More on Writing The Final Battle

More on Writing The Final Battle

If you read my previous post about writing final battles, here are a few more thoughts about the process.

First things first. You’ve gotta give your final bad guys a weakness. There has to be a way to beat them, otherwise it defeats the purpose of your hero’s quest. I believe this is the whole reason for the whole silver/garlic shtick with our fanged and furry friends (if I ever decide to write my shelved Werewolf story idea “Hunter’s Moon”, I’m doing away with that weakness to silver. In my world, werewolves can be killed like any other living creature. but the catch is they are more cunning than average werewolves. these guys are still half human, after all. They can plan, set traps and use guns as well as hunt you down and rip your head off. I think that would be an interesting enemy to have to fight against). Otherwise these things are unstoppable monsters and there’s no point in fighting them. Your audience needs to see your heroine find a way, so you need to build one in. You can give some crazy backstory behind the weakness, but it has to be there.

Don’t think too big, even if your current story is one part of a larger narrative or storyarc. yes, this is part of a larger narrative, but this also has to work as a self-contained story. I’m going to again tell you what my publisher at Necro told me: there has to be a payoff. for Godmode, the problem was Elijah going through all this crap only to fail at saving anybody (Snitsky, Ith, his wife or his child). you have to reward the readers in some way for following your character through all of that hell. For a large story arc…Everything your protag has done so far culminates into this one moment, which is part of preparing her for the next moment in the next story, which is an even bigger moment. It’s part of the progression of the hero. And this isn’t literal. This is a matter of how you craft the story. By the time your heroine meets her last foe, you, the writer, will need to have given her the tools to give herself a fighting chance to win. If she doesn’t, then you failed her, and that part of the story’s not over until she at least has a chance to win.

Here’s an allegory: everything I have done in my career has prepared me for the job I have right now. Learning web design, Learning specific graphics programs like InDesign and Photoshop, Working in the publishing industry designing at newspapers, running my own magazine in college, writing for my college newspaper, including writing reviews and conducting interviews, learning to efficiently research stuff online, learning to get along with coworkers, understanding the editing process, even the clipart sites i used as a freelancer: all of that stuff has played a part in my success (so far) at my current dayjob. I once interviewed my now ex-brother in law for a featured article in the magazine, which draws upon another set of life experiences because him trusting me enough to ask him about his time in the Marines and his time as a police officer was not something that was built overnight. I’ve been preparing for that job my entire life.

That’s what I mean. everything your heroine has been through, the skills she picked up, the weapons she collected, the lessons she learned about handling certain situations and people, all of that was training and preparation for this. one. battle. I know there will be other final battles in the future, but if she can’t figure out how to win this one, there WON’T be any others. and that’s kinda the point.

If you haven’t watched the film Donnie Darko, I recommend you at least read some of the analyses of the movie. There are a bunch on Youtube. it’s a fascinating look at how this kid was led to be the savior of his world. long story short: he came across an unexplained artifact that created a tangent universe that was going to collapse on itself and destroy the real universe if he didn’t find out where that artifact came from and put it back. The people in this tangent universe are called “the manipulated dead” and they are all giving him clues and tools to save the world — even the ones antagonizing him, but he — and the audience — doesn’t know it. And since he was chosen, he also has some supernatural powers to help him complete the task. Nothing major, but just enough to get what needs to be done, done. and everything he does in the movie sets off sequences of events like dominoes falling, which leads right up to him doing what needs to be done, at the cost of his own life. Come to think of it, this is a similar phenomenon to how the video game Link’s Awakening progresses. Those are extreme examples, but that’s pretty much what every writer does with their protagonists, and what you’re doing with your heroine.

That’s why I asked what your protag has learned. There has to be some nuggets of knowledge she picked up in her story that will come in handy during this battle. same thing with her special abilities. She was granted those powers for a reason. This is the reason. Perhaps at some point of time, she learned of her enemies’ weakness, but it was unimportant factoid at the time. and of her blade fighting training, one of the techniques she learned is VERY effective on that particular weakspot. She learns from a previous battle to not to hold back, or to never turn her back on a defeated foe, or maybe she learns the secret to fighting off multiple foes by herself. I’m talking about very practical lessons she learned that she can use to win.

And if at all possible, avoid
information dumps. they read too much like exposition. the intel she
needs to win this battle should be learned throughout the story , not
on the day before the final battle.

Hubris is a good weakness for your final boss to have. Some of Comicdom’s most powerful villains are usually stopped because they are too arrogant to think there are any flaws in their plans. For guys like Lex Luthor and Dr. Doom, their arrogance is literally their only real weakness. They often underestimate their foes, or do not thoroughly reinforce their plans, and end up leaving a loose thread, which, when pulled by the hero, makes the whole plan unravel.

Even if you’re writing a series of novels/movies and this will be one of many final battles, don’t fall into the trap of thinking too meta. you need to go micro with this moment. If your heroine doesn’t shine in this battle, there may not be any more final battles for her to engage in (story-wise or publication-wise). THIS battle — whichever one your heroine is in at the moment — is literally your heroine’s finest hour. Which means this foe needs to bring out the best of her. You have to make the opposition’s weapons formidable, but there has to be a way to overcome them built in that your heroine can exploit. The mithril armor and Sting don’t seem like much for Bilbo and Frodo, until they are in battle and that little glowing sword saves everyone’s lives. Think of your foe’s weapons and powers as opportunities for your heroine to show off HER abilities. it’s kind of like a dance, and you need to choreograph it.

Now look at the environment the battle is happening in. Your characters are not going to be fighting in an empty room, or even in a ring. There will be natural obstacles and weapons lying around which can help raise the stakes and the level of danger in the fight. A crumbling stronghold holds different obstacles than a sinking ship, which is different from a desolate battlefield or a dense jungle. The final battle in Kill Bill happened at a picnic table in a couple of lawn chairs in a suburban backyard. When you’re in a fight for your life, and you’re fighting for everything you hold dear, you’re going to utilize every advantage at your disposal. That’s why you need to give your final foe a built in weakness. And Your heroine needs to be the one to recognize it and be the first to exploit it.

Terry Pratchett example of this: Cohen the Barbarian is the world’s oldest Barbarian. before you laugh, remember that he has worked in a very deadly profession and lived to be a very old age. think about that, and THEN you can laugh. in any case, he’s in a Japanese-like world facing off against some samurai. The samurai want to show how skilled they are, so one pulls out a hankerchief, throws it in the air, and slices it into thirds while it is still in the air. Cohen is impressed, and now he wants to try it, so he pulls out a handkerchief and throws it in the air. while the samurai are all looking up at the handkerchief, he cuts all of their heads off. his quote? “You can show off, or you can fight. you can’t do both.”

Another way to enhance your final
battle is with in-battle dialogue. this is the final battle. this is
personal. there will be trash talked, and plenty of it. what are
these guys saying to and about each other before the fight? during
it? after it?

By the time you get to the final
battle, there has to be more at stake than your protag’s survival.
What exactly is she trying to do when all Hell breaks loose? what is
she trying to do right at that moment within the framework of her
overall quest in story. every good hero’s journey involves the
quest. what is her quest for this leg of her journey? what is she
trying to obtain or accomplish? And why is it so important for your
final foe to stop her?

Regardless of what genre your story is in, a final battle is and should be heavy on the action. Doesn’t matter if it’s physical, verbal, or psychological: the pace of this confrontation has to be brisk and full of tension. There has to back a back and forth and ebb & flow to the momentum of the battle. it really is like a dance. or better yet, like a well choreographed pro wrestling match (I loves me some rasslin’). the best matches tell a story within themselves, have good, solid action of a hard fought battle, engage the crowd and get them cheering or booing and genuinely caring about the outcome, and make it hard to predict who is going to win or lose. Dances With Smurfs –er– Avatar actually nailed those aspects of the final battle.

Speaking of Avatar, why dontcha check that movie out again to see what I’m talking about?

Storyteller and published author of 4 novels.