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The Climactic Scene is the Final Confrontation
The climactic scene is the hero’s last confrontation with the villain, the antagonistic forces, and her personal lie. This is the moment she will either emerge victorious or everything will burn around her.
The climax is the moment the hero shows her new colors.
- Emmet become the teacher to Lord Business (The Lego Movie)
- Batman tells the Joker “You complete me.” (Lego Batman Movie)
- Sadness takes control of the panel (Inside Out)
The climax is the last moment before we get the answer to the question raised in the second half of the final battle
- Will President Business believe he is also the special? (The Lego Movie)
- Will Batman and Joker save Gotham? (Lego Batman Movie)
- Can Sadness get Riley to come home? (Inside Out)
The climax ends when we get the answer to this question.
Tips for getting the most out of the climactic scene
- Make sure the climax has the strongest tension.
This must be the highest stakes and the most difficult problem. If you have a previous conflict/scene that overshadows your climax, your story will feel off balance.
- If you are tying up multiple subplots, don’t let them distract from the main plot
Subplots help to fill out your character’s world, but it’s easy to get too involved in them. If you run into trouble, make a diagram of your subplots showing how they relate to the main plot. Then, reframe the hero’s problem to relate to his character arc. Keeping the plot centered on the character arc will ensure your story’s stakes are personal rather than generic. This will help your story feel original.
- If you have a theme, try to tie the climax to it
Not using the theme in the climax is like not adding herbs to the soup. Sure, you can do it, but you’ll end up with a pot of mushy boiled vegetables.
- No 11th-hour twists. The solution must already be in play
Finding a random solution will leave your readers reeling. Everything must already exist in the character’s world.
- No easy outs
Yes, I know about the Sonic Screwdriver but this is the exception, not the rule.
- The hero must solve her problem
Nothing is more anti-climactic than having the hero’s problem solved for them by some outside force.
- Superman didn’t fly in to put Gotham back together
- Riley’s parents didn’t show up at the bus station to take her home.
- The hero must solve her own problems. You can send in the cavalry after the conflict has been resolved.
This is final moment. Now, your character can truly become a hero
The hero has conquered her lie. Now, she will conquer her struggles. Keep her focused on the outcome and your hero will have the ending she deserves.
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Creating Anticipation for your Final Battle
It’s a long drive to the final battle and no one charged the iPad. Your characters will need to interact, but that doesn’t mean this scene should be boring. Creating anticipation in this scene will pull your readers deeper into the story and see them through to the end.
While this scene doesn’t need to be a literal journey, it does need to create anticipation. This is the moment before the final battle begins. The purpose of this scene is to add to the tension by reminding readers of the stakes.
What are the stakes?
Joy watches a cutscene where Riley runs away
Emmit meets the man upstairs and finally learns what he is really saving.
Wait? I thought you said no introducing new material this late in the game. -The man upstairs isn’t an 11th-hour twist. He is thoughtfully foreshadowed and this moment is the answer to a puzzle that has been hinted at through the entire movie. Once this happens, those pieces click into place (lego pun) and the entire movie makes sense. (And yes, I’m being intentionally vague for those who have not seen this movie, and if you haven’t, Go Do It Now. Watch it the first time to enjoy it and then again to analyze the plot structure, characterization, etc.)
What to do
Make a short list of everything that’s at stake
Be specific. “The world” is meh. Make sure those stakes are personal. If it really is the end of the world, make it something about the world that is precious to him. He’s not saving the world, he’s saving his little sister.
Create a scene reminding the readers of those stakes
The reader needs to know what will happen if the character loses.
Show, don’t tell
This can be tricky, especially if little sister isn’t on the plane with our hero. Instead of having your hero sit and think about his sister, he can play with the plastic bead bracelet she made him when she was six. He can talk to someone else on the plane about a memory. This will keep the scene from falling into telling. Rely on subtext, rather than info dumping in the dialogue and watch out for long paragraphs of exposition. Remember, if the camera can’t see it, it’s probably telling. Stuck? Ask “how do we know?”
Sam was worried. There were too many ways this mission could go wrong. But what else could he do?
Sam rechecked the straps on his pack. They were still perfect. Batteries were still fully charged. Clips were still fully loaded. Boot laces were still triple tied.
“Hey.” It was Julie’s voice. Her hair was pulled so tight it gave her a Valley facelift. “It’s gonna be ok.”
Sam scoffed. “You suck at pep talks.”
She grabbed his hand and slid her thumb over his scar. His pack suddenly gained fifty pounds. “We’re gonna get her back. I promised your mom. We won’t lose her this time.”
He tapped his head against the rib of the plane. “We didn’t lose her last time.”
Don’t just sit there, remind your readers what’s at stake
This is the lull before the storm, but it shouldn’t be dull. This moment is about creating anticipation. Remind readers what’s at stake and why they need to know how this all will end.
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The New Belief Crumbles and the Real Collapse Begins
Today, the main character has failed his test. Now he reverts back to old beliefs. This is the sequel to the second plot point. Here, the new belief crumbles.
The New Belief Crumbles: examples
In The Lego Movie, Emmet learns the prophecy is made up.
In Inside out, Joy chooses to preserve the core memories over saving sadness.
In The Lego Batman Movie, Batman won’t risk his new friends.
Today, your hero’s new belief is either damaged or completely destroyed. The character’s next decision leads to the “all hope is lost” moment.
This can happen through the introduction of new knowledge or the experience of the failure. Tailor this to your character’s arc.
Who is in charge?
This next step can either be forced upon him by the villain or self-chosen.
In the Lego movie, Emmet and the rest of the Master Builders are captured/Vitruvious is killed. Having the villain overpower the hero is a frequently used trope. There’s nothing wrong with this trope as long as it feels fresh. i.e. don’t have the villain sitting in the large office chair the whole time and then spins around right at the moment the hero was going to win.
In Inside out, Joy’s desperation causes her to risk going up the broken tube.
In the Batman movie, Batman tricks his friends into leaving the battle so he can continue on alone.
Usually, characters with agency are more satisfying to readers, but either will work here because the character should feel helpless to avoid his fate. If the character is choosing his dark moment, it must tie into his character arc. Otherwise, he will be acting out of character, or worse, the decision will seem random. Remember, stories are about characters!
Choose you calamity with care. Tailor it to your hero’s struggle
Now that the quest has failed, the character is ready for the all hope is lost moment. Tomorrow, she will face the consequences of that failure.
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