Bin Laden. Photo from

The news has been heard round the world; Osama Bin Laden is dead. One of the things that I noticed was that it all seemed somewhat…well, anticlimactic. I doubt that anyone who doesn’t check the FBI’s Most Wanted List on a regular basis even thought about Bin Laden the week before the news leaked.

So what does this mean for us as writers? Characters need motivation, a driving idea that overshadows what they say and do. Without a goal (revenge, love, money), a character will seem like a cardboard cutout—not quite as thin as paper, but flimsy all the same. Once you have given a main character a goal, how do you help them to achieve this climax, the apex of all their striving, without it deflating like a nuked marshmallow Peep?

I’ve noticed this often in my own work; I’ll write a scene ahead of time where my protagonist “wins.” And it sounds great. But when I try to plug it into the story, if I have let my characters live instead of dictating them, this scene may not work effectively anymore. How to avoid this?

Name: Montoya, Inigo. Motivation: Revenge. Purpose: Now? Meh... pirate? Photo courtesy of

1.) Don’t fence in your characters. They need room to breathe and grow. And by the end of it, their desires might have changed and achieving their goal may not even be wanted anymore, much less climactic.

2.) Don’t let the reader forget about the goal. Don’t overdo it either, but if your protagonist is going to fulfill this desire, make sure it burns in the mind of the reader as deeply as it does in the heart of your character.

3.) Make sure the character has a new motivation for living. Unless you want to show how revenge (or anything else, for that matter) can consume a person until they lose all purpose besides completing their goal, devise a new dream for them to chase. Otherwise they will end up pretty pathetic, and even if the climax was great, this ending will disappoint.

Have you noticed this, either in Bin Laden’s case or in writing? How do you avoid dead-fish climaxes?