- increase in loudness or intensity.
In writing, we call it a climax generally, but that’s not exactly what I mean either. The crescendo is not the climax of the story; it’s the build.
Let’s talk about suspense. Hitchcock tells us that suspense is showing the audience something that the main character doesn’t know. For example, showing the bomb under the chess table where the two ambassadors are playing. (Or scientists — pretty sure that was in a MacGyver episode.) The audience knows there’s a bomb and a timer and they’re tensed up waiting for the hero to rush in and save the day or for the two ambassadors to be blown to kingdom come.
Easy for a movie director to say right? But we’re writing.
You can throw on a prolog with the situation. You can jump between POV’s so that we see the villain and the hero at the same time. You can drop a ton of exposition to let us know why we care about the McGuffin. (No, don’t do that last one. Please don’t. It will make your editor want to beat you with a writing guide.)
Or, you can build a crescendo. This means raising the stakes, beat by beat, until we hear the thunder crash, and you can settle into a small valley or respite. (I am looking at this sentence and I want to smack myself for it, so let me make it a little clearer.)
We start with
- situation 1 — bad happens, hero deals, lull while we wait for
- situation 2 — worse happens, hero deals, lull on a slightly tenser note while we wait for
- situation 3 — absolute rock bottom worst happens, hero deals,
- situation 4 — hero confronts the main villain and triumphs/dies
- and explanation, return to home/love/whatever
- final resolution and/or set up for the next story.
Does that look even vaguely familiar? It’s very loosely the five act structure. This is important and you should try to dredge it up from high school English class.
It would look mostly like a James Bond film. Opening on the end of a mission to set up that there is major action going to happen and our Bond is good at dealing. Start of the next mission. Dead Bond-girl. First confrontation with the enemy. Bond is captured! Bond escapes. Bond confronts the enemy. Avenges the dead girl and completes his missions. Kisses not-dead Bond girl and prepares for the next mission.
Escalation… increasing intensity.