Lessons Learned: Climax and the End

This will be the last post on the 7 Point Plot Structure. I’ve taken my time laying out the lessons because it was critical to know how to write a short story before it became possible to write a short story in a week.

The final two elements are the Climax and the Validation. I learned least about these as I went, largely because I was nearly always hitting a time deadline, which meant that these got short shrift

The first and primary thing I learned was that the end of the climax is not the end of the story. The real end is the validation when all the loose threads are sewn up and the characters are safe again. Prior to learning about the validation nearly all my stories looked like the first chapter of a long novel.

Early problems I had with my climaxes were that the resolution came too easily to my protagonist. Or it happened off-screen.

In the case of the first I remember vividly the moment when I figured out how to make a climax hit a bit harder. I’d just written “Every Lavender Dog Has His Day,” and given it to Steve to read. “What do you think?” I’d asked. Steve shrugged his shoulders. “Eh. It’s ok. You’re missing something at the end. It just comes too easily.”

The character at the end falls down into the ruins of a destroyed building along with her dog. She wakes up, looks for the dog, and finds the answer to the mystery set up at the beginning. I added one sentence killing a person in her descent and it made all the difference for the story because it showed the price of failure vividly. It created the lowest point of the story. Not only had she been unable to find survivors. The one survivor she found, she killed accidentally. If she’d just found a freshly dead body it wouldn’t have mattered. This dead person was the result of her own actions. That’s why it had power.

That was a real epiphany for me. It doesn’t take 500 words to establish stakes. Sometimes it takes just a single sentence or a partial sentence. Afterwards I looked for the missing element that I could add to the setting or the plot to up the stakes, to create that low moment that has to precede the climax.

My other problem, the climax happening off-screen, happened because I am sensitive to fight scenes. When I picture them I feel nauseous. I can’t bear to watch the news and see people suffering. I hate most forms of violent entertainments. But I love stories with triumphant fight scenes at the end like The Dresden Files or Clive Cussler’s Fargo series. What to do?

I eventually realized that since I couldn’t picture them, I had to choreograph them artificially. So I set up my RPG figures on a map and moved them noting what I did each time. Then I returned to the writing.

I bought a deck of Combat and Magic cards. When I needed to add an element to a fight scene, I pulled one out, chose one of the three choices and then modified it to my own needs.

combat card

They saved my story so many times because I didn’t need to rely on my own imagination, which gave me not only choreographed moves, but also the visceral sense of the fight. I could, instead, approach this more clinically.

Still, I needed to be able to add the emotional content without losing my lunch. When I attended Jonathan Maberry’s excellent “How to Write a Fight Scene” at Superstars Writing Seminars, I asked him about this problem. He said that it was a common problem that many people had with fight scenes. His recommendation? Ginger. Or club soda. Or Dramamine. Or anything that could help with the nausea. Ginger works.

The validation is the part of the 7 Point Plot Structure that I understand the least. I know it has to be there. I know it typically has a time and location jump and that it requires a new set up with depth. But I’m still not very good at it. It often ends up looking like an epilogue. But I’m good enough that no one believes that the story hasn’t ended. That’s the critical part.

There are a lot of other ways to write stories than the 7 Point Plot Structure. But this is a good foundation on which to start and it is extremely helpful when writing a story a week. That’s why I used it as my basic structure.

There’s more to writing a story a week than just understanding how a story works. More on that in future posts.

Be well, friends! And stay well.

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