Monday, March 17, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - ENDINGS #1 - Crisis

You can find all the previous posts in the critical plot elements series here.

I've used the terms 'climactic chapters' and 'climactic events' a lot in this series.  We're now entering that territory.

The first time I wrote a book it was a surprise to me that the climactic events didn't start in those final pages when everything was drawing to a close, but rather, several thousand words earlier.

Reading Techniques of the Selling Writer (no, they don't pay me to keep plugging that book - I just found it SO useful) helped me to understand how and when the actual end occurs.

So, here we are.  The beginning of the end.  And even though there's thousands of words left to go, we're on the uphill march to victory (I hope).

What's the first element of your ending? 


Not just any old, run-of-the-mill crisis, mind you. This isn't just a delay to the protagonist's plan.  It isn't just a complication.  This a knock-down, drag out, change-the-feature-of-the-landscape kind of crisis.

Depending on your genre, this kind of crisis could be anything from an overprotective parent showing up, to a psychopath with a nuclear bomb threatening to bust the globe open like an overripe melon.

The problem isn't important - how your protagonist feels about it, is.  Because this crisis MUST achieve three things:

1. It must make the current state of affairs untenable.  The protagonist and other major players must be forced to act and act fast because things literally can't go on as they are.

2. It must narrow the field of options.  Ideally in the grand, breathless, climactic moment we want to see your protagonist left with only two options - good or bad, right or wrong, yes or no.  The crisis should go a long way to eradicating most (if not all) the options available.

3. It must be unexpected, unavoidable, and preferably life-threatening. 

An excellent example of a crisis is in The Hunger Games. ***Spoiler Alert*** Suzanne Collins did a great job of creating a crisis that appeared to be climactic - Katniss and Peeta victorious over all the other tributes and therefore, the winners of the Hunger Games... except the Gamemakers changed the rules.  Now, suddenly, Katniss and Peeta are pitted one against the other and forced to come up with a new plan for victory.

However you choose to do it, whatever your genre, make your crisis a no-turning-back moment.  The beginning of the end.

Next Post: CLIMAX (Part One)

Your Turn: Can you think of any other good examples of a crisis in a novel?


  1. I can be really nasty when i give my main character a crisis. My problem is figuring out how to get them back out of it!

  2. I have a question for you, Aimee. Do you think all of these critical plot elements apply to more realistic books? By that I mean books that deal with day-to-day life, that have no thriller, paranormal or adventure themes?

    I'd be really interested to see you address this in a post, if you thought it interesting enough. :-)

  3. Phyllis - I'm glad I'm not a character in your books! :)

    Cally - No, I don't think these points are any less applicable to fantasy / paranormal, etc. Just the story tools used to deliver them would be. I'll give some thought to examples to explore at the end, to show how different genres might deal with the plot structure as a whole. Good idea, thanks!

  4. Great post I agre with your idea of separating climax from crisis. My example would be from Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. The crisis is where Tally must lose the chance to be pretty and go out of the city as a spy. She has only 2 options, and this was only slightly better than imprisonment.