Tuesday, September 25, 2012

BTW, this is going to be horrible

I recently finished Disciple, Part V, which turned out to be an unusual story -- it contains three chunks, and one is a novella (37k), one is a short story (10.5k) and one is... what are you (6.5k) anyway...?

In any case, the same plot structure applies to each chunk as in a full novel: inciting incident, first plot point, subsequent plot points building to a climax and then a resolution.

The thing that I'm going to talk about being: I nearly dropped the ball on both climaxes, this time. Luckily, my gut notified me that it was going to fix that, and the phrase it used is going to become part of my stock vocabulary:
BTW, this is going to be horrible

This is what did NOT happen.
Photo by Gavin Spencer, on sxc.hu.
because -- and I'm not clear why, no -- I had plotted out both the novella and the short story with these soft, squishy scenes for climaxes. Maybe it was because I was still recovering from the end of Part IV and I wanted to hug my characters, tell them everything was going to be okay, and give them hot chocolate with marshmallows. 

Well, around here you don't get that: you get pummeled with snowballs and... no, no spoilers.

Why do I say the scenes were squishy? There was a lack of tension because the stakes were not high enough. Stakes being all those things that the reader is supposed to worry about: the character's survival, physical health, mental wellness, current and future happiness, etc. I generally put stakes in two categories:
  • Long-term: a character's survival and happiness over the course of the next few months/years/stories -- including the rest of their lives. 
  • Short-term: a character's immediate survival and well-being. This covers the next few chapters, possibly to the end of this story. 
A scene can have an impact on the long-term stakes, short-term, or both. When it comes to a climactic scene, the more the merrier. I would go so far as to say that a climax that doesn't threaten both short- and long-term well-being isn't much fun.

In both the novella's and the short story's climax, I had laid out how important this was to the long-term stakes of the entire Disciple story... but neither one offered much threat on the short-term scale. Surviving the scene was not an issue, and to be honest one of them was a little too close to fun rather than tense.

Not that my characters aren't allowed to have fun, mind you, but these were serious situations with serious implications. In both cases, the antagonists needed to bring their A game and establish what they were willing to do to get their way. They're here to win, too, after all.

But the short-term threat can't be something so unexpected and irrelevant that it's obviously tacked on to raise the tension. While I'm revising this raw pile of Part V into a first draft, I'll be trying to give the reader a feeling that there's another shoe that's going to drop.

How many things are at stake in your story's climax?


E.J. Wesley said...

Sounds like a complex story to weave, L. Looking forward to reading about how you pull it off and make the pieces fit. :-)

Liz said...

I'm glad I'm not working on a story climax at the moment...

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