I’m pre-writing a long fantasy series and the final “act” always seems to be a build up to one great big battle scene.

Are there any other options for sci-fi/fantasy writers’ third act instead of a great big world-ending battle?

That would be a great article. Super helpful.

In the meantime, do you have any ideas for me?

Thanks,

-Justin

Justin,

Fantasy comes in many shapes and sizes, but big battle scenes are quite common in epic fantasy in particular. The stakes are very high, and if your main conflict involves clashing nations or a struggle for succession, a battle is the natural way to create an epic, exciting conflict that can realistically resolve the problems raised in the beginning. If the book doesn’t have a struggle that’s epic in scale, the field of options is much wider. For a long series, it’s often a good idea to start with somewhat smaller stakes in the beginning, so the story has more room to build without getting repetitive.

But let’s say you do have a large-scale conflict: What options are there for bringing things to a head without a battle? Another popular option is for small party of protagonists to head into somewhere very dangerous.

  • In The Lord of the Rings, Sam and Frodo have to sneak into Mordor and reach Mount Doom.
  • In other stories, the protagonists might sneak into the villain’s fortress to steal a powerful artifact, rescue someone, or just assassinate the bad guy.
  • Sometimes the protagonist surrenders themselves or is captured by the bad guy and spends time behind enemy lines trying to outwit the villain.

If you have high magic in your setting, that can also be used to set up whatever requirements you want for an exciting end. Maybe saving the day depends on restoring a magic barrier, but to do that, the hero will have to head into the underworld and convince Hades to give up an important artifact.

It’s also possible to solve big conflicts through negotiation instead of violence. As long as life or death is on the line, it will be exciting. Similarly, it could end with a duel between two champions instead of a battle. Maybe the protagonist’s tiny fortress stands no chance of withstanding the evil hordes outside, so their leader finds a clever way to get the villain to accept a duel instead. The hero has almost no shot, but it’s the only chance of everyone coming through alive. Just keep in mind that if it looks like a battle is about to happen but then it doesn’t, readers may find that anticlimactic. Keep the focus off the battle preparations and instead just make it clear what terrible things will happen if it starts.

I hope you find that helpful!

Chris

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