chances of winning, while simultaneously increasing the chances of your protagonist’s failing.

Whoa. That hardly seems fair. And yet, that kind of conflict is going to make a great climatic scene.

Stavros adds, "improve your writing by exploiting an appropriate setting that strengthens the antagonist while simultaneously weakening the protagonist."

So whatever setting I end up choosing, I'll need my antagonist to be comfortable and on even footing when my protagonist catches up with him, so that the antagonist things he's on Easy Street. Then my protagonist can pull the rug right out from under him and triumph. Tribal drums may or may not be involved (probably not).

A Note About Settings for Climatic Scenes

All of the above was great for grounding my head in what the scene needs to accomplish. But I still needed to primarily consider the setting. A Writer's Digest article on plot and climatic elements recommends the following for choosing a setting:

"There’s nothing that says your climactic moment has to be in a different location. If it’s a sports story, for instance, the climax may occur in the same place as much of the rest of the book: the court or field. If the characters have been trapped in an elevator for the whole book, the climax will most likely take place in the elevator. So long as you cover all the elements, you’re fine. But why not take it to a new fun location?

Think about your story a moment. You may have a good idea for where the big showdown needs to happen. And even if you’ve thought of a place, considering other options will help you find surprising wonders or can verify that you have, indeed, found the right place for this crucial action.

 What is the ultimate setting for the final conflict in your book? If you’re writing a thriller about a killer who preys on children, could the final standoff occur on a playground? If you’re writing a romance about flirtatious ornithologists, could the final will-he/won’t-he moment take place in the world’s largest aviary? If it’s a pirate story, the climactic scene had better be on the high seas.

There’s an appropriateness about your story regarding the “right” location for the big scene. Where is the perfect place for your book’s climactic sequence? If you’re still not sure, perhaps looking at each element of the climax will help you decide."

Hope the above helps. I put this post together primarily to help organize my own thoughts about climactic scenes. I hope it helps someone.


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