Scene Trope: The Calm Before the Storm
You should all recognize this one: tomorrow is the Final Battle, and your characters are nervous and afraid. They’re having a hard time falling asleep, so they end up talking and having a moment of bonding and comradery.
There are a few variations of this scene. Maybe your main character goes around to have some heart-to-heart moments with the other characters. Maybe they offer an overdue apology to their best friend. Maybe they get intimate with a love interest for the first (and maybe last?!) time. Maybe two long-time rivals finally reconcile, or your character finally confesses to a wrong they’ve done.
It doesn’t have to be a life or death situation, either. Just a moment before a scary, impactful event—an event that will change things forever.
So, what about it?
We see it often enough that this type of scene is considered a trope. Tropes aren’t inherently bad, and I think this trope in particular is a good one to include.
In fact, if there’s a natural, fitting place to include it in your own story, it’s something you should consider!
For starters, it’s realistic. If you knew there was a chance you’d die tomorrow, wouldn’t you want to spend some time with the people you care about? Wouldn’t you want to confess your feelings, or apologize for things you regret? In another day, you may lose that chance forever.
Again, it doesn’t have to be “death.” Maybe tomorrow it’s the school’s big talent show, or the day your main character will meet their long-lost daughter. But no matter the case, it feels like a point of no return for your main character.
This scene does a few things for you:
- Creates a breather moment, while staying tense.
- Helps your reader mentally transition into a “this is it” sense of finality.
- Provides last-minute character building.
- Provides last-minute relationship development.
- Can provide tension if a character doesn’t say what needs to be said.
- If you plan on killing characters, makes the final goodbye more impactful and heart-wrenching.
3 Things to Watch Out For
Again, tropes aren’t inherently bad. But they are recognizable, and the whole scene came come off as cheesy, overdramatic, or boring if you’re not careful.
Don’t Force the Moment
While this trope can make a great utility scene, it still needs to feel natural. Make sure each character stays in character. Some characters will react differently than others.
Not everyone will suddenly open up and say all that needs to be said. Not everyone will take this moment calmly. Characters don’t always say what they mean, and that applies here too.
That said, it’s a serious moment. When the stakes are high, some characters might be more bold or more honest.
In short, make your characters flexible to the gravity of the moment while also staying true to their core personality.
Don’t Tie Up All Loose Ends
Don’t make this moment too beneficial to the characters (from their point of view).
That is to say: don’t suddenly make their lives perfect. Don’t tie up all the loose ends and subplots you’ve built so far. You still have a climax ahead of you, after all.
There should still be some relationship tension, character arc tension, and so on with some characters. Sure, feel free to resolve some of the issues. But not everything. Maybe in some cases, this moment marks the first hopeful step toward a resolution that will come later.
One of the best ways to build plot tension overall is to stack up your problems faster than you can solve them, and you don’t want to lose too much pressure right before your big finish.
Use it Sparingly (Probably Just Once)
It should go without saying that you probably only want one of these in your novel.
This is supposed to be the deep breath before a huge, impactful moment. Generally speaking, you’ll only want one of these scenes—smack dab before the final climax.
This moment can be huge for your character arc. Maybe they finally admit or recognize something they’ve been denying all along—something like admitting a mistake or acknowledging a character flaw.
So, right before the end just makes sense. The epiphany of this moment helps them succeed in the upcoming challenge.
I’m sure there are exceptions, so don’t take it as a hard rule.
If you recognize this type of “calm before the storm” scene from other books and movies, there’s a reason it’s so popular. When implemented properly, a moment like this can carry incredible weight for your story arcs—especially for your main character.
Like anything in writing, it’s a tool. And there’s a time and a place for every tool in your writer’s toolbox. Before you write this scene, make sure it’s a good fit for your manuscript’s needs!
What do you think about these types of scenes? Do you have one in your story?