Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sharpen Your Point: A Climactic Discussion

For the writers, there are the Outliners and the Freewriters. One plots their novel out succinctly, before touching finger to key to write dialogue and exposition; while the other develops their story with starts and stops as they mull over characters and their motivations, slowly developing the story into something from the fabric of nothing.

Neither way is right or wrong, it is all a personal matter of style and comfort. The Outliners probably know their plot and character arcs, while the Freewriters may have to work through these issues over time; but neither approach is immune from story deviation or plot changes. The greatest outline in the world could be blown apart by a sudden inspiration that ratchets up the stakes of the story. Any professional story, that has staying power, must satisfy on some basic merits. One of them being the climax. A well told story that falls apart as everything tries to come together, will just leave a sour taste in the reader’s mouth.

A great post on Jami Gold's blog with an excerpt from Victoria Mixon's book on the writing craft (The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual) talks about a technique to bring focus back to what your story is all about. Putting the attention back where it belongs, is paramount to making your story more than just a string of sentences with action and dialogue meandering off into the unknown. For the NaNoWrimo participant finishing up their frenzied race to 50,000 words, a little refocusing could help.

From Jami’s blog:
We must understand, for now, only this one, fundamental thing: the Climax is the real reason we write our stories.

Once upon a time, two teenagers became so distraught over their passion for each other they committed suicide—that’s the premise. Cause? Their parents wouldn’t let them marry or even date—that’s the story. Cause of that? Their families hated each other—that’s the backstory.

—Romeo & Juliet, William Shakespeare”
After reading this several times and trying to wrap my brain around the concept that is so simple and yet mind blowing, I came up with this for my own story deconstruction of Veil of a Warrior:

A warrior of unique power, with a secret past and a troubled mind, helps rid the land of an enemy host—that’s the premise. Cause of that? The warrior regains a sense of purpose in an army of a great general, who struggles to unite the land to fight off their oppressors—that’s the story. Cause of that? Internal strife divided the land, making it ripe for conquest, while the warrior was driven from his home by the inaction of his people to fight in a war that could not be won—that’s the backstory.

It needs work. It is too wordy, but the benefit has already been had. It forced me to look at my story from a different angle and try to realize what is important and what is just for fun. When I do my “last” revision soon, this will be of great help.

Do this for your own story, and then read your work to see if it matches with your deconstruction. If not, you need to decide: Do I change the story to fit what I want, or do I need to change the concept of what I thought my story was all about? Once we understand our story better, we can write it better.

THAT is a benefit anyone can realize.

So, here’s hoping that everyone finishes up their NaNoWriMo race, and when it comes time, finds a way to turn that mishmash of words into an actual story with a satisfying climax that someone would want to read.

Victoria Mixon has a little book: The Art & Craft of Story: 2nd Practitioner's Manual that might be of value to my writer friends. I haven’t checked it out yet, but the above excerpt from Jami’s blog is part of Victoria’s book, so it certainly has promise.

Write on!


  1. Good advice for sure. Plus, I'm intrigued by your 'Veil of a Warrior' story. It seems you have come a long way and I look forward to reading it when complete.

    My nano story is all over the map. Perhaps a new summary and outline might fix it. Thanks!

  2. Thanks Steve, well funny thing is that I haven't had a chance to revise it since you read it last, but I certainly have some things I need to enhance about it. Hopefully the finished product will be worthwhile.

    Sounds like you have a plan for your project, let me know how it goes.

  3. Once we understand our story better, we can write it better.

    Yes, this. :)

  4. Thanks for the link! I'm so glad I wasn't the only one who had that mind-blowing reaction to Victoria's excerpt. :)

  5. @Paul - Or at least we hope so.

    @Jami - You bet. It was inspirational, how could I not. I figure it is a nice thing to spread the mind-combustion with others. (And messy...)


Thanks for reading, now tell me what you think.