Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Climactic Moment/The Payoff

I used to play in garage bands back when I was in high school. There was this guy, a kid who seemed to know everyone in the local scene, and he taught me a valuable lesson about art that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately.

You need a climax, a moment of extreme payoff, a part of the art that rises above all the rest and makes the whole progression through it slam into one pivotal revelation. 

a Game of Thrones sigil I drew when I was bored one day
I had been writing songs, then. I was the singer in all the bands I’ve been in, and that position usually also made me the songwriter. My friend, Julius, had just taken me into one of his bands. I was adding a slower song to it. Something mellow and unlike anything I had written before.

Julius told me that he liked the song, but that it needed a climactic moment. That, being that the entire song was mellow, the verses and choruses didn’t seem to be building to anything. My tune was good, my guitar riffs were sound, but I wasn’t providing that key moment that would make the listener’s climb to the end of the song worthwhile.

I envisioned the song. I cut the drums and bass out of the beginning. I started it with just my voice and guitar. Harmonizing came on the second verse. Bass came in on the second chorus. A vamp, a musical interlude with different styling, fit in next. Finally, the lead chorus came again, only I added hard-hitting drums and made the instruments fly. Instead of mellow singing, then, I had loud, passionate singing.

It made a decent song into a great song.

I’ve been editing my novel lately, also thinking about other books I’ve read. Payoff is such an integral need in a longer work. When a person reads 300+ pages, they are going to go through sections that are work as well as play. The end must have a climax. It must have payoff. It must have that pivotal revelation.

During this edit, I’ve been thinking about how all the best books have their plots and subplots all unravel into one great climax. The payoff hits and hits and hits, right at the end. I’ve been working on that, and the build up. It’s a challenge to do it right, in a way that weaves all the smaller aspects of the story into a meaningful web. If you look at works like Cloud Atlas (the movie, never read the book) or A Storm of Swords, you peer into the lives of many different characters with different desires, goals, and situations, but they weave together. When the payoff comes at the end, you see that. You understand.

I just want to be that kind of artist. I want my books to have payoff. Just my thoughts today. Hope you’re having a good one!

Follow me @Oxyborb and check out my website at Thanks for reading!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Charting Your Novel's Stars, a world-building activity

My book, The Unraveler, tells a story from a world that I've been building for many years. I like to go beyond the words on the page and explore the lore and history that surrounds my stories. As such, I know things that might not ever make it into the prose of my novels, such as all of the year's holidays, who the top 10 musicians are, and who runs the local businesses.

One exploration I've been working on recently is constellations. My novel is set on normal Earth, but in a society that no longer remembers what we today might think of as constellations. They see their own. For example, instead of the Big Dipper, they see Mobion's Horn.

If my mind was wiped of all the old constellations, what would I see painted in the stars? What would the people within my book see?

These questions I wondered, so I went outside and looked. What I saw was mostly blackness, though. I live in a populated area, and the night sky is too polluted with light to see many stars.

So, instead I Googled star charts, and I found this one. It was created by Mads Holgersen, who runs this awesome website: I got his permission to show an edited version of his star map on my blog. In this new version, I deleted all of his old constellations and made a blank chart, then filled it in with my own:

The Unraveler's Star Chart

It's not completed, by any means, but it shows what I'm getting at. Since ancient times, people have looked to the stars and wondered what shapes they make. They looked for signs, for prophesies. In a way, the culture of society shapes the way people form constellations. Every society could see something different, depending on what is relevant to them. It was a fun writing exercise, anyway. It made me think about what my book's culture would deem important enough to find in the stars.

What do you see?

btw, this is my 50th post! Woot-woot!