The Climax has got to be the best part of your story, right? It’s the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae (that is, of course, if you’re the kind who saves the cherry to eat last). Anyway—the point is you want your story’s Climax to be gripping. You want it to be suspenseful. You want readers to be chewing their hangnails to the quick as they wonder how the protagonist is possibly going to get out of this last fix.
Amidst all these desires you have for your story’s Climax, it’s way yonder too easy to fall into what is, in my opinion, a pretty egregious pitfall.
Generally speaking, this is the pitfall of false suspense. More specifically, this pitfall takes the form of a plot development that we see shockingly often in books and movies—particularly action or, ironically, suspense stories.
What happens is this: your readers are reading along as your characters enter the final conflict, armed to the teeth, ready to employ a last-ditch plan.
Bad guys attack!
The heroes are captured!
There’s no escape!
Until… turns out this horrible turn of events is actually part of the protagonist’s plan, and he’s got it all under control.
The big problem here is that the readers weren’t in the loop, because up to this point, they had no idea what your protagonist was planning.
I ran across this recently in a sci-fi book that had the protagonist’s sidekick apparently betraying her in the Climax, until it was then revealed the sidekick was only pretending to fool the bad guys, and the protagonist actually set the whole thing up. All that tension readers were feeling when they thought everything was going against the protagonist—pfft!—deflates like a popped balloon.
That is not suspense. That is false suspense. It’s fine to trick the bad guys. It’s not fine to trick the readers—because not only is it likely to tick them off, more than little a bit, it also saps your story’s Climax of the true suspense necessary to deliver those final crucial moments in your story’s conflict.