Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Missing scenes in the climactic act

I found this post by Tina Jens at Black Gate intriguing.

Jens is ranting about an unnamed book, and says:

[Y]ou don’t get to leave out the middle of the third act! It would only have been a couple scenes; they could have been done in as little as 4 or 5 pages (though 8-10 would have been better), but they were important scenes. You can’t just toss the events off in a couple of graphs of narrative summary in the scene you jump to.
You had built that villain into a bad mo-fo: you can’t cheat us out of the meat of their encounter! … The big bad-ass villain came across as a paper-tiger, and so, I wound up being much less impressed by the wherewithal of the protags to defeat him. They were all afraid of him, but without a longer section up-close and personal with him in the third act, he didn’t scare me. He seemed like a caricature.

After reading the entire post, I decided that “middle of the third act” must constitute an important chunk of the climax.

So I am trying to think of a story where the author skipped over one or more climactic scenes. And right at the moment, I can’t think of any.

I can think of books where the author set up a huge, important mystery and left it unsolved: IN THE WOODS by Tana French. Which was a book where the good guy totally screwed up his life and the bad guy totally won, so I hated the book for reasons that had nothing to do with the unsolved mystery.

I can think of books where the author seemed to kind of stop before the proper ending, and then wrote a long epilogue rather than actually finishing the story: UNDER HEAVEN by Guy Gavriel Kay. A book I loved despite this and now that I’m thinking of it, I really want to re-read it.

I can definitely think of books where the protagonist stopped short of dealing with the problem when the opportunity was totally offered to her, thus requiring an extra 300 pages of toil and suffering before finally achieving the victory that was in her grasp far earlier: MYSTIC AND RIDER, or at least one of the Twelve Houses books by Sharon Shinn, not sure if the scene I’m thinking of was in the first book or later in the series. I love Shinn, but that kind of thing drives me nuts.

I can think of any number of books where the author took the plot in a direction I didn’t like and I stomped around thinking I would have done it way better.

But at the moment, I can’t think of a single book where the author simply neglected to write the climactic scenes, skipping lightly over the confrontation with the Dark Lord in order to get the the happily-ever-after denouement. And I say that as a writer who almost always loves writing the denouement and would fairly often be okay with skipping over the climactic scenes.

So…. how about you? Can any of you think of a book where the author left out the middle of the third act? Did you like the book despite that, or did you wind up throwing it across the room like Tina Jens?

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7 Comments Missing scenes in the climactic act

  1. Megan

    Oooh, I have one! Yaril’s Children, by Marcia J. Bennett. I’ll just paste what I wrote from my review: The ending does not tie up well. When Ard is left in the tunnel and Kalna is running for help. . . the scene should NOT flip to four days later without showing any of what went on in between. It’s a cheap way out.

    I ended up getting rid of the book in the long run because I realized that for all I liked it while I was reading (except the ending) it wasn’t all that memorable long-term.

  2. Elaine T

    How about one where the author appeared to be setting up a confrontation, and then the protagonist driftily goes along with letting the bad guy take over? Not quite the same, but massively irritating to read. I do think the author of that one couldn’t figure out how to best him, so did something else.

    I had to reread Under Heaven to realize it’s about ripple effects of extraordinary acts, it wasn’t about a fall of a dynasty or anything. Although I always wonder when reading or thinking about it if the horses were all geldings, or could they be bred?

  3. SarahZ

    Not quite the same thing, but I was really annoyed with Robin McKinley’s Pegasus. A cliffhanger is one thing, but I thought that book basically ended mid-scene, with no actual ending to the book. If you’re going to just publish half a book, you should make it clear that that’s what it is (and maybe not have the 2nd half be delayed for 5 years, but that’s a separate issue).

  4. Rachel

    Megan, thanks! I guess it does happen! I have a niggling feeling I can aaalllmost recall something like that, but I can’t quite pull it up out of my memory.

    Elaine, that sounds like very nearly the same thing, actually. Set up a Big Bad Guy, set up a Big Bad Confrontation, and then . . . nah, just skip it.

    I really do need to re-read Under Heaven. Maybe I will remember to pay attention to whether any of the horses might have been mares.

    SarahZ, *you’re telling me.* That was utterly infuriating, and all the worse because it was SO OBVIOUS how the bad guys were manipulating the historical story in order to secure their own power. As I recall. It’s been a good long time since I read it, and I sure don’t plan to re-read it until the second half appears. If ever. Emma Bull’s Territory was almost as bad and is the other story where I have basically given up on ever seeing the second half.

  5. Elaine T

    It didn’t read like skipping it, it read like the character decided to let the Bad Guy succeed through being a wobbly, drifty, insecure sort of person. I’d been taking the book as a character figures out who they are, gets backbone sort of story.

    Maybe I was misreading the story – it happens – but I was so disgusted I doubt I’ll ever get back to it to check.

    Same with the Pegasus, although I also found the whole story (such as it was) frustratingly obvious about a lot of what was going on. And then it just screeched to a halt with no clue it wasn’t a complete story. I blame the publisher for that, but it’s still infuriating.

  6. Pete Mack

    While I love Robin McKinley’s writing, I have more than one felt that there was something missing from the denoument.

  7. Rachel

    YES. Me, too! I can think of several of McKinley’s with weak denouments: BEAUTY (which I totally love, but still), THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD (which I acknowledge it’s very difficult to end the Robin Hood story well), and SPINDLE’S END, where her choice of how to end it just baffled me.

    I wonder, if McKinley consistently nailed beautiful endings, maybe she’d have been able to tie off the first volume of PEGASUS in a more satisfying way?

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