Stuck on the climax
by Michael Benningfield
(Dallas, TX, USA)
Question: I am writing a crime novel (as if that hasn't been overdone already) and my climax is a bit of a rough one to hammer out. I want to give as much information here as possible without giving away the plot of my book.
Essentially, the main character (a detective) catches a killer, or so she thinks. But the climax of the book comes when everyone thinks the killer is caught, only to come into the police station the next morning and find the sergeant dead, with the same clues left as the prior murders. However, I am not sure how to write that into my climax because the climax is essentially the turning point, and well, that's essentially how my book ends. It's a cliffhanger that will lead into book number 2.
This is my outline so far (and I posted it on my poetry site to auto copyright the text thus far so no one steals it :D )
“A young detective with the propensity to daydream has a wake-up call when a series of dead bodies turn up in her small town. (Consequence) On edge and battling depression, she fights within her own mind to stay level headed and catch the killer at all costs. (Story Goal) Depending on her partner and a small crime lab; the clues are followed and interpreted. (Prerequisite) Feeling rushed and on edge due to the sizable media attention her small town is receiving, the detective misses clues and steps into a danger zone which may result in her losing her job. (Cost)
Fighting to keep her job and focus on the case; she sifts through the clues to figure out what she and her partner have missed. (Requirement) Her defiance towards superiors, and the will to prove to herself that she can do this job, lead to her being suspended, thus leaving the case in jeopardy. (Forewarning) While suspended, the District Attorney decides he would like to still discuss the case with the detective. When she refuses to break the rules of her suspension, he threatens to make her future a “living hell.” (Precondition) Despite the District Attorney’s low-balling, the detective dedicates her time to reading and relaxing while suspended. In doing so she picks up a murder mystery book that proves to be more than just a book. It just so happens that the author of the book is bragging within the pages about a crime he has committed; a crime, it appears, that follows her current investigation to a proverbial “T.” (Dividends) After catching who the police think is
the killer, life resumes as normal; that is, until one of their own is murdered, turning the entire investigation upside down. What’s worse – the murder is committed inside the police station and the killer leaves virtually no evidence behind. (Climax)
I'm just not sure that I like the "climax" on this one.Answer:
The challenge with this type of "false victory" ending is that, if done poorly, it invalidates all the work and effort that was done to accomplish the story goal. Thus, it renders the preceding story and the characters' choices meaningless. We think the character made the right choice and achieved the goal. We think we understand the meaning of the story. Then we find out it's all a lie.
A good twist ending, on the other hand, makes the preceding story more meaningful by taking the reader's (and the main character's) understanding to a new level.
In this case, the real story seems to be about something nefarious going on within the police department/DA's office. The murder is just a device to expose the real threat.
As the first part of a two-part series, it could work if the final murder validates the detective's growing suspicions and brings her to the point where she is ready to commit to the real problem -- rooting out the threat within the department. For the purposes of this book, the ending would be tragi-comic, in that the detective fails to arrest the right killer, but her inner conflict is resolved in a positive way that will carry her into the second book.
A few other points I think you should consider...
Why is the detective depressed? Unless you have a good explanation, it comes across as a cliche.
Suspension and the threat of being fired are also cliches, but they can work if you find an interesting way to justify them. (Are they connected to the real threat?)
How is she both "on edge" and relaxed enough to "daydream"? Why is she so on edge?
Why is the DA so keen on forcing the detective to break the rules? (I'm guessing it has to do with the real threat.)
You should review the definition of "dividends." Dividends are incidental rewards that boost the character's morale, so they provide a counterpoint to the costs. They are generally unconnected to the goal. What keeps her going when everything looks bleak?
Similarly, Prerequisites should be distinct from Requirements. Think about coincidences, for example, as a way to introduce prerequisites.
Best of luck.
P.S. You seldom have to worry about your ideas being stolen. Ideas are not copyrighted, only manuscripts.