When we left Sarah at the Act Three break, she'd just made a firm vocal decision to leave her selfish desires behind and do whatever it takes to save Toby from the Goblin King. Now it's time to put her words into action.
Act Three is nothing but go go go until the story resolution is attained at the peak of the climax. Pacing and tension start high and stay high.
Sarah and her entourage have finally reached the goblin city. Jareth's castle is in the center of the city, so they still have some obstacles to overcome before she can achieve her main story goal.
First, they battle this giant metal robot thing. While doing so, lo and behold! Hoggle returns to help. He is obviously different now, having gone through a change of heart during Sarah's hallucination phase. No more Mr. Wishy Washy here--he's ready to fight for Sarah, just in time.
When Jareth discovers Sarah is so close to rescuing Toby, he sends out all the goblin forces to stop her. He didn't think she would get this far. He really underestimated her. Most antagonists will, on some level.
Now the battle is on. And the battle goes on for a while. Pretty much all that happens for the next (almost) 10 minutes is a fight between Sarah & Co. and Jareth's goblins.
This is expected. The audience has been anticipating this showdown since the beginning, and now it's time to deliver. This is a big scene, but the bigness of it must fit the story. Don't go over the top simply because you're at the end. Different story types call for different climactic showdowns. The tone of Act Three has to match the tone of the rest of the book. I've discussed this previously, in more detail, HERE.
(Aside: That link has some great tips for endings in general, too.)
In the first part of Act Three of Labyrinth, every character and every potential conflict hinted at up to this point is utilized, save one.
Which one? The BIG one between the single protagonist and the single antagonist. The head-to-head showdown between Sarah and Jareth comes last because it's the most important.
Sarah follows Jareth into the staircase maze. Some of the best cinema tricks of the entire movie are in the following scene.
The journey through the crazy stairs is a good way of showing just what Sarah is up against. Jareth has magic on his side, and we're in his territory. He seems to have the upper hand. It seems like he might actually win.
This is exactly what you want your audience to fear, that the antagonist still has a chance of winning. Without that fear, all the tension leading up to this point is lost. When you lose your tension prematurely, you also lose your audience. They have to think that the protagonist might fail... until she assuredly does not fail, at the very end.
After Sarah takes a leap towards Toby, only to have the staircase maze disintegrate around her, she is now face-to-face with Jareth and must use everything she's learned so far to defeat him. This scene is kind of a throwback to their first meeting at the debate period of Act One. But Sarah is different now, so things play out much differently than they did before.
Jareth once again tries to talk her into doing what he wants. Sarah keeps her head. And remember those lines she was reciting at the beginning that I told you were an important hint? They've finally come back into the story.
But wait, didn't Sarah always forget that final line? So we're still worried for her, silently pleading, "Remember the line, Sarah! Dig it out of your head and say it!" Because even though we still don't know exactly what will happen when she says that final line, we do understand that it's important.
And we know this because it was properly set up in the beginning.
(Aside: This is why the first half of a first draft, for me, has the most revisions applied once I've written the complete draft. I have to go back to the beginning and make sure everything was effectively set up for the ending to work.)
Jareth's final push at the climax (get your mind out of the gutter) is arrogant and humorous, just as he's been all along. So it fits. But now he's also desperate. He realizes how close he is to possible defeat. Jareth again tries to offer Sarah a deal, as he did in the beginning. She ignores him, still trying to remember her lines.
"Just fear me, love me, do as I say, and I will be your slave." ahahahaha! Love it.
Then Sarah remembers the line. And it literally blows Jareth away.
Sarah had the power within her all along. She just had to go on this epic journey to realize it, and now she is forever changed.
A quick denouement follows this peak. We see Toby safe and asleep in his crib, and Sarah returns to her room. Then there's some odd celebrating with the good guys from the labyrinth, but for the most part, we're done when we see that Sarah is home, and Toby is safe, and Sarah is a better person now.
The most important thing to remember about denouements, especially in novels, is to keep it brief. There really shouldn't be much to wrap up after the climax, because the climax resolves the main story question. So if you find yourself going on and on about other things after the climax, see if you can find an earlier point in the story to tie up those loose ends. The best place I've found for wrapping up subplots is in the later parts of Act Two and the early parts of Act Two (as appropriate)--aka, before the climax. The climax is reserved for the main story resolution.
Here's the breakdown of Act Three:
- protagonist has a firm determination to end what she started, and devises a clear and focused plan to accomplish that goal
- antagonist throws everything he has left against her
- the final showdown starts with smaller obstacles that must be overcome before the protagonist reaches the head-to-head showdown with the antagonist
- the bigness of the events in Act Three fit the overall tone of the story; nothing should feel over-the-top or underwhelming
- at the climax the protagonist and antagonist face-off; only one will come away victorious
- the audience must have reason to worry that the antagonist can still win, even this close to the end
- protagonist uses everything she's learned from her experience thus far to defeat the antagonist
- after the main story question is resolved at the peak of the climax, a brief denouement immediately follows; this circles back to the beginning to show a complete story arc and how the protagonist and/or her world have changed
Now for a disclaimer I should have set out in the first post, but better late than never. Just because I found this movie worthy of a breakdown doesn't mean I think it is absolutely perfect in every way. Far from it. There are actually quite a few issues I have with this movie.
I still love it. I've loved it from the first time I saw it, and I've watched it so many times I've lost count.
And really, if a story can have flaws and still be considered a favorite by so many, there is likely more right with it than there is wrong. So. Keep that in mind before you go bashing a bestseller and ranting on and on about how you can't understand why it's so popular. Please.
Now for the bad news...
I'm taking the month of September off from this series (due to a combination of personal and professional obligations that are somewhat heavy in the coming month). But this hiatus is not forever. I plan to pick it up again in October. And I'm not withdrawing posts from the blog completely, as I've done in the past. I'll still be here, just with different topics. Ones that don't take quite so much time to compile as these do.
This has been fun, though, and I'm glad so many of you expressed your appreciation for the work I've put into these posts. It's because of you that this blog continues to be one of my favorite parts of my weekly routine.
Thank you all, and happy writing,