Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Premature Climaxes and Other Difficulties

I'm posting for Lisa, so if she puts a post up, I'll take this one down.

But, I've got burning questions about climaxes. Take your minds out of the gutter! Not that climax. The book's climax. The black moment. Turning point. Whatever you want to call it, it's what the book builds towards, and what the characters have to recover from as they move on to their HEA. Unfortunately, there's not a Cosmo guide to better climaxes ("How to please your hero in 10 easy mind-blowing steps"). I've looked. Romance writers are all about the foreplay--the perfect hook, the best rising action, "how to seduce your reader with 10 sexy new games," and "Be a Bad Girl! Play Hard to Get!" Generally, it seems to be assumed that if everything else is in place, the climax will take care of itself.


I'm in the final scenes of my WIP, and I've got climax problems worthy of 10 little blue pills. I've got questions, and I'm hoping some of you have answers.

Many romance books, even those that are not RS, climax with a dramatic scene where the heroine (or hero) is in peril--a gun is produced, a bad guy materializes, a child is lost, death is imminent. The threat of death seems to be the universal love potion--historical do it, contemporaries do it, even Erotica and YA do it. My WIP is a romantic comedy, and plenty of other romantic comedies climax with the threat of peril to life or limb. Other comedies climax with the madcap chase scene--a huge comedy errors that sends the hero and heroine tripping and tumbling towards their HEA. I love both types of endings.

Unfortunately, the climax of my book doesn't fit either "formula." Which leads me to wonder, is there a place for non-standard climaxes? What if my book has multiples? One big black moment at the 3/4 mark, and another smaller black moment in the final scenes? Is it possible to have a "soft" climax, where the book builds, black moment, and then the resolution is more subtle? Does the removal of the barriers standing between them and HEA have to be filled with peril? What if the barriers are mainly emotional? Does the lack of motivation for a big-drama-filled climax in the final scenes always point to a plotting problem?

And if it does, be blunt and brutal with me. I'm going to finish these scenes, and then it's on to revisions, and I've got to have a game plan for dealing with the black moment and what happens afterwards. Feel free to share any good links you have on the subject too! Thanks!


Karen Duvall said...

Thanks, Wavy, for satisfying my blog withdrawals. See, I need an excuse to avoid work every now and then throughout the day and the blog is perfect for that. I was jonesin' for a break, man!

Okay, the climax, the explosion that results after the build-up. This is true for, uh, both kinds, so at least we have it in the right context, yes? 8^) But the climax happens after the black moment. The climax is the good stuff, the moment of achievement, so don't get the two confused or you and your book will be in a world of hurt. Not to mention disappointment. Ahem.

Your main character wants something really bad. He/she has been struggling to get it over the course of the entire book. It's now at the point that whatever it is is within her grasp, but the worst that can happen happens and it seems all is lost. She/he must make a choice. It is, after all, totally up to that character to set things right. No best friends or dads or uncles or killer tornados can do it because the story isn't theirs. It belongs to the main character. It's her show, and she'll be the one getting the prize at the end.

The prize she wins after she makes it through the black moment is the climax. That's the good stuff, and then the bonus prize comes in the resolution when she realizes what she's learned from her trials and tribulations over the past 450 pages or so.

Now does that make sense for you, Wavy? If not, just state right here in your comments section the answers to these questions:
What does she want?
What stands in her way of getting it?
What's the worst that can happen if she doesn't get it?

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy, I've been thinking back to the climaxes of my past books which were often comedies.

While it's true I have ended with a physically perilous scene and perhaps a madcap chase scene or two, mostly I used emotional peril as the black moment but remember, I didn't know about black moments, I just sensed their need. I used the moment when one of both characters realized the other person wasn't ready for love or the moment when they had convinced themselves they were not ready to love or were unworthy or that it was too risky, etc...

In a love story, realizing you cannot fulfill that love is the deepest sadness. Think Sweet Home Alabama when the two characters love one another but are convinced they don't belong together. It's only when she's confronted with the subliminal message she sent herself, by not signing the divorce papers, that she realizes where her heart lies. No death threats, no chase scenes, just a satisfying conclusion.

Remember that workshop Eli and I talked about? Very briefly, incompletely, and with great liberty and dummification, he talked about character arcs. You can use the woman in Sweethome Alabama as an example.

Her identity: sophisticate, successful. Attracted to a man who reinforces her image of herself. She's living the dream her mother always wanted for her and by doing so, ignoring her roots and everything that helped make her who she really is. She will fight like a tiger to hold onto this image as it's her mask.

Her essence: small town girl, in love with the same guy forever. As wild as the lightening bolt that strikes sand and makes beautiful free form shapes.

The speaker said to have your character answer this question: "I'll do whatever it takes but don't ask me to do ____________ because it's just not me."

She would answer it, "I'll do whatever it takes, just don't ask me to live in that backwater place for the rest of my life because it's just not me."

But it is her. And her essence is fulfilled when she comes to realize it is her. She leaves the man who represents everything she thought of as her identity (rich, sophisticated, up and coming) to go to the man who represents her essence (free wheeling, loyal, open to adventure.)

Did I make any sense? If you look at movies like Titanic, you can see this same arc. Same with Shrek and just about very satisfying movie or book. And so the ending grows out of that need to fulfill your character's destiny, with an eye to make sure the reader knows that there could be no other person for the the hero and the heroine but each other. Whatever serves to keep them apart, be it danger or their own perceptions must be dealt with and banished.

I hope that helped and that my paraphrasing didn't slaughter the speaker's ideas. It would be hard to offer a more concrete answer seeing as I don't know your book, but I'm not bad at brainstorming, so if you want to engage in a little of that via IM or whatever, let me know.

Good luck!


wavybrains said...

So let's say I have 25 chapters. In Chapter 20 the black moment arrives. All is lost. The final 5 chapters are about rebuilding a new definition of normal whereby by character finally gets what she needs by changing her definition of what she wants. (The theme song for this book is "You can't always get what you want" by the Rolling stones). I guess I was feeling that we needed a second black moment around chapter 24 or 25, but maybe we don't. I've got to keep the tension going though, and maybe that's the real issue.

What does she want? 1. She wants to feel validated. This is another theme of the book, but she doesn't realize this internally or externally until the very end.
2. She thinks she wants a perfect life just like her sister's: husband, kids, house, etc. She's wrong. See #1.
What stands in her way of getting it? Her own insistence on a particular ideal. This is the emotional barrier. All sorts of complications all ensue when she tries to get what she wants.
What's the worst that can happen if she doesn't get it? She ends up like she does in the black moment: with nothing, having let the best thing slip through her hands, and her sense of self-is shaken. The worse thing for her is failure, and she fails in a spectacularly huge way. The next five chapters are about her digging herself out of that hole by defining success for herself.

wavybrains said...

Alice--Sweet Home is one of my favorite movies, and actually, I think it's got a lot of paralells to my book. After the black moment, the heroine and hero both have rather subtle awakenings to the real truth in their hearts, but it's natural given the rest of the book.

I think the answer to that question for my heroine is "Please don't ask me to live without a plan!" And of course she has to do just that. Light bulb. I need to show that much more clearly in the BEGINNING of the book. Must finish these two scenes so as J. Crusie says, I can see what I have and begin draft 2.

wavybrains said...

Oh and I'd like to share that 98% of my problems in chapters 20-25 are because I started writing out of order for the first time ever around Chapter 20. Everything went to hell in a handbasket for 5 months. NEVER again will I do that. Write in order or suffer the consequences!

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy--Lots of people write scenes out of order. I cannot. I guess you can't, either.

Glad you worked things out for yourself!


Paty Jager said...

Wavy, I think you answered your own question with Karen and Alice's help.

But here's what I did in the last book. It has two scenes in the last third of the book where the heroine is in peril, but they aren't the black moment. They build up to the black moment when after the heroine has finally let the hero in and believes in him, he shuts her out and the two perilous scenes were the forebodings to the black moment. But it has no peril/chase anything in the black moment it is simply a scene with dialog and emotions.

Karen Duvall said...

Good job, Wavy!

I think it's very rare that a black moment is an action or fight scene/chase scene, etc, because those are actually plot points. The black moment is ALWAYS emotional. There can be something really scary or perilous going on at the same time, but that's not the black moment. It's that pinnacle of "oh my god it's all come to this and now ______" and that is emotion-based. So as Paty said, the danger and action lead up to it, maybe sustain it, but it's that moment of decision or realization that is truly the character's darkest hour.

Piper Lee said...

Ooooh, so much information on this post! Thanks for bringing it up Wavy and thanks to all you brilliant girls for sharing and exploring. Yee haw! I love it when there's blogs like this!

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Great blog, Wavy. And thanks for filling in today. Man, how will I ever follow this tomorrow???

Alice did a great job of explaining the workshop we took (in a nutshell), and yes, Alice, you made perfect sense and didn't slaughter the speaker's ideas.

Since I write RS, and my climaxes always include peril, I'm not one to answer this question in depth, but I will say my black moments always come before my climax, and its usually the culmination of the climax (and peril) that convinces the hero/heroine that life without the other would be pretty bad.

That said, a climax doesn't always have to be a moment of peril or a madcap chase scene. A climax can be simply the hero or heroine going after the other when they're finally hit over the head with the reality of life without the other. Think about your favorite non-life-threatening movies.

When Harry Met Sally. (One of my favorite movies.) The black moment happens when they argue at the wedding over sleeping together. She wants it to mean everything, he wants it to mean nothing. The climax happens when he realizes she's the woman he's been avoiding his whole life and the only one he wants and he chases her down on New Year's eve to tell her.

While You Were Sleeping The black moment happens when the heroine's about to marry the hero's brother, and suddenly confesses everything in front of the congregation. The climax happens when he shows up at her ticket booth and asks her to marry him.

Runaway Bride Black moment - when she runs out of their wedding. Climax - when she shows up at his apartment and tells him what kind of eggs she really likes.

All movies with great plots and emotionally satisfying black moments and climaxes. And since we're talking about it, I will add that sometimes the black moment happens at different times for different characters, which can often feel like mini-black moments or multiple black moments, and that works too. Bottom line is do what works best for YOUR book.

wavybrains said...

I wrote the climax. Done. Official met-goal-announcement on Tuesday, but lord almighty this post helped. I wrote like a woman possessed after I had the light bulb moment thanks to Alice and Karen. Much editing will now ensue.

Eli--all those movie examples are exactly the kind of book I want this to be. I saw a movie a while ago where the black moment was the break-up, and the climax was him coming to dinner with her parents. Can't remember the name now. But GREAT movie, very low key, but some movies are best that way.

Oh, and I think part of my problem was that my YA had a very clearly defined black moment that rolled directly into the climax. Extremely short downward arc after the the black moment, as is fairly typical of YA's. And my first was a category which also had a shorter span between black moment and climax, and used both physical peril and secondary character intervention. If you added my category to my YA, you'd have the word count of this WIP, so learning the pacing for the longer length has been a challenge with this work.

Alice Sharpe said...

Wavy -- Good for you!


Danita Cahill said...

This was an excellent post, Wavy. And most excellent comments, lady. I learned a lot, and was reminded of the things I all ready knew, but sort of forgot.

For me I think the black moment and climax sort of come by instinct. If I over think it while writing, they come out forced and stiff.

So glad you wrote your way through, Wavy. Woo-hoo!!1

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