Friday, June 14, 2013

ABDs of Plot, Part 2

Read part 1


The climax is "the most intense, exciting, or important point of something; a culmination or apex." Let's use The Lord of the Rings. There they stand, Frodo and Sam, at the most important point in their journey to destroy the one ring, and Frodo manifests a change of heart. In comes Gollum, a character representing a culmination of years of servitude and devotion to the ring, and a scuffle over the ring ensues.
    Sam got up. He was dazed, and blood streaming from his head dripped in his eyes. He groped forward, and then he saw a strange and terrible thing. Gollum on the edge of the abyss was fighting like a mad thing with an unseen foe. To and fro he swayed, now so near the brink that almost he tumbled in, now dragging back, falling to the ground, rising, and falling again. And all the while he hissed but spoke no words. 
    The fires below awoke in anger, the red light blazed, and all the cavern was filled with a great glare and heat. Suddenly Sam saw Gollum’s long hands draw upwards to his mouth; his white fangs gleamed, and then snapped as they bit. Frodo gave a cry, and there he was, fallen upon his knees at the chasm’s edge. But Gollum, dancing like a mad thing, held aloft the ring, a finger still thrust within its circle. It shone now as if verily it was wrought of living fire. 
    "Precious, precious, precious!" Gollum cried. "My Precious! O my Precious!" And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail Precious, and he was gone. 
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
Did you notice the ABDs in play? The scene is clearly set and the action is quick and fluid; the story's background elements are merging in a pinnacle moment of development: the principal characters are finally brought into the critical situation; and the climatic struggle between betrayal and loyalty risks to thwart the characters' ultimate goal!

Apply this excellent example of the ABDs pattern to your own characters as you build the climax of your story. Because of unique backgrounds, each of your characters has separate longing and desires that drive their choices and actions throughout the tale. Thus your story develops, building up clashes of desire as well as conflicts preventing the fulfillment of desire, until finally something or someone is forced to choose, to struggle against a foe, to face the truth—at the risk of losing something very dear, possibly even their own life.

All roads lead to the climax, so the details you include should supply readers enough to chart out maps of strategy and build tension bridges all the way to the point of no return. Think of the climax as the thing(s) that your reader will never get back once your characters summit that paramount crisis.


Well, as they say, what goes up must come down. After the climax, comes the denouement. After the fable, Aesop states the moral. The end wraps up the overarching element that brought all the characters together. We may plot Lord of the Rings as a story about a ring that needs to be destroyed, but the concluding lines after the climactic scene reveal a deeper plot: a story about loyalty and enduring friendship.
    "Your poor hand!" he said. "And I have nothing to bind it with, or comfort it. I would have spared him a whole hand of mine rather. But he’s gone now beyond recall, gone for ever." 
    "Yes," said Frodo. "But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him! For the Quest is achieved, and now all is over. I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam." 
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, J. R. R. Tolkien
One purpose of a story's ending is to extract a moral or offer a broader conclusion. It may summarize or philosophize, leave the reader stunned or in happy tears, but what it must not do is stop the plot before it's finished. Throughout the entire story, the elements intersect and merge to propel us through the twists and turns and over the obstacles and around the bends. If those elements all intertwined are not somehow collectively or individually tied off, your credibility and likability as an author will promptly unravel.

Take the time to map out what you want each character to have learned or lost, gained or forfeited by the plot's end. The plot is largely completed at the climax because the driving components of the story have crashed head on. The denouement allows for the dust to clear and settle, accounts for damage and casualties, and offers a glimpse into the future of the survivors. Sometimes an epilogue can close the story, sometimes the promise of a sequel will take care of larger loose ends.

Whatever comes after the climax needs to fit the development and mood and tone of the preceding scenes and interaction between characters. But in the end, the story must end. And at some point in your background development, you must know to what end you're writing. If you don't know (and some of us are discovery writers who find the ending the closer we get to it), keep writing—don't surrender the story to a premature ending! Revisit and reapply the ABDs to every chapter until the ending reveals itself to you. Your characters will give up their secrets, the setting will settle at last, the dialogue will have the last word—and you'll have a bestseller.

And there you have it—a great start to laying your story down, letter by letter. Now you know the ABDs, next time won't you write with these!

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