|Photo courtesy of sxc.hu|
Going into this, it helps to know some things. Chances are good that the list will change as you plot.
- Players: how many characters have a stake in the climax, and why.
- Conflicts: what puts them in conflict with other characters, why, and what would be a "win" for them.
- Circumstances: the role that the setting plays in the plot -- limitations imposed by place and time. Be careful with these, because the writer's hand can become too obvious if circumstances and/or coincidence dictate too much of the plot.
Your climax is the final collision of two or more characters who are at cross purposes. There will have been previous collisions, in which what needs to be done became clear, and/or things were done to prepare for the climax despite the set-backs the characters have received. No final solutions were reached, though, and the tension increased.
The Other Plot Points need to track a course of increasing tension. The stakes are getting higher, the consequences are getting worse, the characters have less to work with, or they have more to worry about. Don't blot out all hope, though. Maybe things get very dark before the characters put together the clues you gave them and figure out how to defeat their enemy, but don't paint your heroes into a corner that you'll have to rescue them from with some sort of deus ex machina.
Would five minutes of talking solve everything?
Or: is this a real and serious conflict? If you find your plot relying on interruptions and coincidences to maintain tension, you might not have a serious conflict. If you find that your characters actually agree and you're trying to keep them from realizing that, you've got a problem. (I found myself in that situation, while working on these posts. So I took my plot sketch out back and shot it. Started over with the characters disagreeing, and why.)
Foreshadowing, patterns, etc.
There are tons of other things you can do in your plot lines: hint at what's to come, set patterns and then mess around with them, throw curve balls (which you planned, of course) to keep the characters on their toes, crush their hopes and dreams repeatedly, and plenty more. They all need to build toward the climax, though.