I have. You have. All authors have looked at the computer screen like the stick figure man above. It may be the characters, plot, pacing, or even the premise. No matter what the cause is, we have all, at one point or another, been frustrated with how our story is progressing.
Most of the time we're overreacting, but in one case, our actions may be justifiable. That time would be when the problem is related with the climactic moment.
Why the climactic moment?
Simply because, it's the most important moment in an entire story. It's the culmination of all the events in your story. The most exciting--the most thrilling--the most intense moment. The grand finale.
The climactic moment is the most anticipated event in your whole story. You cannot mess up on this one. Doing so would destroy just about everything that happened before. And since the climactic moment is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, located at the end of your story, a bad climactic moment will ruin your entire story.
Unfortunately, many stories do mess up the climactic moment. Though there are many things that could go wrong, the problems can normally be filtered into two categories.
Going on a Tangent: Birthdays
The idea of this article was first conceived two days ago on my birthday. You see, many people view one's 16th or 18th or 21st birthday as a climactic moment. It's that person's next big step. Their most anticipated moment (at this point in time). The grand finale.
But sometimes . . . the "climactic birthday" is a let down. (Mine wasn't, by the way :) And the reasons for an anti-climactic birthday can be the same reasons for an anti-climactic climactic moment. So let me draw some parallels . . .
As a young boy, I hated hype. Whenever anything was hyped up, I knew it was gonna fall flat on its face. I guess I maintain some of that cynicism even now, because I've seen it so many times, especially in stories. And that leads me to my first point.
Obviously, you'll want to hype up your climactic moment. Give cues to the reader that the climactic moment is gonna be a big deal. Drop subtle clues, build up your forces of antagonism, use Chekhov's gun. Show your audience that the finale will be HUGE.
But, in a sense, you shouldn't hype up your climactic moment if you can't deliver it in a compelling way.
Think in terms of birthdays. If you're planning a birthday and you're telling the celebrant "This is gonna be the best day of your life!", then you should probably put a lot of thought into planning the birthday. You should meticulously plan out every stage and make sure everything will run smoothly. You need to deliver on your promise.
Stories are the same way. If you build up the climactic moment, then you need to deliver on your promise. You need to meticulously plan out every story beat and pace every moment so it will run smoothly. Remember: only hype up what you can deliver on.
#2 The Journey is the Destination
I really hate it when, at a birthday, people say, "This moment will change your life. You're taking the next big step." It's simply not true.
No matter what age you're turning, a birthday is not a "big step." Sure, you may be eligible for a driver's license or become legal. But you do not become fundamentally different. You are the same person as you were yesterday. Your inner qualities do not change one bit.
Then how do people change? Well, they don't fundamentally change in an instant. They change slowly. Throughout the years. Change is a process.
How do you apply this to story?
Well, what happens in the climactic moment should not be a single momentous change. It needs to be the climax of a process. A process that was shown from the beginning of the story to the climactic moment.
Now this may be quite simple, actually. Authors know this process as a character arc. It's probably well-known enough that you are aware of it yourself.
However, authors have this problem of creating a character arc with a single momentous change in mind. They try to build up toward the change when, in fact, change should not be a single moment. Change is a process.
A story should not be a build up to a single change. A story should contain many incremental changes which, when put together, can be seen as a single change. And that change is manifested in the climactic moment. It doesn't happen in the climactic moment.
Because, in life, change is a process. And story is a metaphor for life.