Friday, July 15, 2011

Bob Kernen's "Building Better Plots", part 22

In discussing how to construct an effective climax in chapter 5, Kernen says that when many authors reach that point in their stories, they’re tempted to throw in every additional problem they’ve thought of (and maybe couldn’t work in earlier).  They think that tossing in new stuff heightens the drama.  All that manages to happen is that the moment they’ve spent 75% of the novel building up to becomes muddy with so much happening, and readers trying to figure out where all this new stuff came from.

Sometimes writers will find new connections to earlier plot points when they’re working through the climax. Then, they put things in because it seems to add dimension to the climax. Usually that just results in the same confusion.

I need to sit with my outline and pinpoint the climax, because right now it could be either of these moments:

  • Neal and his mother have a conversation about their lives
  • Sandy and friends break Neal out of the place he’s locked up in and Neal tries to kill his father

Either could have enough emotional drama to be the climax.  I’m tending toward the second scene, however. But again, more stuff happens after that, and it’s absolutely critical to Neal’s character development. I am waffling over whether or not to include the scene where Neal confronts the mayor and shames him into agreeing to tour some of the barrios still scarred from  rioting. If I show some of the actual touring, that will illuminate the social theme of the novel as well as show the kind of man Neal’s grown into.

Decisions, decisions. What is the point of highest emotion? Where do the threads come together? I have to laugh. Kernen says that “not every idea, not even every good one, has a place in a given story”. Do I have to throw out some of my plot? I’m between a rock and a particularly hard place here, because this is my first effort at publication. If I had at least one successful thing out there, I would have a bit more leeway with how long the novel is. I could work on getting something else published first, but that would take additional months (if not years). The longer the themes in “Street Glass” go without light shed on them, the less interested people may be. 

Mainly though, I’ve spent the past two years on this project, and while I don’t feel that would become wasted time if I moved to something else, I have the momentum to keep going.

In order to sort this out, I’ve written a summary of the scene involving Neal and his parents, starting when Neal’s swept up in the L.A. rioting and ending at LaGuardia airport in New York City . In that short summary, I can easily sense rising tension, a climax, then a wrap-up. That’s disappointing, because so much could happen after that! Well, how necessary is that stuff?

I’ll adjourn here to hash this out on my own time. I *will* resolve the issue before the next post in this series. J


  1. As I'm working toward the climax in my own WIP, I'm struggling with the same issues. What to leave in, what to leave out. Got lots of good little scenes, but in the long run, they might not all be necessary to tell the story. I have to stick to my motto of no words set in stone until it's in print. :) Even if it means killing my darlings.

    You can always make a few alternate chapters around the climax and see which has the best impact/pace, etc. Your critters will probably be help to point it out. But keep at it and I know you'll get there!

  2. Thanks so much, Mysti. It's always helpful to know that other writers struggle with some of the same stuff I do Yeah, alternate scenes can be helpful. I've done some in the past and they can help clarify issues. Hope you stop by my blog again!