Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Does Your Story’s Climax Pack a Punch?

The best part of the Fourth of July (other than the fried chicken and potato salad, of course) is the fireworks at the end of the day. Everyone looks forward to sundown and the explosions of color that light up the darkness. The climax of your novel is like that. Readers will enjoy the preceding chapters (just like I enjoy my fried chicken), but what they’re really looking forward to are the fireworks at the end of the book. As authors, we need to make sure we put on a show worth remembering all year long. But just how do we do that?

Gardens of the Moon, the first book in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series, is a complicated (if sometimes convoluted) and exquisitely detailed fantasy that artfully leads readers up to a whale of a fireworks show. Let’s take a look at how Erikson accomplishes this:

1. He utilizes foreshadowing throughout the book to heighten the tension and give readers an idea of the insurmountable odds piling up against the protagonists.

2. As the climax approaches, he starts choreographing his huge cast of characters to allow them all to appear together in the climactic setting.

3. He steadily increases the pacing, via short scenes that jump from character to character, to ramp up the adrenaline.

4. He holds nothing back. When the climax finally arrives, Erikson pulls no punches. He gives readers everything he’s got by incorporating every element he’s introduced so far in the story (and a few he hadn’t).

No matter how good the preceding chapters may be, if your story doesn’t pay off in the climax, readers will be disappointed. So take a page from Erikson’s book and let the fireworks light up your story’s sky.

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