Today, we continue our ongoing discussion about common plot issues by focusing on how authors sometimes mess up the “big moment” at the end…. the moment when everything culminates in a great showdown, or someone taking a huge risk for great reward.
I can definitely say I’ve had trouble with this, especially in early drafts. And I’ll talk about that…. But in my defense, there is just SO MUCH that needs to be in balance when everything comes together, or blows up in someone’s face near the end of a novel, that I honestly can’t imagine getting it right the first time.
(I’m big on focusing on “as good as possible” where first drafts are concerned. First drafts don’t have to be readable, and they don’t have to be good. They just have to be finished, and fixable. That’s all.)
So, what issues do writers have making the big moment big enough? I can only speak for myself…. Here are the things I’ve noticed in my own early drafts.
THE BIG MOMENT IS NOT LONG ENOUGH CONSIDERING THE BUILD-UP
This is a struggle for me because I have strong minimalist tendencies in my writing. As I write epic fantasy, often my novels lead up to a battle of some kind, a confrontation of good versus evil, and on the page things are just not long enough.
In my case, that’s because I leave a lot undeveloped in the first draft. I leave out lots of description and scene-setting because I’m so focused on getting the action (and the plot) right. Later on, I realize how I can draw the reader into the moment and even how I can extend/ expand upon the major events of the “big” scene.
Sometimes I’ve added another mini-battle, or added another main character to the action (or an additional character’s point of view). Sometimes I’ve realized I can have the tide swing toward the bad guys more before the good guys bring their “A game.”
Basically, I do what I can to find ways to make my big scene sufficiently big instead of anticlimactic. I can’t say I always succeed right away, if at all, but I try to be creative…. Each novel is different, so each one is a new and unique challenge.
TOO MUCH “RESOLUTION” AFTER THE FACT
This was something beta readers brought to my attention, and I’m so glad they did!
In the last book of my Herezoth trilogy, I had way too many scenes tying up various subplots after the “big moment” had ended. And my awesome beta readers told me: “It’s boring. Everything interesting has happened. I know there needs to be some wrapping up, but this is too much.”
When this is the case, I can suggest various approaches:
- Cut everything you possibly can, and trim what you can’t cut as much as possible. I cut two entire scenes by asking myself what they really contributed to the wrap-up. I realized that maybe one sentence was relevant, and was able to add its content to a different scene. Other scenes of 3 or 4 pages I cut down to 2. That might not sound like much, but it makes a BIG difference!
- Can you move some of the resolution material to before the big moment? Maybe you can’t cut a scene (or part of one), but temporally it can shift without causing major problems. That way, you cut from the mountains of resolution material after-the-fact that you’re trying to get under control.
THERE JUST ISN’T ENOUGH AT STAKE IN THE BIG MOMENT
This is always tricky….Sometimes, characters as people can be superficial or selfish, and what they might judge to be the end of the world your readers just won’t care about. Everything is built up to be “big,” and you know it’s supposed to feel “big,” but it doesn’t. It all feels like a sham somehow.
Here, you’ve got to raise the stakes. Put something significant to the reader at risk. After all, your reader has invested significant time to get to this point. He or she doesn’t want a meaningless conflict as a reward.
If something that matters to your character doesn’t matter to readers, or you’re worried it won’t matter, then that’s something to really consider. Is your character developed well? Why is it your readers can’t sympathize or connect with him or her? Character might be the root of the issue there, not plot.
Other times when a big moment doesn’t feel big, the story as written just doesn’t make clear that something important is at stake when it really is. You can find some way to emphasize that the major conflict has specific, and sweeping, implications for one or more subplots.
And if your moment isn’t big enough because it truly doesn’t put enough at stake? Find a way to tie in more subplots with it, so that their resolution hangs in the balance and increases what’s at risk.
I honestly think that when an author can tie in multiple subplots to the major plot’s resolution, the effect is greater than the sum of the parts. The increased pull on the reader–at least, the pull on me as a reader–seems to increase exponentially each time another subplot and the fates of more characters I care about, even if they’re minor characters, are connected to how the major conflict of a story works itself out.
So, what do you guys think of the “big moment”? How has writing a big moment been tough for you? Any advice on how to improve the “big culmination of everything” that, to be honest, has every writer feeling a bit nervous and insecure while drafting each novel?
If you enjoyed this post, you might enjoy the others in my series on plot issues:
- On Plotting Coincidences
- On Pacing Your Plot
- How Much Description During Vital Plot Development is Too Much?
There’s one post left in this series: all about plot holes. If you don’t want to miss it, or future posts on this blog, you can sign up to follow by email at the top right of the page.