Use Contrasts and Make Things Get Much Worse or Much Better

Your set-piece will have the most impact if you lead up to it with scenes of varied length, but all brisk and relatively short. Then, when your set-piece arrives, your reader will be ready to settle down to something more substantial and intense.

If your set-piece is going to be a grim disaster, you have a choice—your lead-in scenes can be cheery, hopeful, or peaceful (suspicious readers will immediately start suspecting the worst) or else more and more troubled and disturbing. Then the scene will need to be not merely the confirmation of the characters' worst fears, but beyond anything they'd even imagined. (Merely confirming suspicions has little drama; finding out things are even worse than you'd thought leaves whole new vistas of unpleasantness to explore.)

But if your big scene is going to turn out wonderful and happy, the lead-in should probably be as black as possible. Cheer followed by more cheer, cute upon cute, can make even the non-diabetic among us wince. A touch of sour gives tang and helps ward off banality. Unrelieved sweetness, thoroughgoing uplift, becomes stronger and more persuasive by the addition of a dash of bitters, at least in anticipation, though your set-piece may open all sunny and go on to become positively idyllic and full of implicit happily-ever-afters.

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