Did you ever notice how a lot of writing reference books talk about the END of a story, but they don’t always talk about the CLIMAX??? Why aren’t there any books just on climax??? The climax should absolutely occur very close to the end of the story, but it isn’t necessarily THE end. There’s usually a resolution that comes after the climax. I’m not having trouble with the resolution of The Truth About Truman, I’m having trouble with the climax.

Novakovich also talks about endings in his Fiction Writer’s Workshop. But he lists different kinds of endings than the other authors of the reference books I’m reading. He talks about circular endings, matching vs. non-matching endings (which are kind of like circular endings…”the first image TRANSFORMED [emphasis mine] serves also as the last”), surprise endings, trick endings, summary endings and open endings. That’s all he has to say on endings…and he has nothing to say about climax. I’m pretty sure my ENDING of The Truth About Truman is a circular ending. And like I said before, I’m not too worried about my ending…it’s the climax that’s giving me trouble.

Kernen (author of Building Better Plots — one of the best books I have on plotting, BTW) knows what I’m talking about when I say the end and the climax aren’t necessarily the same thing. He talks about two phases of the climax: the crisis and the emotional processing of the situation. I’ve got the “emotional processing of the situation” under control, it’s the crisis I’m having trouble with. And how does that make sense??? How is it my characters can process a situation I haven’t fully explored in a crisis scene???

Kernen also talks about the use of setting in the climax…WHERE does the character have to be to confront all his/her problems? That’s something to think about…I often don’t do enough with setting…

Kernen actually has quite a bit to say on climax, crisis and resolution…he’s had me skipping all over the book. Much of what he talks about has to do with the rhythm of the story, which is different from what’s in all my other books, but it’s still not helping me a whole lot. BTW, he’s got a really great quote: “The climax of your story should occur at precisely the moment when the rubber band is about to break!” (I love that!)

In Conflict, Action & Suspense, Noble says writers often have trouble with endings because “there isn’t a simple mechanism they can refer to.” He’s right! Pick up just about any writing reference book and you’ll find concrete ideas you can use to write a solid beginning, but it’s harder to find concrete techniques for writing endings. (If you’ve got concrete techniques for writing climaxes and endings, I’d strongly recommend you write up a proposal for Writer’s Digest books!)

Noble does, however, talk about circular and linear endings and how each works best with a particular “type” of story. So…working backwards…I’ve already decided I’ve got a circular ending. According to Noble, “the circular ending:

1) concentrates on contrasts of then/now, before/after, showing changes that have occurred in attitude, place and position
2)usually has characters returning to or rediscovering the original story setting” [again with the setting!] 3) can tie up loose ends after the climax” [okay…I’ve already established I’m working on the climax rather than the ending] 4)ends not with a bang but with a whoosh!”

Noble also says don’t introduce new stuff in the climax/ending…work with what I already have. Which should be obvious…but I hadn’t really thought about that until I read it. I need to pay close attention to what I’ve done in the story up to the ending…

And finally, Obstfeld’s Fiction First Aid…Obstfeld says there are five possible endings:

1) the character gets what he/she wants and is happy
2) the character gets what he/she wants and is NOT happy
3) the character doesn’t get what he/she wants and is happy
4) the character doesn’t get what he/she wants and is NOT happy
5) the character changes his/her mind and no longer wants he/she thought he/she wanted

Okay…looking just at Zebby (though I have 5 other characters to think about, too)…Zebby gets what she wants but she is not happy. She gets happy by the resolution, but she’s not happy at the climax. This is what needs to be dramatized more.

I also read Obstfeld’s section on “Ailment: Paying off too little” with interest…that’s my problem in a nutshell. (FWIW, I think that’s my problem in I am Anna Winkler, too, but I’m actually not supposed to be working on that book right now…) I’m not sure if I’m going for a “character payoff” (which will “startle the reader with a shift in character: the characters will be INTERNALLY affected or changed by what has happened”) or a “plot payoff” (which will “start the reader with a shift in plot: something will happen to the characters, or they will do something that will alter their EXTERNAL circumstances”). Probably the plot payoff…

Obstfeld is actually talking about payoff in SCENES rather than payoff at the end of the book, but what he says is certainly applicable to the climax, too…especially when he says, “the final payoff is watching the impact of what has just happened on the characters.” That’s something to keep in mind, too…

Gee, it really does help to write out everything I’m assimilating from these books as I think about how to apply it to my own writing…and if my blathering helps someone else in the process, all the better!

More on endings…

2 thoughts on “More on endings…

  • April 12, 2007 at 8:31 pm

    What are your favorite writing books for you now – as opposed to before you were published?

    • April 13, 2007 at 3:51 pm

      Writing Reference books

      How did you know my favorites now would be different from my favorites then? You’re right…when I first started out, I only read books on writing for children because I knew that was what I wanted to do. Write for children. But then I realized good writing was good writing and there was much to be learned from other writing reference books.

      I think Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel (both the book and the workbook) are good (though that was not one of the books I pulled down from my shelf last weekend when I decided I was going to read everything I could find on climax/endings).

      Debra Dixon’s Goal, Motivation and Conflict was a “turning point” book for me…I really started to approach my writing differently after reading that book.

      For plot, I think Kernen’s Building Better Plots is among the best out there…for revision I like Madden’s Revision…I don’t have a current favorite among the books on character (though I have MANY books on this subject).

      Tobias’ 20 Master Plots was a favorite of mine early on, but I haven’t opened that one in a while…

      And I like Schmidt’s Story Structure Architect and Cowden and LeFever’s Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes.

      A lot of these books, I have had for a VERY long time, but I’m not sure I really “got” what they were saying until the last few years. I read them all differently now than I did before I was published.

      How about you? What are your favorites?


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