Does your novel’s tension boom, or fizzle?

Mountain.Confession: I have a really hard time writing endings. I’m a discovery writer, and sometimes I write myself into corners and have to back out and re-write. It took me three books to realize that, for me, this problem comes from a failure to write a good climax. I’ll build all this tension, set up an epic confrontation, and then … not write that confrontation. In an early draft, I had a critique partner point out to me that the main character was unconscious for the last half of the final battle.

I don’t know why I do this, but now that I know I do it, I work really hard to get that battle on the page. As I near the last third of a draft, I ask myself, what’s the worst thing that could happen to this character? What would make it worse? Am I showing all of that?

Once I’ve raised the stakes and made things as difficult as possible for the main character(s), it’s time for them to rally. The protagonist must face the antagonist. They must defeat the villain (or not, if that’s the story I’m writing) on their own. They can have help from friends, but the deciding moment should come down to the protagonist using what they’ve learned throughout the book to defeat the antagonist. Often, this is how your character arc blends with your plot arc — the character has changed, and so is able to do what they need to do, and couldn’t do at the start of the book, to win now. (Or if you’re going for something darker, they’ve either changed the wrong way or they haven’t changed, and they fail.)

What scenes do you struggle with? How do you raise the tension throughout your novel?

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