Monday, August 15, 2011

Crafting the climax of your story

(caveat: This topic was brought up over on Nathan Bransford's forums back in July and has been in my head ever since. You can read it here.)

I struggled when working on the ending scenes to my WIP, Journey to Andryea (working title). I had all the important stuff charted out on pages of notes, like who had to be where, who had to admit what crucial piece of info, or how did the events affect the MC's journey?

After enough procrastination, I finally sat down and started pounding out the ending. I knew how I wanted it to go, but I didn't know how I wanted to do it. I admit it's still a bit rough in some places, but for now, it's at a place where I can put it down and work on something different.

Then I read a thread over on the Bransforums about how authors deal with the "end" of the final climactic scene. The thread starter pointed out that she could either start the next chapter after a passage of time, or immediately after the crucial moment, but wasn't sure which one to do. People suggested the author write out both endings and go with what felt right. What a novel (excuse the pun) concept!

If we all know that you're not supposed to start out a book in a dream sequence because it lulls your reader into a false beginning, then is it also taboo to end the climactic scene of your book with your MC falling unconscious? I thought back to JtA and realized I did exactly that.

In order to wrap up the climax and get all the key players back to their respective places on the novel chess board, I had my MC pass out/end chapter. The next chapter began two weeks later. And she awoke from a dream.

Two weeks later AND a dream!

Author fail. Knowing that the large climactic battle scene was one of a community's overall survival, two weeks seems like a large break in action before my MC returns. This was a technique I used so I could fill in the "then what" scenes with conversations.* In this situation, I needed to quickly tell the reader how things were getting back to normal while I focused more on the threats and plot lines related to the characters. A few pages later, the story ended with a clear place to pick up in the next book.

How about you? 
Does it bother you when there's a gratuitous passage of time just so the author can nicely wrap things up? Or would you rather skip the 2 weeks and pick it up later, after things are wrapped up?

* = this is also commonly used in TV shows where a year will pass. Recent examples include True Blood and Bones. If you're fans of either show, let me know if the technique worked for you. So far, I don't have any real complaints about either one.

10 comments:

  1. I think, and this will probably sound like a cop out, that it depends on the story. Because I truly believe that there's no story telling technique (even the dream opening or the dream ending or ANYTHING) that can't be used well by a skilled storyteller in the right story. Don't pay attention to what people say you're supposed or not supposed to do. Just listen to the story. Get into your creative mind, read through everything you have leading up to your climax and let the story tell you where to go from there.

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  2. Well, I sure hope this kind of thing doesn't bother most readers, because I use it all the time. With White Echoes there came a point in the story when nothing important and immediate was happening. I ended the chapter and skipped three weeks, to when one of the two main POV woke up again.

    I do believe that once the climax is over, most characters will feel a need for a deep breath, then try to tie in their loose ends (those left, anyway). You could write 5 short scenes were they do so, or you could have one, two weeks later, where they solve 1-2 and refer to the others.

    Yours is part of a series, so it's different, but I like to give a sense of where these people's stories are heading now, without giving a happy, all-is-tied-up ending. Skipping time is great to give the reader a sense of what their lives might be and what they accomplished with all this novel's plot.

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  3. I'll go with the timeless advice of "Skip the boring stuff; the reader will".

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  4. mostly, i just like it when it IS wrapped up, so i guess i don't mind if there's a gap of time of whatever

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  5. I agree with McCabe that it does depend on the story, but I also agree with Lerwill that I'd skip the entire section if it's boring.

    I guess it comes down to the age old question of "is it relevant"?

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  6. Thank you, all, for the comments. I was half-expecting to read a response telling me (politely, of course) that it was poor writerly form to end the climax scene with a nap and use that as a passage of time.

    But I agree with Margo's comment:
    "Skip the boring stuff; the reader will."

    No one really cares how V gets the stuff from the healer's house to bring to J. Instead, all the readers really need to know is that J got medical attention because really, there are bigger questions to tackle, like "Now what?"

    I'll keep the unconsciousness aspect in, but 2 weeks is a bit much for me. Perhaps on the next run through that will be trimmed to a few days.

    Thank you again, all of you, for your thoughts!

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  7. I'm also in the "it depends" camp. Specifically, I think it depends a lot on the level of continuing tension you want and your character's state of mind at the end of the chapter.

    If you're truly past the climax (not in the middle of it) and want to give readers a break, then a time jump works great!

    On the other hand, if your character gets conked on the head and blacks out just as his/her best friend is taken prisoner...you better not skip three weeks ahead and leave me hangin' :)

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  8. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give to fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. It’s not a pass on award. This is just for you to keep. I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award for all the hard work you do!

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
    ~Deirdra

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  9. The thing with "skip the boring stuff" is that "boring" is subjective. However, if it bores YOU, the author, then definitely skip it.

    I've given you an award as well: http://subcreator.blogspot.com/2011/08/miscellaneous-paraphernalia-blog-on.html

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  10. @Nicole--point well made. I promise not to leave my readers hanging on a massive plot point when I use a passage of time technique. :)

    @Deirdra and Sarah--thank you for the awards! What a day maker given the craptastic couple of days I've had!

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