"KABOOM!" went the Death Star.
December 27, 2011 3:56 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of spectacular, climactic visuals... in text?

You know the kind of thing I mean; the dark tower topples, the planet explodes, the Arc of the Covenant is opened, the ghosts break out of the containment grid, the anime hero triumphs in the final battle with flames and lightning and everything going everywhere... you can see all these incredible scenes in any sci-fi/fantasy/supernatural film or TV show, the kind of thing that breaks the filmmaker's budget and makes you go "WHOOHOO!"...

...but even though the imagination is the ultimate tool, it's a little harder to make flashy visuals through the medium of text. The best example I can think of from my own reading is the climax of "The Last Unicorn" which always gives me a shiver...

What are some other examples that you like for the best "Wow!" visuals in text? I want to be able to write good scenes like these, and I want examples to learn from!
posted by The otter lady to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

Rendevous witb rama. By arthur clarke. The descriptions of the ships interior give me chills.
posted by chasles at 4:02 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

The climax of The Stars My Destination (originally Tiger! Tiger!) by Alfred Bester.

Sample image here.

The whole idea is just crazypants and almost entirely a dated artifact of the times, but the way it used custom typography really works for me and was a delightful, memorable surprise when I first read it.
posted by jsturgill at 4:03 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

"The whole idea" that is crazypants is the idea of using typography in that manner, not the plot of the book.
posted by jsturgill at 4:04 PM on December 27, 2011

China Mieville, The Scar - difficult to overrate this book in terms of visuals, and certainly the climactic passages (there are two! or sort of three!) are amazing.

You might also enjoy Peter Beagle's The Folk of the Air, which is super visual and has the Only Convincing Magical Battle Ever Written as its - sort of - climactic scene.

If your misogyny and racism tolerance is strong and you read YA novels, I recommend CS Lewis - The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the end of The Silver Chair and in particular the first two books of the Space Trilogy. Narnia books are more racist, space books are way more misogynist. CS Lewis in some ways is a bit of a leaden writer and his children's dialogue is truly awful (everyone speaks a sort of pastiche of jolly-hockysticks British English even though the books take place in the fifties) but many, many people have observed that he sure can set a memorable scene.
posted by Frowner at 4:10 PM on December 27, 2011

Chapter 61 of Unwind, by Neal Shusterman. Everything is implied, but the visual it conjures up is incredible.

"You'll feel a tugging near your ankles. It's nothing to worry about."
posted by Flannery Culp at 4:15 PM on December 27, 2011

The climax of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle would qualify, I think.

Also, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever has some massive, epic battle scenes interspersed between tedious tales of somewhat blandly described characters walking around for days and days. The battle scenes involve lots of different mystical creatures, mountains, fire, crazy magical powers where creatures conjure up weather disturbances and black water eats people, giant armies of monsters, and so on. The second book in the series (The Illearth War) has more action than the first book, and if you're reading just to see some epic battle scenes you might as well skip right to the second book. I haven't read beyond the first two. They had these books at the local library.
posted by wondermouse at 4:40 PM on December 27, 2011

"Silently, wallowing in the pleasures of conspiracy, we take the bead purse from its secret place and spill its contents on the scrap quilt. Dollar bills, tightly rolled and green as May buds. Somber fifty-cent pieces, heavy enough to weight a dead man's eyes. Lovely dimes, the liveliest coin, the one that really jingles. Nickels and quarters, worn smooth as creek pebbles. But mostly a hateful heap of bitter-odored pennies."

That's from A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote. Makes me shiver every time I read it.
posted by gray17 at 4:54 PM on December 27, 2011

The end of Moby Dick, when the Pequod sinks.
posted by HeroZero at 6:11 PM on December 27, 2011

One of my favorite written scenes is in the Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson describes a very cool new type of performance art.
posted by stratastar at 7:15 PM on December 27, 2011

The end of Cormac McCarthy's The Road will reduce you to tears.
posted by elizeh at 8:06 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Douglas Adams was very good at this. An example from the Hitchhiker's Guide:
The car shot forward straight into the circle of light, and suddenly Arthur had a fairly clear idea of what infinity looked like.

It wasn't infinity in fact. Infinity itself looks flat and uninteresting. Looking up into the night sky is looking into infinity - distance is incomprehensible and therefore meaningless. The chamber into which the aircar emerged was anything but infinite, it was just very very big, so that it gave the impression of infinity far better than infinity itself.

Arthur's senses bobbed and spun, as, travelling at the immense speed he knew the aircar attained, they climbed slowly through the open air leaving the gateway through which they had passed an invisible pinprick in the shimmering wall behind them.

The wall.

The wall defied the imagination - seduced it and defeated it. The wall was so paralysingly vast and sheer that its top, bottom and sides passed away beyond the reach of sight. The mere shock of vertigo could kill a man.

The wall appeared perfectly flat. It would take the finest laser measuring equipment to detect that as it climbed, apparently to infinity, as it dropped dizzily away, as it planed out to either side, it also curved. It met itself again thirteen light seconds away. In other words the wall formed the inside of a hollow sphere, a sphere over three million miles across and flooded with unimaginable light.

"Welcome," said Slartibartfast as the tiny speck that was the aircar, travelling now at three times the speed of sound, crept imperceptibly forward into the mindboggling space, "welcome," he said, "to our factory floor."
FWIW, the movie did a decent job of turning this into an epic cinematic moment.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:24 PM on December 27, 2011

Ian M. Banks, The Algebraist

One distant screen image was suddenly repeated across several more. At first it looked like a replay of the entrance of the first Dreadnought, the great nose bulging out through, the curtain of streaming cloud, dragging gas like long flags of war. Then the view pulled back and the screen showed the Storm Wall bulging in another place, then another and another and another, until a whole vertical forest of the great ships was visible, hurtling out of the storm and towards the great column of black circling spacecraft hanging like a giant pendulum over the spectating fleet.

The Dzunda shook, rippled and screamed like something alive as the shock wave of the earlier nuclear explosion seemed to pick it up and rattle it. Dwellers swung this way and that across the concourse, banging into each other, walls, floor and ceiling, filling the gas with oaths and debris. Another pair of screens cut out but enough remained to show the closing fleet of mercury-coloured Dreadnoughts livid with fire outgoing and incoming. Lasers sheened off, fans of interceptor projectiles and beams combed the gas and sundered darting, twisting missiles. Two more of the dark ships, then a third, exploded or crumpled and started to fall or spiral down, but two more of the giant Dreadnoughts disappeared in massive, screen-hazing detonations.

A couple more Dreadnoughts were suddenly caught in a fiercely bright beam from immediately above, from out of the clear yellow sky. The beam fell between them, making each massive ship wobble as if stumbling in the gas. Then it split into two parallel shafts, each violet rod narrowing in an instant and chopping through its targeted Dreadnought like an axe through a neck.
posted by kzin602 at 12:41 AM on December 28, 2011

If you actually go and look all of these up, you should post them to a blog / mefi post, and pm me. :)
posted by victory_laser at 2:21 AM on December 28, 2011

I cannot believe I am actually using this example, but one of the Twilight books has Bella experiencing some sort of catatonic state when Edward leaves her. This is shown by having several blank pages. Shitty books, but that part really made an impression on me as very descriptive (non)writing. May have been the best part of the whole series, come to think of it.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 7:51 AM on December 28, 2011

Despite taking place inside of a MMORPG, the climax of Ready Player One is, I would think, to be of sufficient epic-ness.
posted by theartandsound at 10:39 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't remember which book, but I really enjoyed a detailed slow-motion description of a nuclear explosion in one of the tom clancy books. I know, tom clancy. but still.
posted by Chris4d at 7:45 AM on January 3, 2012

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