Thursday, January 26, 2006

Grebanier's Climax

Yesterday we looked at Grebanier's Proposition, and today I want to introduce you to another of Grebanier's tools for the improvement of plot, namely his theory about the Climax.

The word climax is, of course, commonly used in the description of plots in media of all kinds. 'The film's climax comes when the volcano erupts....' 'The situation rises to a climax when George shoots Mildred through the head....' And so forth. Usually the concept includes some sort of dramatic physical event or action.

Grebanier has a much more subtle concept of the Climax. For him, the Climax is indeed a key element of the plot, and of the utmost importance, but, as he explains, 'it may well be a moment that does not strike the audience with its importance at all. The Climax of the plot is the turning-point; it is the point from which there is no return. Thereafter events unfold with the same inevitability and logic which were present in the Proposition.'

For Grebanier, the Climax, like the Proposition, is an event which impacts upon the relationship between the central and second characters. And the Climax of a play (or other work) is the moment in which the most violent dislocation occurs in this relationship between the central and second characters.

We noted yesterday that the question which is posed in the Proposition of Romeo and Juliet is this: will Romeo find happiness with Juliet? Will they have long, fulfilled lives and have lots of children? And at first (unless members of the audience are familiar with the plot before they see the play) there is a possibility in the audience's mind that Romeo and Juliet may find happiness together. However, it is when Romeo kills Tybalt (an important member of Juliet's family) that any chance of Romeo being allowed to marry Juliet disappears, and the tragic ending of the play becomes inevitable.

Now as it happens, the Climax in Romeo and Juliet is a physically violent event. But the Climax need not always be physical. In The Importance of Being Earnest, the Climax occurs when Jack shows Miss Prism the handbag in which he was found as a baby. Miss Prism's acknowledgement that the bag is hers is what enables Jack to discover who his parents were (and also to discover that he was christened with the highly desirable name of Ernest), and this reverses the apparent impossibility of his marrying Gwendolen.

The Climax, Grebanier emphasises, has nothing directly to do with the Proposition. It is a separate element of the plot. It is indirectly related, however, in that it constitutes part of the working out of the answer to the third stage of the Proposition (the third stage being a question). The Climax is the deed which begins to provide the answer to the question.

How can you identify the Climax, if you're busy plotting a novel or a film script or whatever? Well, Grebanier argues that the Climax is always a deed performed by the central character. Romeo kills Tybalt. Jack shows Miss Prism the handbag. Furthermore, although the deed results in a change which has a major impact on the relationship between the central and second characters, it is a deed which involves not the second character but a third person. Not Juliet, but Tybalt. Not Lady Bracknell, but Miss Prism.

Grebanier is at pains to tell us, and I wholeheartedly agree, that neither the Proposition of your story nor the Climax can be summoned up out of thin air. That is not the way to go about things. Instead, you wait until you have got a story of some sort partly figured out in your head. Or, better still, on paper. Then you take a long hard look at it.

There are many, many aspects of a potential story which need thinking about. Not the least of these, in my opinion, are such factors as: How long is it likely to take to write this thing? Is there any realistic hope of selling it? But then, if you feel that the project is one worth pursuing, it is extremely valuable (in my experience) to look at the plot material in the context of Grebanier's ideas. I have more than once found that doing this exercise has helped me to see interesting and valuable possibilities in the material which had not been obvious to me before.


Stephanie Zia said...

Thank you! Having reached a replotting moment today, must check him out, could be very useful to me.

archer said...

Very smart and insightful stuff.

Anonymous said...

I have found your observations on Grebanier extremely helpful. Thanks for blogging it!

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