A fairly common writing trap is developing the climax of your story as a single, explosive event. While this is not entirely incorrect, to write a climax as a single scene leaves out some valuable opportunities for narrative maneuvering.
Narrative climax is actually made up of four different elements:
Preparation – This is the scene or scenes where all the players are moved into place before the climax begins. Occasionally a writer will choose to switch settings entirely, and the introduction of a completely different location at this point is a signal that the climax is about to begin. In The Hobbit, the armies all move to the area at the base of the Lonely Mountain, a setting we have never interacted with before.
Moment of Truth – The moment when the protagonist realizes what he must do, and how he might influence the outcome of the approaching explosion is a key part of the climactic process. The actions that he takes at this moment help him toward the point of self-realization – important to the final resolution – and add to the building tension. Bilbo takes the Arkenstone to the elves to be ransomed in an effort to head off the approaching battle, effectively standing up to Thorin and coming into his own.
Climactic Event – Some writers call this the Battle, and in some cases it is an actual physical battle, in other cases, it is less bloody, but no less important. The important part is to raise tension. Leave the reader gripping the covers of your book, wondering how it will turn out. Add an element of all-may-be-lost. The battle that follows the arrival of the goblins at the lonely mountain is this explosive moment, building up to the moment where all may be lost, and finally the arrival of Beorn and the eagles to save the day
Aftermath – I am talking about the immediate aftermath, not when everyone has gone home and compare scars at the local pub. This is when the dust is just beginning to settle. Play out the end of the scene, rather than ending it the moment the villain is vanquished. To continue with my running example, this is when Thorin lays dying and reconciles with Bilbo.
Looking at the climax as a group of scenes rather than one moment leads to a more well-rounded Act III, leaving your readers satisfied, rather than feeling like you’re rushing to finish the story.
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