Using Unanswered Questions to Drive Your Book’s Climax

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This week, I hit a milestone in The Book. An arbitrary milestone, to be sure, but a milestone nonetheless. I finished act four and began the final section. Stakes are rising and the action is driving towards the final confrontation. I know that this section in particular needs tight organization, and I am out of space to explore new subplots. It is time to wrap up loose ends. 

You know how a climax works. I won’t belabor the point. 

With that goal in mind, I opened my handy notebook and finalized the order of my scenes. I found that some ideas no longer fit and needed to be cut. I found that the plot absolutely required other movements, which I had not to that point considered. It was sad and a little painful to let go of ideas which I planned for literally two years, but they no longer fit the story on the page. At the same time, it was exciting to conceive of new and unexpected developments. As much as a story is the product of our imagination, it really does sometimes take on a life of its own. 

Obviously, there was a need for planning and refinement. I reread my acts three and four, and began taking notes, documenting any remaining unanswered question. Ultimately, I came up with nine hanging threads which need to be woven into the tapestry of the overall narrative: 

  1. What did the protagonist’s friend discover in the lab?
  2. How will the antagonist respond to increasingly open opposition from the heros?
  3. What are the antagonists really up to?
  4. Will the protagonist and his main rival resolve their differences? 
  5. Will the protagonist and his jilted love interest resolve their differences? 
  6. What is happening at the mysterious site the mentor discovered?
  7. Will the protagonist’s friend and her mother resolve their differences? 
  8. What is the identity of the mysterious primary antagonist?
  9. Will the protagonist’s injured brother recover?

Question number two hit me the hardest. I know that I will pay for this in significant substantive editing, but I have given far too much space to what the heros are doing and not enough to how the villains respond. Their infrequent appearance makes them seem passive or incompetent, which is not the impression I want to leave readers. Threats need to be active and – stick with me here – threatening. I know. You’re shocked. I’m sure fixing that issue will be worthy of several articles in the future. 

If industry standards are to be believed, I have between 14,000 and 24,000 words to stick the landing and resolve these nine unanswered questions. Some of these questions will deserve a scene of their own, while others I am confident will appear organically through the course of other planned action. We shall see. Regardless, this is an exciting phase of the writing cycle, and I am raring to get started! 

I hope that my experience encourages you on your own literary journey and sparks ideas. Do you have a tried-and-true method of planning or pre-writing? Is nine unanswered questions too great (likely) or too few (one can hope)? Let us know in the comments.

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