Don’t Drag Out Your Story’s Drama Too Long


I know I already said this with Writing Rule #24 about rising action, but it’s true of a story’s climax too: Drama gets old fast.

That’s why Writing Rule #25 is so important to take:

Don’t drag your drama out longer than it needs to go.

In a story, you don’t want to drag the climax out too long. There’s only so much a reader can take before they start getting distracted.

Part of the reason why a great narrative’s climax is so intense is because, compared to the rest of the story, it’s so brief.

It comes and goes without giving readers a chance to catch their breath. They don’t have time to get bored.

Because of this, a typical climactic scene shouldn’t last more than three chapters from start to finish. And just for the record, that’s if you’re working with fairly short chapters.

If you’re working with lengthier ones, a functional and engaging literary climax could easily start out at the end of one chapter and conclude by the time the next one’s done.

Then it immediately moves on to the falling action and finishes everything up with a solid ending.

Boom. Boom. Boom.

Over. Done. Finito.

If you’re a writer, you might be wondering right now why you want to rush your story’s “darkest moment.”

Well, #1, you don’t want to rush it. You just don’t want to drag it out.

And #2, the vast majority of your story should be taken up by the rising action, which already has its own fair share of drama.

For instance, I’m currently reading a young adult novel and I’m still probably 100 pages away from its climactic moment. Yet in the admittedly dragged-out rising action section, all the adults have disappeared, new kids from a rival school have established a new world order, a 14-year-old has nearly had his arm ripped off, and a 13-year-old has been clubbed with a baseball bat and then died several chapters later.

There was also a golf-cart chase that ended with a fight, a beat-down in a raided grocery store, a dangerous display of superpowers, an attempted assassination, and a whole lot of other stuff I’m sure I’m blanking on right now.

After all that, as a reader, I’m not really interested in a ton of more drama. By this point, I just want to know what in the world happens. So sure, get to the climax and tease it out for a chapter. But then, for heaven’s sake, move on to the conclusion already.

Otherwise, I’m going to get bored.

Don’t worry. I very well remember what I said in yesterday’s post about how personalized touches “add real drama to a literary climax,” making “it more realistic and more tense, dragging it out until readers are dreading the conclusion while simultaneously begging to know what’s going to happen next.”

It’s just that there’s a fine line between a well-done drama drag-out and an overdone drama drag-out. And crossing it could be disastrous.

If you need help with that fine line, feel free to shoot me an email at jdilouie@innovativeediting.com, asking me about your free 25-minute editing analyses or consultation.

It’s right here waiting for you.

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