Does your story have a ‘worst point’?
And by this, I do not mean a part that reads worse than the rest, I mean a point when things could not get worse for your characters? This is a phrase used in screenwriting most commonly and represents the point in the story when you place your characters in maximum jeopardy. This is when your readers are on the edge… shouting at the TV, refusing to stop reading even though it’s passed midnight. This is not the quite the climax but a point before that when the protagonist appears to have failed in their mission; when the object of their desire that focusses the plot appears to me furthest from reach.
For story to work the central character must have an active goal and what are called the forces of antagonism which present obstacles to attaining that goal. This is the point when all those forces come together. For story to work the character must make a choice at this point in order that he can continue to resolve the burning question of the story and this may well be the point when we see that ‘want’ shift to ‘need’ I talked about earlier in the week.
The worst point is actually the point when it seems impossible for the hero to succeed. Now he chooses and those flaws come into play. The cleverness of structure comes into play here for this to work… so this is the CRISIS and is the moment before the CLIMAX.
Think of the climax as the moment the hero finds release from the final inescapable predicament. This is when you engage with the dramatic need and overcome the flaw. This is a ‘must have’ scene and in film parlance is known as the ‘obligatory scene’. You have no story without it.
Here we get the pay-off that justifies the reader’s investment in the story. It’s very rare this is subverted and the hero dies although you will see this. e.g. the Coen Brothers No Country for Old Men. If you do kill the hero at the crisis point is has to be fo the greater good of the story and essential for its overall message to work.
Think of the inciting incident as being the question that created the story… what will happen? Think of the climax as being the point when you say: THIS.
The climax is usually too complex to be a single scene and so what follows is the denouement which really means to ‘untie’ so represents where you unravel and explain the threads even though you are really tying them up! Now this is the final pay-off of everything you set up.
You established a flawed character and a mission, you confronted them with obstacles (opposites), you turned want to need and resolved by restoring the balance!
The greater the drama between inciting incident and how this is resolved, the more dramatic tension you have!
And here endeth the lessons for this week on the craft of writing!
Have a wonderful weekend and see you Monday!