Monday, January 25, 2010

Making It Worse!

Have you ever read a book that was fantastic most of the way through, but the end just felt flat?

Chances are, you have. And chances are, the reason had to do with the climax. The story may be wonderful, but if they solve the climax before it climaxes, it's a letdown. Face it, we like characters to face unconquerable odds, impossible choices. We want to see how they'll take absolute defeat and turn it into incredible victory.

When everything is as bad as it can get, that's when we want the good guys to come blazing their way in and save the the nickiest nick of time.

You never forget those books.

So what's with the bad climaxes? In most cases I read, the characters solve the problems too quickly. You just start getting excited when POOF, it's all over and everybody lives happily ever after. And you sit there and go “Hey! What about...”

MIW is the way to avoid this. It's quite simple. Take your climax and check it out from all angles. Look at the opposition. What's standing between your character and victory? When you know what the main problem is, make it worse. Make it as bad as it could be. Then make it worse again.

Result: a never-to-be-forgotten climax!

My favorite illustration of this is Lord Of The Rings: Return Of The King. Think about the climax. Frodo and Sam are dodging Nazgul and lava on the slopes of Mount Doom. Gandalf, Aragorn & Co are marching to certain death. The Shadow of Sauron is falling everywhere. Everything you care about is dying. And the world is ending. Bad as it can get, right?

Oh, but then Frodo decides to keep the Ring. And instantly it's so much worse than you ever dreamed! There is no way you'll ever forget that climax.

The thing I've just discovered is that MIW doesn't just apply to thriller/action/suspense/mystery. It works just as well for romance, and even straight literary. You can make emotional situations worse, or moral quandaries. Whatever you use it for, it's guaranteed to ratchet up the stakes and make readers care. Just remember, if you have a climax that feels flat, figure out what the opposition is, and make it as bad as it can get. Then make it worse.

You may get hate mail from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Characters, but your readers will love you.


I'd love to hear what you think on this! Have you used MIW? Tell me about it!


Nona King said...

o.O This may be the motivation that I needed for my romance.... I have always thought I put the climax in the wrong place (or the end in the wrong place). Now I have another thought in my head as to what might help... once its turn for a review comes back around.

Kayla said...

Awesome, Nina! Thank you! Perhaps that is what is missing in my NaNo novel! That story is driving me insane! It does seem too easy now! Thanks, dear!

Nina Hansen said...

Hey, wonderful! I'm so glad the post gave you ideas! I've been amazed at how much this concept has helped me edit my own fiction. It's a really great thing to keep in mind!

Kelsey said...

Quite so...very true. Thanks for posting this!

My problem is that I think up terrible circumstances for my characters but can find no way to get them out... :P Oh my poor abused characters.

Spits said...

Gah. And guess who told Nina this in the first place?!

I love it. :D

Linda Yezak said...

The "nickiest nick of time"--love that! And you're so right, Nina. Good post.

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