Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 31: The Climax

Here we are guys.  THE big shebang of the entire novel; the toughest obstacles your character will ever have to face stand looming before her, beckoning her to come and conquer.
Golden peak - Please view on black (press "L")
Photo Credit:  Katarina 2353
Is she ready for it?  Are you ready for it?

Recall our Day 3 assignment of filling out the At-A-Glance Outline?  Find the part where you described your intended climax and reread it.  Will it still apply now that you've written over three-fourths of the book?  

If you find your climax needs to change or was just somehow flat, here are a few tips to help ensure the scene holds both interest (excitement) and meaning (character transformation):
  • Be sure your heroine does the heroics.  It is vital that your main character face off against her fear or foe - that is, after all, the whole purpose of the climax - but she must fight them alone.  Others can be around her, even cheer her on, but the climax is about showing how our recently transformed character will behave in the face of her main antagonist.  Will she revert back to her old ways?  Will staying true to her new self mean sacrificing her ability to conquer her foe?  (Martha Alderson's How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, or Screenplay, Step 26).
    • In a Writer's Digest article titled  4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax in Your Writing, Jeff Gerke discusses the dramatic potential available to us as writers when the character's inner transformation and outer journey dissect at the climax.
        "At this moment in Act 3, probably more than anywhere else in your novel, the inner journey and the outer journey are interconnected. The 'plot' that is the story of your character’s internal transformation here intersects the outer plot that has made that transformation possible. The moment of truth decides it and the climax illustrates what she decides. So it should be in your novel. Your hero’s moment of truth determines her behavior in the climax. 
        "So think now about your hero’s moment of truth and how it might impact the climax of the novel. You’ve probably decided whether he’ll choose the new way or the old way, so think about how that would look given the big walls-falling-down climax you’re designing. While you’re at it, why not consider what it would look like if he were to choose the other way? If you’ve decided he’ll choose the new way, go ahead and think about how it would go if he were to choose the old way."
      I considered this advice for a while: to envision how your story would go if the character reverted to his old self.  Why, when we know our story isn't going that direction, would he advise us to image it does?  I've decided that this method can add a deeper, more realistic layer to your climax, much the same way that knowing all the little details of your character's life (half of which never make it into the book) can give you a richer hero.  Whether we know it or not, these unpublished details have a way of coloring our writing and allowing the readers to feel an authentic connection with our characters, much the same as we do.

    • Consider a change of scenery.  The moment your heroine decides it's time to face her fears and battle her demons is the moment Act III begins.  If you're looking for a way to add an extra layer of drama, set the showdown in a place where the elements themselves can play an antagonistic (or at least significant) role.  For some excellent examples think of the treacherous Cracks of Doom sequence in The Lord of the Rings, or the island mountaintop sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark.   In his article , Jeff Gerke points to these two dramatic backdrops as not only indicating the start of Act III, but also providing significant interest/drama in and of themselves.  He goes on to ask,
      "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." 
    • Ramp up the conflict, tension, and suspense.  The climax is never so perspiration-inducing as when there's a clock ticking, reminding us that our hero has only seconds to complete his task.  You have a host of outer obstacles and motivators that can keep your climax shooting upward with rocket speed.  Those of you with less action-packed stories, don't despair, but internal motivators can have just as much tension even without the threat of imminent death.  For example, is your character facing a moral dilemma?  Maybe she's forced to choose between two really great guys, or maybe the man she wants to be with is hated by her father.  What will she do?  Who will she choose?  These are the kinds of dilemmas that keep readers' eyes glued to the page. 
    • Don't forget the fallout.  Just because the foe has been defeated, doesn't mean your climax is inevitably over.  
      "Many new authors want to end the climactic scene as soon as the villain gets tipped into the bottomless pit, but that’s a mistake. For the reader to get closure on the moment, you need to complete what you’ve started. You need to get the hero out of that dangerous place. Show him grabbing the heroine’s hand and sprinting out of the cavern just as it collapses. Show the hero clambering aboard a fishing vessel to be taken to safety. Show the hero stepping behind a concrete wall just as the house finally explodes. Or, in those softer stories, show the boy finally hitting the home run. Show the woman nailing the high note. Show the man recovering the puppy at long last. Play out the logical end of the scene that contained the climax," (Gerke, 4 Ways to Improve Plot/Climax).
    What improvements did you decide to make to your climax after reviewing this, and Jeff Gerke's article?

    For more tips on the Climax, Resolution, or Ending, check out these articles:

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