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!

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