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Johne

How to Build to the Exciting Climax of a Story

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How to master the build-up to the climax of a story.https://thewritepractice.com/climax-of-a-story/

 

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The Problem With “Action”

Here’s the thing: Many writers skip the build-up. They hurry to the “action,” to the climax of a story thinking that it’s what readers want.

But it actually isn’t. Readers think it is, but you have to outsmart your readers, and even yourself.

What readers really want is the build-up, and if you skip it, your action scene and the climax of your story will fall flat.

I’ve served as a judge for several writing contests here at The Write Practice. And so many stories make the mistake of skipping the build-up.

In one story I read, the setting was a far-off kingdom with magic and dragons. “Cool,” I thought after reading the establishing paragraph.

But then the protagonist, a man, struck his wife and began cursing at her. Obviously he was very angry, but I was shocked at this sudden level of violence and vitriol.

Immediately I was yanked out of the story. I was no longer wanting to learn more about the magical setting. Instead, I was thinking, “This is incredibly violent and vulgar . . . and I don’t know why.”

The key word here is Why.

Because without the Why, your reader won’t care and your scene won’t work.

That’s what the build-up is for.


3 Tips to Help You Create Exciting Scenes

Audiences don’t get excited by unexplained loud noises, big explosions, or shocking intimacy. They need something more.

That something is Empathy. 

Without empathy, the reader won’t feel the sting of a slap or the warm caress of a kiss. They’ll only be watching on the sidelines, vulnerable to boredom and apathy.

Here’s how to connect your readers with your characters and generate empathy that will lead to incredible thrills like never before.
 

1. Make the Reason for the Conflict Matter

If two characters are beating each other up, there had better be a reason. Superheroes fight . . . to protect the innocent. 

If two characters are kissing for the first time, there had better be a reason. Lovers kiss . . . to fulfill a longing of the soul. 

If two characters are screaming at each other, filling the air with curses, there had better be a reason. People argue . . . to avenge deep-rooted wounds with a long history.

When it’s clear to the reader why something violent, sexy, or angry is happening, he or she is much more like to empathize with the action.

But when a reader is confused, he or she will shut off any emotional output and transition, instead, to analyzing the realism of your scene. That’s the last thing you want.


2. Fill the Build-up Nail-biting Tension

You may ask, “What do I do before the action?”

In a word, Everything. 

This is where the real action occurs: The wanting. Anticipating. Fearing. Hoping. Dreading. Remembering.

Recalling a trauma. Reciting a plan.

Shouting a taunt. Whispering a secret.

The build-up to your action is invaluable because it identifies the stakes, the risks, the longings, the wounds . . . practically everything that is about to be put on the line through physical action.

Without these emotional and spiritual anchors (and empathy triggers), your scene will be nothing more than the clanging of pots and pans.


3. Try the “Less is More” Approach to the Action

When the time comes to fire the first volley, do so with restraint.

Some authors are able to create excellent build-up, but completely abandon their protagonists when the action begins. The story goes from an intimate emotional journey to Shakespearean stage directions.

One way to prevent yourself from doing this is to stick to a “Less is More” approach to your action. When describing the fight, focus on one punch. In an argument, fixate on the emotions one feels in order to hurl a certain curse word. And in a scene of sexual intimacy, zoom in on that one action, or motion, or moment of vulnerability, that really takes the character to the edge of his or her comfort zone.

This can’t be emphasized enough. The key to a successful action scene isn’t big adjectives, verbs, or pushing the limits of taste or physics or an R rating, or anything else like this.

The single greatest key to a successful action scene is reader empathy. You absolutely must keep your reader’s heart and mind locked inside the psyche of your protagonist, else you risk turning your reader into a skeptic at best and a harsh critic at worst.
So focus less on the raw action and more on the minds of your characters, and in the climax of a story you’ll thrill your readers like never before!

 

 

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27 minutes ago, Johne said:

The key to a successful action scene isn’t big adjectives, verbs, or pushing the limits of taste or physics or an R rating, or anything else like this.

The single greatest key to a successful action scene is reader empathy.

I love this. Almost makes it all easier.

 

Thanks for sharing, @Johne.

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In other words, let your plot unfold like a well-played game of chess instead of a quick game of checkers.

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So true. It could also happen the other way around when focusing only on building, then the climax lacks, and disappoints the reader.

Empathy is certainly something to remember. If the audience cares about it, they'll stay with it.

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6 hours ago, Accord64 said:

In other words, let your plot unfold like a well-played game of chess instead of a quick game of checkers.

 

Ooh- I just read this Accord64.  Nicely said!

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On 5/22/2019 at 12:38 PM, Accord64 said:

In other words, let your plot unfold like a well-played game of chess instead of a quick game of checkers.

Makes sense

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On 5/22/2019 at 1:31 PM, Claire Tucker said:

I love this. Almost makes it all easier.

 

I agree with Claire.  It certainly makes it easier!

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When my two older brother and I were kids, they did what most older brothers do. It was never the sting of the rubber band hitting bare skin that caused the fear. It was anticipating it. They'd stretch it back further and further. I'd squirm trying to get away. Big smirk on their faces, careful aim with one eye shut, sometimes even relaxing the stretch for a moment, and then pulling  it taught again. I knew it was coming, but that's what scared me.

 

And because of that, I tend to do the same thing to my readers. They know it's coming, but they're holding their breathe waiting for it.

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On 5/24/2019 at 1:37 PM, Spaulding said:

I knew it was coming, but that's what scared me.

I shudder for you!  

 

On 5/24/2019 at 1:37 PM, Spaulding said:

They know it's coming, but they're holding their breathe waiting for it.

Good writing! I'll remember the elastic bands!

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