I am currently working on the middle section (or Act Two, if you use the three-act structure) of my novel-in-progress, Cocke & Bull. This section essentially does one thing: it leads up to a climactic emotional moment between two of the main characters to resolve a conflict that began at the end of Act One, the resolution of which conflict will lead to the climax in Act Three which deals with the conflict that started off the story. If that makes no sense, imagine the story as a conflict/climax within another conflict/climax. Conflict 1 is the story's outer problem, and Conflict 2 is the story's inner problem:
CONFLICT 1 begins
CONFLICT 2 begins
CONFLICT 2 climaxes
CONFLICT 1 climaxes
I'm very happy with this overall structure and I may just use it for every novel I write from here on out. Unless I don't. I'm capricious that way. Anyway.
The emotional climax at the end of Act 2 is a big moment in the story, making the climax in Act 3 inevitable. So I need to have this emotional climax really stand out and I have to lead into it well. I'm going to use an idea that I got from reading "The Art of Subtext" by Charles Baxter. In this book, Baxter talks about how in real life, most people avoid "making a scene." Most people bite back their strongest emotions and try hard not to bare their souls. There are things we would love to do, but we do not do them because such things are not done or because the price we'd pay for these acts would be too high.
For example, imagine two men. Let's call them Andy and Tom and let's say they work together in a large office. Tom's the sort of guy who objectifies women and is obsessed with the size of their breasts. In fact, one of his habits is to whisper his estimate of women's breast sizes to Andy whenever they're together. "Check it out," Tom will say. "38D!" He also gives nicknames to the women who work in the office with him and Andy. These nicknames all have to do with the women's breasts and are, of course, private and only used by Tom when speaking to Andy.
Andy is uncomfortable with this, but when he was first getting to know Tom, he said nothing about this behavior and subsequently it's only gotten worse as time goes on and now what Andy wants is for Tom to just leave him alone. But it's awkward. They work together on some of the same projects, and frankly Andy isn't sure how to bring the subject and his objections up. It's outside of his comfort zone. He doesn't want to make a scene at the office.
If this were the basis of a story, the climax of it would be Andy, finally unable to hold his tongue, busting out with a highly-emotional demand that Tom shut up about their coworkers' physiques and, you know, we're just not going to be friends anymore so just leave me alone. Andy will let out all this bottled-up frustration and embarrassment, unleashing it on Tom in a compressed moment, preferably in a too-small physical space like an elevator or a supply room or something, because small spaces increase emotional force. What happens after the climax will depend on if Andy or Tom is the protagonist, and that's not really the point here.
Leading up to the moment when Andy makes a scene, we'll need scenes that increase the tension between him and Tom, with Andy biting back words and being increasingly embarrassed by the whole thing. We'll have to make it clear that the one thing Andy would love to do is tell Tom to shut up (hey, maybe Tom is Andy's superior or team leader or something?), and make it clear that Andy would never do this, and then have Andy do it anyway. That's drama, folks. The conflict and tension increase over time and then are paid off in the climax.
So in my own book, I've got a character who knows that the real solution to the inner conflict of the story (Conflict 2 in my chart above) is an act that he will no way never commit. So what I'm doing now is having him fight against his urge to commit that act, putting in scenes where it will look as if that act won't be necessary and then...oh, gosh I guess it will be after all. He's faced with the decision to solve his problem and pay a very high price, or not solve his problem and live with a misery more-or-less of his own making (because the drama is better when the crisis has been brought about by the character himself).
Anyway, I just wanted to talk about this idea of "making a scene" and how the common-enough situation of demonstrating admirable restraint when we'd rather not can be the model for larger emotional movements in novels. It's a new way of seeing the dramatic arc for me, so I'm sharing. Also, this is my way of recommending Baxter's book: The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot.