Building up to what it all comes down to

What he's holding represents what's at stake. Think about it.
What he’s holding represents what’s at stake. Hint: It’s not a rock

Time now for a very, very important question every writer needs to face:

Do you know how your story ends?

You come up with an idea, then proceeded to develop, shape, and organize all the stuff that happens in the middle, which eventually has led us to the where we find ourselves now: the big payoff. What the whole thing’s been about.

Everything your characters have been doing have been leading up to this. In theory, your first two acts have been about the protagonist’s world undergoing some drastic changes, how they dealt with it and now it looks like the bad guy’s going to win.

Which brings us to the grand finale that is Act Three, where our hero must somehow find a way to overcome these seemingly insurmountable odds, defeat the antagonist and hopefully come out of the experience a different person than the one they were way back when we first met them.

That being said, there’s still more to it.

-Your protagonist has a physical goal (what they want) and an emotional one (what they need). They can achieve both, just one or neither. Which applies to yours, and have you effectively steered the action to ensure that result? Can we see the changes they’ve undergone?

-Working with a subplot or three? If they haven’t wrapped up by now, better make sure to do it soon. Do you really want the reader to wonder “Hey! What happened to the part about ____?”

-Even a supporting character needs an arc to complete. Have you given each of them enough attention throughout the story to make this happen, and does their story wrap up in a convincingly believable way?

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about putting a story together is that the central question (“Will the hero achieve their goal?”) is raised with the inciting incident around page 10, and each subsequent plot point raises it again, albeit with the stakes a little higher each time.

What happens in Act Three is where you show us how the central question is answered.

-And now, the much-heralded return of Movie of the Moment! This time, a way overdue look at GODZILLA (2014).

Wow. Everything PACIFIC RIM should have been. Instead of non-stop giant monster action, we get only glimpses as the focus is directed at the human aspect of the story. A much more effective approach.

While it’s not hard to suspend disbelief when it comes to a movie about giant monsters rampaging/duking it out in the downtown area of the city where I live, perhaps the most amazing piece of cinematic fiction (as observed by both K and myself) was in the background of one scene where a garage sign read “All-day parking $15”.

Now that’s make-believe.

Out, damned trope! Out, I say!*

Do whatever you can to avoid falling into this perilous situation
Do whatever you can to avoid falling into a similar perilous situation

(*A slight variation on the actual line from MACBETH – Act V, Scene I. We’re all about accuracy around here.)

The more I work on the story of the monster spec, the more I realize how flimsy the villain’s plan is. I know what their objective is, but the biggest roadblock is figuring out HOW they’re going to accomplish it.

Part of the original story included a monster with shape-changing abilities taking the place of a high-ranking figure in world politics. At the time, it seemed good.

But now it just seems tired and stale. It really is something we’ve all seen before, which totally goes against what I’m trying to do. Coming up with a fresh, original story is one thing; telling it in a fresh, original way is another.

How often have you read a script or seen a movie or TV show and thought “Seen this before” or “Saw that coming a mile away”?

It’s easy to fall into the trap of using something that’s been used or done many times before. Cliches. Tropes. Clams. Call ’em what you will.  There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s lazy writing.

Why would you go through the trouble of working so hard to create something new and exciting, but fill it with material that isn’t?

Read through what you have. Does anything come across as too familiar, or at least expected?

Look at that tired old chestnut as purely temporary, then go back and brainstorm a few alternatives which are totally opposite (or at least really different) but also accomplish the same thing.

Take a look at scripts and movies similar to yours. Can you see how they did it? Maybe it’ll inspire an approach you hadn’t thought of.

Feeling stuck? Ask for help. Twitter’s usually pretty good. You’ll soon discover that writers have the amazing ability to easily come up with ideas when it’s for somebody else’s project.

You’re a creative type, so get creative. You know there has to be a better way out of this. It may take a couple of tries, but you’ll get there.

In the meantime, I’ll be busy figuring out a new way for monsters to take over the world.

And you want to take over the world because…?

Not just the villain, but a key part of the whole story
Not just the villain, but a key part of the whole story

So you’ve got your protagonist’s story planned all the way through. Beginning to end. You know what they want and what they need. That character arc is firmly in place.

What about your antagonist?

Have you put as much effort into developing their story? Do you explain why they’re doing this? What do they seek to gain from their actions?

A lot of the time, the bad guy is the more interesting character, so why wouldn’t you make just as much of an effort on fleshing them out?

The character we identify as the villain should see themselves as the hero of their story, with your protagonist the one standing in their way of achieving their goal.

Maybe there’s a previously-existing connection between the two, which can be gradually revealed as the story progresses.

How often has a writer explained the “why” behind the antagonist with a casual “Because they’re bad”?  Readers and audiences want a little more depth than that.

This isn’t saying you need to come up with an extensive backstory about their past and what led them down this path.  A few lines of dialogue can be just the thing to provide the reason why they’re doing this.

You’ve already spent a lot of time developing your hero’s journey. It only makes sense to do the same for the villain.