How are they going to reconcile? Will the bad guy get away?

These are some of the questions readers ask during big moments. It’s that last pickle that has us at the edge of our seats, turning pages, and staying up past bedtime. All of the conflict, big and small, has come to a head in one moment.

This moment is the Predicament. It shows up near the end of the story and raises these questions, if not in the story world, at least in the mind of the reader.

Up until this point, conflict has built toward something; things have happened to the characters, and they’ve had to react. This is the final decision the characters must make to either succeed or fail.

The predicament is primarily guided by genre and controlling theme. Taking a look at a mystery, we already know that the genre has the controlling theme that justice will prevail. Whether justice is incarceration or death depends on the story. So the predicament can lead us to ask whether the bad guy will go to jail or be killed.

Small as it seems, this requirement is as important as any of the others. If it’s not present, there can be no climax. If there’s no dilemma, no last predicament, to provoke questions, there can be no answers. Fortunately, if the other requirements have been presented successfully, this one falls into place.

So, what happens if it doesn’t fall into place?

A lot of times when I see a climax that comes from out of the blue, I look for the big event that asks the story theme question, the predicament. If it’s weak or nonexistent, the chain reaction of conflict isn’t clear enough: one thing didn’t lead to another. I’ll scour the manuscript to see where the link broke and work with the author on how to fix it.

This is a great way to gauge whether the rest of the story is working. It’s usually the most fun to write, and often we have this scene in our heads before we’ve figured out how to get there.

If you need more clues on how a predicament works, see my article Essential Scenes: A Study of the Thriller Genre, where I break down an episode of Dexter. All Five Requirements are there.

If you could ask me one question about the Predicament, what would it be? Ask below!

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