My death will probably be caused by me being sarcastic at the wrong time.
I need a cute girl to teach me about drinking tea.
Didn’t you know? Damsels-in-distress only work in fairy tales, dear.
I have this story I have enjoyed writing. I have taken the readers on an emotional roller-coaster already. I’ve given hope, and then dashed it against the rocks (all this delicious stuff). But my ending is shaping up to be too easy. Things fell into place, and suddenly my antagonist is outnumbered and could plausibly be defeated without any major character deaths or tension.
I would give him an extra level or something, but I’ve already strung my would-be readers along quite a bit, and the story risks dragging. What can I do? Is it okay to have a relaxing final battle, or does that go against the functional plot-structure? And if it does, how do I keep the story from becoming endlessly depressing?
Hey there, StrideUp~ nice to see you again!
Let me first say that I LOVE your question, because nobody ever asks about writing climaxes (or endings). I find them to be one of the most interesting parts of writing— so I really welcome the chance to talk about it!
So, let’s take it from the top.
Before I go on with anything else, the first point I want to make is that if you have been working on this story for a long time— it’s very likely that your ability to judge the story may not be very good. Now, I don’t mean this in a bad way. When one spends a long time working on the same project it becomes very hard to focus on the details.
Take it from the person who thought everyone was going to be able to see the plot twist to Justine’s Blood coming from a mile away. During the first draft a part of me (the fearful part) thought of scrapping the book because it thought the twist was ‘too obvious.’ Of course, the smart part of my brain kicked in and reminded me that…
Major revisions to the story should wait until you have completed the first draft AND have given the book some time to cool-down.
Seriously. As seen in my Top 5 Tips for Revision, I think that in order to be able to judge your book you need to step away from it. You need distance. As the saying goes, you should strike the iron while it’s hot, but don’t try to touch it. The iron is too hot. Let it cool.
You don’t have to get it right the first time around, that is what revision is for. I have found (in my experience) that giving the book time and looking at it objectively makes a whole world of difference. Right now, I feel that it would be more effective for you to first finish writing the book, letting it sit for a while, and then work on revising it when you pick it up again. That, of course, is up to you c;
Now that this is out of the way— let’s tackle your questions, okay? In reversed order, because I like breaking the rules :p
How do I keep a story from dragging on, and losing my readers from it getting endlessly depressing?
Two things: Stakes & Payoff.
You can drag your reader through hell. You can show them horrible things— and as long as there is something at stake they will keep reading, because (as the curious creatures we are) we seek to find out what is going to happen to the things at stake (the things we care about). Now, some people may argue that if you keep having something at stake without any resolution that you are asking to bore your readers— but the examples posed by this are mostly related to TV Shows that run for several seasons and the plot elements that are used to keep the viewers watching. Here is where the carrot-on-a-stick idea comes in. But, I don’t feel like this applies to books— because, as you are about to read, a book needs to have a payoff that is meaningful to the things at stake.
Payoff. I believe that the payoff is the most important part of a climax (and the resolution of a story). Now, people often associate payoff with material gain— but there is so much more. I am a sucker for character growth. I love seeing characters change through the story. But, of course that is not what payoff is really about.
Payoff is about change. Meaningful change.
I want you all to say this with me.
Payoff is about change. Meaningful change.
We have all read and seen stories with endings that disappointed us. This happens because of two things:
- There was nothing at stake, and thus the payoff falls flat because we don’t have an emotional attachment to the resolution. (Without starting an argument, this is the main issue I have with The Last of Us. If enough people want to know, I am willing to type my thoughts. Before anyone yells at me, let me clarify that I liked the game, it was fun— but I have a lot of issues with the ending.)
- There were things at stake, but the payoff did not equate to the emotional attachment it demanded of us, and thus we were not satisfied. (Basically, the finale of Angel.)
Now, I have more to say, but let’s address this in the next question…
Is it okay to have a relaxing final battle, or does that go against the functional plot-structure?
This is the thing about stories… you can tell it however you want as long as you can make it compelling. Simple as that. Plot structure is more of an imaginary concept than anything else, and like all imaginary things you can imagine it to be something else c;
Here is the deal. People say that your story needs to have a rise in action— but this is not necessarily true. What your story needs to have is a rise in emotional attachment. The more you read, the more you care. And how do you make your reader care? By having things at stake. Again, this doesn’t always have to be material things. It can be a character’s dreams of fame, or their innocence. All that matters is that there is something at stake. Something we want to protect. Something we want to destroy. Someone we want to change.
Now, let’s look at your story not as a plot structure. Let’s consider the emotional attachment. If you have pushed your readers through hell (and worse) and now the final showdown comes and things fall in to place.
Stories write themselves. They really do. I have found that in the last third or so all of my books start dragging me around. My books always go long (or longer than I planned). If things ‘fall into place’ then maybe that is the way the story wants to go. Books are weird like that :p
Let’s be blunt here— is it okay to not have action in the very climax of your story? Of course it is. Your reader will be satisfied as long as there have been things at stake (to make them care), and the pay off was reflected on those stakes (by resonating their emotional attachment). It’s as simple as that~ ♥︎
Now… let’s pretend that you have reviewed all of this, and you still feel that maybe the payoff is not satisfactory enough.
What can I do to expand on this?
I want you to look at everything that could possibly go wrong— and make it all go wrong. Why not? You say that your antagonist is surrounded, and without options? I don’t know about you… but certain creatures a even more dangerous when cornered. And, really, most people smart enough to stir trouble (and get away with it) are smart enough to have a Plan B. Get inside the head of your antagonist. The walls are closing in on them— they have nowhere to go. What are they going to do, surrender… or fight? Or worse, make it so that nobody wants to fight them?
I hope this helps! I love talking about writing climaxes & endings, so if you have any more questions I would love to hear them~ ♥︎
Thank you for the question, strideup! And doubly-thank you for pledging to my Patreon page! Thank you for directly supporting me, my books, and the awesome posts that you see on this blog everyday~ ♥︎
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I was hit by sudden inspiration at 2:30 in the damn morning. Wrote out the last chapter of my novel, of which I haven’t even finished a rough draft, and was again hit by inspiration like a mack truck to the face. One simple sentence uttered by my antagonist, and my entire view of him shifted.
And now I know how to write books 2 and 3 that actually make sense. I’m just hoping it doesn’t seem to cliched or overdone…
I’m pretty sure this goes through my head at least once a day