As has been mentioned in a previous post, scenes are composite clusters of dramatic action, which usually (but not always) occur within a unified spatial and temporal field — within a specific time and place. Each scene has a specific function to perform according to its location within the story. Scenes correspond to the structural units that have been the main subject of these posts — turning points, mid-point, the pinches, etc., but they can also be simpler, less powerful clusters — adjoining units acting as transitional bridges to more important and dramatic scenes. By identifying, naming, and studying the structure of each scene as a type in the films and literature we admire, we are able to apply the insights we gain in our own work.
The Climactic Scene
One example of an important scene type, arguably the most important of all, is the climax, also known as the must-have, or, do-or-die scene. This scene occurs when the protagonist is forced, or, chooses, to face the antagonist in a winner-take-all confrontation towards the end of the story. At the beginning of this scene the stakes are at their highest, the outcome uncertain, as is the theme and moral premise of the story. By the end of the scene good (in the form of the protagonist) either triumphs over or succumbs to evil (in the form of the antagonist), thus settling the theme and moral premise. The question now arises as to how we may ramp up the climactic scene in order to squeeze the most juice from it, knowing that a failed climax inevitably means a failed story. Here are a couple of suggestions.
Ask yourself these two questions:
1. What is the primary strength of your antagonist?
2. What is the primary weakness/fear of your protagonist?
Now create a scene that plays to your protagonist’s chief weakness\fear, while promoting your antagonist’s primary strength. Additionally, ask yourself what setting best enhances the antagonist’s chances of winning, while simultaneously increasing the chances of your protagonist’s failing?
In the film, The Matrix, for example, an important late confrontation between Neo and agent Smith takes place inside virtual space — Smith’s own world — a place where he holds the most advantage. At the end of a sustained fight sequence Smith shoots Neo, who, for all intents and purposes, dies. It is only when Trinity administers the kiss of life/love to him on the Nebuchadnezzar — in the real world — that Neo recovers and is able to defeat Smith inside the matrix.
The climactic scene represents the dramatic highlight of your story. It pits the protagonist against the antagonist in a do-or-die confrontation whose outcome determines not only the moral premise and theme of your story but its ultimate success. Improve your writing by exploiting an appropriate setting that strengthens the antagonist while simultaneously weakening the protagonist.
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