I can’t skim through all my writing reference books in search of that one little nugget of wisdom that’s going to change my life and allow me to sit down and revise the end of Truth About Truman without searching for it in Nancy Kress’s Beginnings, Middles and Ends. She actually has quite a bit to say on climaxes…and then on denouements, too. She says you have to think about what your story has promised the reader, both emotionally and intellectually. Then you have to think about the forces you’ve set in conflict throughout the middle of your book…what are they? Can you list them? [I’ll try the next time I read through Truth About Truman]
She goes on to say, “the climax must:
1) satisfy the view of life implied in your story
2) deliver emotion
3) deliver an appropriate level of emotion (I hadn’t thought about that before…she goes on to talk about TOO MUCH drama being just as bad as too little drama in some stories)
4) be logical to your plot and story”
She offers a checklist at the end of the chapter, which doesn’t offer much new that I haven’t been reading anywhere else, though she reminded me to make sure the “various forces that are present at the climax are also present in the middle of the story.”
And finally, “If my protagonist were a radically different person, would this story still end the same way?” The answer should be no. Again, I’m dealing with multiple characters…but if they were all different, would my ending be different? It would be if I shuffled them around, so yeah, probably…
(She also says it took her thirteen years to find the end of one of her books…ye gads! I don’t have thirteen years! I only have until the end of May!)
Evan Marshall has an entire chapter on endings in his Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, which I read in its entirety. But when you’ve read as many writing reference books as I’ve read this week, it’s hard to find something new. I did make one note from this chapter, though: “start the end’s supercharged drama by making the first section a reaction section in which your lead responds to the devastating failure of surprise #3.” In a sense, that’s what I did in Truth About Truman. The problem was I didn’t go any further than that “first section.” My climax, such as it was, was really just a reaction to everything that had happened…the end.
Do you know what I found in the index of Robert McKee’s Story (which is really a book for screenwriters, but I like it, too!)…”climax: difficulty of writing…p. 206.” (Yes! It’s like that index entry was written just for me!) This is another one of those books that has quite a bit listed under climax in the index, but you can bet I turned right to page 206, hoping to find the inspiration I needed. I think I found a little more sympathy than inspiration…McKee says the climax is “far and away the most difficult scene to create: It’s the soul of the telling. If it doesn’t work, the story doesn’t work.” [Great…no pressure]
McKee goes on to say, “what is the worst possible thing that could happen to my protagonist? How could that turn out to be the best possible thing that could happen to him?” Now THAT’S a new way of looking at it…
I marked two other things in the McKee book. First, he talks about change in scenes and how important it is that there IS change in every scene. But in most scenes (and sequences) that change can be reversed. Not so with the climax scene. “A story is a series of acts that build to a last act climax or story climax which brings about absolute and irreversible change.”
The other section I marked says, “Once the Climax is in hand (yes, McKee even capitalizes Climax!), stories are in a significant way rewritten backward, not forward. The flow of life moves from cause to effect, but the flow of creativity often flows from effect to cause. An idea for the Climax pops unsupported into the imagination. Now we must work backward to support it in the fictional reality.” Hmm…I’m waiting…when is that idea for the climax going to pop unsupported into my imagination??? This doesn’t ever happen to me. When I get a story idea, it’s the hook…it’s never the climax. (Or is that Climax?)
On the same page is a William Golding quote that’s worth thinking about: “the key to all story endings is to give the audience what it wants, but not the way it expects.”
I’m running out of reference books to read, so I’m going to have to quit analyzing and just start writing one of these days. (Though I could be kept busy rereading these last three LJ entries for a while…) But lest you think ALL I’m doing is reading reference books, I should mention I wrote five pages of my new Boxcar Children book yesterday, too. I have a good, solid outline, so they pretty much wrote themselves during Preteen’s piano and cello lessons. I wish Truth About Truman would revise itself.