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How to write a climactic scene

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How to write climactic scenes

If you’ll forgive the double entendre, the best climax is all about the build up. This newsletter shines a light on all the ways that plotting, pacing and delivery can lead to a climactic scene that will stun as well as satisfy readers.

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Content corner: Writing climactic scenes using the bomb theory

Alfred Hitchcock credited the nail biting suspense of his most climactic scenes to the ‘bomb theory’. Regardless of genre or format, we can all learn from the master filmmaker.

“There is a distinct difference between ‘suspense’ and ‘surprise’,” Hitchcock explained. Learning this distinction is key to building climactic scenes in films, and books. 

Picture a scene where two characters are having an innocent chat at a table. In the ‘surprise’ scenario, nothing happens and then suddenly a bomb explodes. Sure, we’re surprised but surprise fades fast and ultimately we’re unfulfilled and a little non-plussed.

Now consider the suspense approach. We know someone has hidden a bomb under a table. We are told that the bomb will explode at one o’clock and there is a clock in the background telling us it’s a quarter to one. 

“In these conditions, the same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Watching the normal conversation is now agonising, and when the bomb finally explodes, it is almost a relief. 

Whether your climax is a romantic meet-cute, the punchline of a situational joke, a grisly murder or a car crash, the satisfaction comes from watching the threads being woven together, tighter and tighter. And then… bang!

Truly climactic scenes stay with you. Share your favourite take-your-breath-away shocks, twists and payoffs on Townhouse

- Holly Seddon

 

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