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Monday, July 23, 2012

Walking backwards: starting at the climax

This is the scene I often see first -- the big, dramatic one where everything has come to a head. The characters are shouting, fighting, blowing stuff up. Or maybe it's an emotionally charged scene, where relationships are at stake and everything hangs on a single word. Either way, the big question is: how do we get there?

Photo courtesy of sxc.hu
Earned wins
Characters must earn their victories. They have to put the work in, take the risks, suffer the consequences. Getting to the climax had to be difficult. The climax itself has to be difficult. How is this scene a "win" for the characters involved? Is it a big win, or just scraping by? How much anguish did they go through to get here?

Good solution to the problem, and why
Needless to say, this all must make sense and work. It needs to have been clearly defined and explained, and the consequences of failure laid out. It's clear and obvious why this was a problem, and why it needs to be solved this way.

Since you may not know what's going on, entirely, make note of all the elements involved. Things said, things done, emotional states. If one character comes into the scene furious, you'll need to figure out why. If a vase is smashed to make a point, you need to know why the vase is significant -- or what the act of smashing meant, if the vase itself was not important.

Promises you made 
A climax is a chance to pay off your readers. There will be many opportunities to keep the promises you've made to your readers, but this is a big one. The nature of a climax -- action-oriented or highly emotional -- is often influenced by genre expectations, so bear that in mind as well. What are your readers going to want to see? This may not be entirely clear until you've worked out more of the plot, but it's good to be thinking about it throughout. 

Be flexible
Expect things to change while you're working all of this out. That line about murdering your darlings may come into play. Do not be flexible about logic, however. Yes, anything can be pulled off (he wants to kill my sister, therefore I must marry him) with enough character development and explaining, but the less logical it is, the more work you'll have to do to sell it.

Which is not an argument against doing something wild and different, of course. Don't expect the reader to come along quietly -- you've got to persuade them that all of this makes perfect sense given the circumstances.


Kelley Lynn said...

This is a fantastic breakdown. Very well said.

E.J. Wesley said...

Really loved this! Particularly the last bit about patience. If you can't adapt your ideas, etc. I'm not sure you can be a writer. :)

Charity Bradford said...

Great post L. I wish I could think backwards more often. Wait, what? *grins* Seriously, though, as a pantser I struggle with this. That's why I'm glad I'm adaptable.

Adaptability is key in becoming successful. Yesterday I received my editor's second round of comments and although she didn't ask it, I'm thinking of changing one key element because it will make more sense and "fix" some other issues she noticed.

If we're not willing to rethink a certain thing we've written, we can miss out on something amazing.

Huntress said...

Love the phrase '...do not be flexible about logic...'

"Humans make illogical decisions." - Spock, Star Trek

Liz said...

I'm more of a figure-out-the-premise-first writer. But I agree, you must know where you're going.

mshatch said...

I always know where I'm going but I never have the last scene all planned and pictured. That doesn't come til I start outlining or asking all those questions I've got.