Act 4 – This is THE END and it Has to be Magnificent
Act 4 – The Martyr
Act 4 is often called ‘The Martyr’ because your main character must sacrifice something precious to them in order to get what they deserve.
This happens during the part of your novel called ‘The Climax’, a section of the story so massively important it often unfolds over many scenes. However one key scene will bring everything else in your story together in a cataclysmic moment of final conflict.
Martha Alderson calls it one of the most important ‘energetic markers’ of story, where tension mounts to a crescendo and your main character shows us who she really is, what she’s really made of.
What is the CLIMAX and how can you write a Magnificent One?
In many ways the climax is the main scene of the book. Everything else comes together here. Your protagonist’s transformation [for good or ill]. The main conflict with the antagonist. The plot with all its twists and winding ways ends up here in a crashing waterfall of action.
In many ways I’ve come to the conclusion that it helps the writer to plan this scene first, before they write a single word. It’s the destination. The final countdown. The alchemical story process in its explosive completion.
Has your main character become a hero or a monster? It can go both ways. He might not have become a better person through all his trails during the first three acts. You, the writer, must decide.
Analyse Stories you Love
I recommend taking a close look at stories you enjoy and untangling the climax scene. It might be a quiet refusal or all-out war. Perhaps the main protagonist has learned to fight or maybe he now knows when to back down gracefully.
In the novel Jane Eyre, the main character, Jane, has learned how to balance her heart with her need to be respected and loved.
Also, she has become an independent woman who does not need a man to provide for her financially. Her choices are no longer fraught with the dangers of poverty. Therefore, when she sees Rochester, blind and broken, among the burned ruins of Thornfield House, she comes to him as an equal. She chooses to be his life partner in this spirit of personal transformation.
SACRIFICE is the Word!
But why, you may ask, is Act 4 known as the martyr? Well, let’s have another look at Jane Eyre. What does she lose in order to live her life with Rochester?
The answer is that she’s been offered an alternative life with St John. A life which will bring her great respect. As the wife of a missionary, she’ll be able to teach and live as a good woman by society’s standards. All her sins will be washed away.
So Jane is caught between two equally compelling and concrete choices. The crazy, passionate Rochester. Or the stoic, upstanding St John.
In the end, she chooses passion over societal demands. Hurrah!
How to Create a Brilliant Climax:
Think about your Climax scene. Have you got two clear concrete choices for your hero to be torn between? Make it hard. Test them.
Make sure your Climax is linked to your theme. Jane Eyre is a story of a woman’s struggle for equality, love and respect as an intelligent individual.
Make sure your Climax is linked to your protagonist’s emotional journey. What do they deserve to get? Have they changed enough to get it?
And then force them to give up something they desire greatly in order to fulfil the rules of poetic justice.
Remember: Poetic Justice Rules.
Here’s a mindmap to help to work through some Act 4 ideas. An outline is only ever a working model. It can change any time! But work it through anyway.