You’re about to write your novel’s climax scene. Your protagonist and antagonist have made their critical choices, and now they’re forced into the titanic struggle your readers have been expecting. Don’t renege. And while you’re at it, don’t tell but show the conflict, whether emotional or physical, to your reader. What do I mean? Just as Anton Chekhov said, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
So, how can you pump power into your climax scene?
• Build sensory experiences into the scene, and don’t be afraid of offending the senses. For example, in the climax scene of my first novel, The Deadliest Lie, Miriam feels a rush of bile surging up her gorge, burning her throat, stinging her mouth, and coating her tongue with slime. Show the reader what your characters hear, see, feel, taste, and smell.
• Isolate your protagonist and antagonist in the scene. That means no distractions or interruptions. Don’t let new characters, props, or situations intrude on the struggle. Make sure you’ve introduced all the necessary conditions before the climax scene. For example, place the loaded gun on the table in an earlier scene.
• Don’t look back. That means no backstory, flashbacks, or explanations during the climax scene. Only action—and that includes dialogue—should move the story forward.
• The conflict must be resolved in favor of the protagonist. Good must triumph over evil. But don’t let coincidences or outside forces aid your protagonist. His or her own mettle must be tested. Your protagonist must triumph on his or her own.
• Leave your reader with a powerful image. In The Deadliest Sport (to be released this fall), Miriam leaves us with this image of her antagonist: “A brown gelatinous mucus began to ooze from his lips. He skittered backwards, clawing the air, crashing to the floor, his face hardened into a mask of rage, the last I’d see of him in this world.”
Remember this scene is your last chance to thrill your reader. That hook in the first scene may sell your book, but the power of your climax scene will sell the next one.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing historical mysteries with a connection to early science. Her heroine, Miriam bat Isaac, is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June lives with her husband Paul Zuckerman in New Paltz, where she is breathlessly recording the story of her plucky heroine’s next life-or-death exploit.