By Steven Pressfield | Published: August 19, 2010
This is Day Two of our week-long, one-post-every-day “Journal of Finishing A Novel.” (See yesterday’s post for Day One.)
Today’s work will be a lot scarier than yesterday’s because today I’ll really get into the meat of the climax–a long scene that has to work or the whole book fails. My method for dealing with this kind of anxiety is not to think about it at all. I’ll just do it.
Couple of notes:
1) By no means will today’s work be “winging it.” I know exactly what beats have to be hit and in what order. The climax’s shape has been dictated by every scene and sequence that has gone before. That’s why they went before.
The two primary characters—protagonist and antagonist—have been set up by dozens of scenes and moments, so that the reader will know both who they are as characters and what they represent in terms of the book’s theme. The two minor characters who will appear have also been set up by numerous beats throughout the story. I know how they have to clash and what the outcome has to be.
The physical setting for the climax has also been established in the reader’s mind by earlier scenes—both what and where the site is and, more importantly, what it represents thematically.
I’m a big believer that every character and place in a story must not only be “itself,” but must represent an aspect of the theme. So that—in Casablanca, say—Bogey represents something, Ingrid Bergman represents something, the plane to Lisbon represents something. In the climax when Bogey puts Ingrid on the plane but doesn’t get on himself, that act—even without dialogue—says everything thematically that the story wants to say.
All that being said, I can’t do this climactic scene today “by the numbers.” It depends on passion and immediacy. There’s no way to make that happen except the way actors do it—by getting into the moment emotionally and letting it rip. So, though I know what I have to do today, I don’t know how. That’ll come in the moment.
2) I’ve read that Michael Crichton, as he approached the climax of a book, used to get up earlier and earlier in the morning—till he was getting out of bed at two-thirty and driving his wife crazy. He finally just moved out of the house, checked into a hotel (the Kona Village, I believe) to hunker down to a writing blitz till it was over.
I’m the same way, but without the hotel. It’s too hard otherwise. I have to screw my emotions up to a fever pitch because Resistance gets so high. The earlier I start, the better. That’s my style anyway. I’m not a midnight kinda guy.
And so to work. See you tomorrow.