Having (finally!) seen X-Men: First Class, I was going to use it for a pleasant "perfect villain model" post. The brilliant Janice Hardy, however, already beat me to it and did a better job, so I shall save that post for another film. Instead, today I tear you away from your work and your children, and myself from my writing and my studies, to talk about climaxes.
I had a chat the other day with a classmate, who's planning on writing a story for her English Extension 2 Major Work in the HSC next year. She wanted my opinion, as a writer, about the necessity of a climax. (I may or may not have made a few sexual jokes first, of course) She had this idea to have the larger climax toward the beginning, and then smaller, almost pseudo-climaxes throughout the course of the novel.
It's quite an idea and it got me thinking for a bit. However, I had to ask the most important question: is your first climax the most emotional one? Personally, I find that the climax of the novel is the explosion of all built up emotion - a volcano erupting, the eleventh hour in that championship game, Hugh Grant translating his brother's sign language in front of the church at his wedding trying to decide whether or not to marry Duckface. Climaxes are emotional.
I then asked: is the reader going to care enough to keep reading after this first climax? I mean, books are like films in that regard - it's easy to put a book back on a shelf, just like it's easy to hit the eject button. If one placed an enormous emotional climax at the end of the first quarter, is it all going to be downhill from here? How about the reader - do they know your character well enough to react effectively to said climax?
X-Men: First Class led the audience through two separate childhoods, two circumstances, then through the relationship between two men, two allies, two friends, to a final moment, one which reeked of dramatic irony, but a climactic moment nonetheless. This moment took place on a Cuban beach.
If you've seen the film, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If not, well, you'll get the gist of it soon enough. (I might ruin the movie, I'm sorry) But on this beach, two allies then found that their beliefs separated them. An ultimate betrayal, realisation for the audience, and the tragic accident that just made everything that had accumulated burst. You'd had Eric's revenge, the mess with the navies, Charles and the rest of the kids battling Shaw's men, Eric and Charles disagreeing about what to do with the missiles, Rose Byrne firing a gun at Eric, and then one deflection buried a bullet in the base of Charles' spine. And the world stopped.
That, my dear readers, is a climax. And when Eric abandons all his evil-laugh-evil-man plans, dropping the missiles into the ocean and dropping by the collapsed Charles' side, that moment of pure shock is only effective because the audience has been led through their story.
You really ought to approach climaxes like Eli Roth in Inglorious Basterds as the Bear Jew. You hit that Nazi upside the head with your baseball bat just like you hit those readers with your Pompeii of eruptions.
This is it, man. This is it. Every scene, every action, every character and progression in your novel thus far has led to this one moment, this scene, this mission or date. You have built up so much emotion, so much turmoil and conflict that there are two ends in either hand that really want to meet. I mean, these are the Romeo and Juliet of ends, and you're going to rob them of their meeting? In light of that incredible party scene, ("Palm to palm is holy palmers kiss") you need to make an impression, just like you did for your reader when they first opened the book. You need to blow your audience away (Maybe I should've picked another topic, this one's moving my mind toward the gutter).
Sure, in your first draft you might've just gotten through it. But if you're in the same boat as me, or even a few boats behind, you're revising and it's time to kill that climax. You've returned, you've learnt more about your characters, your plot. You might have new ideas bustling around in your head, you might want to rewrite, you might want to change everything but its skin.
Often, first-draft climaxes are overwrought. Too much action, too much emotion. Just, too much. When you comb back through this with your revision teeth, you need to scrutinise, to allow the reveal wiggle-room but not to lay everything bare. Leave something up to imagination. Be enigmatic, be absurd and infuriating. Perhaps, leave loopholes, gaps that only you can fill. Now, after this consideration, imagine the scene as a film, and then imagine it as a piss-poor budget with third-rate actors.
Is it overdramatised?
Now, disregarding all silliness and giggles and sexual innuendos this post has triggered in your mind, I have something of importance to say: you can't rush a climax.
You mightn't see it as rushed, but it's not you we're thinking about.
It's your audience.
Think of it like this. In X-Men: First Class, there's a scene where Magneto interrupts Mystique while she's lifting weights, and she's in her pretty non-blue-and-actually-the-blonde-playing-Katniss-in-the-HG-film form. He uses his metal powers to levitate the weight high above her, and proceeds to tell her that while she's blue, she not entirely focused on everything that's going on around her. He then drops the weight.
And while your readers are focusing on whatever draws their eye, they're not being blue, they're not entirely focused on what you're trying to show them. And then the end of the climax passes and the weight drops.
It's a fact that an audience will take bits and pieces from your novel to enjoy, and quite a bit of their enjoyment is individualistic. For instance, the YA novel I finished yesterday morning, Kiersten White's PARANORMALCY, had a climax that was far too fleeting. I was too busy going GOODNESSGRACIOUS! IT'STHEPRETTYFAERIEBOY to really pay attention to the vague lines about stars and what she was looking at and were they in the street? Honestly.
If you're writing YA, you're writing for teenage girls. You know, me. The buy movies and go to the cinema and read other books and learn obscure languages just for that one actor boy and you'll be onto a new guy next week teenage girl. (We never really get over our boy crushes though, we sort of collect them, like a vast army of underaged serial killers)
Now, I feel sorry for Kiersten White because I really had enjoyed her book up until that very point. I had barely gotten over my Reth (faerie boy) explosion of internal squealing before I blinked and suddenly, the climax was done and dusted and I was reading that dreary after-scene with her lying in a hospital bed. (It was almost like how I essentially missed the first half of X-Men: First Class because I died everytime Fassbender came on-screen).
So, slow yourself down. When your special readers go through that scene, ask them whether they got distracted or they missed anything. Quiz them on the important facts that they should have gotten in that scene. If there's anything missing, you need to consider what's distracting them, reshuffle, prioritise and take charge of your audience's focus.
I'm sickly, and should be studying and I really can't afford to continue this crock of shit, so I bid you adieu with a few points. First, I've received more than a handful of emails about guest blogs and just general questions and I really haven't enough time to address them singularly, so I may do a post or set up a FAQ section or something soon. Second, if you haven't heard about it, check out this mysterious site that JK Rowling has set up, Pottermore - she's making some big announcement over YouTube next week. Third, I have about seven unfinished posts, so be prepared come school holidays for an influx of these pathetic posts.
Have a nice week, guys. Any further comments on climaxes below?