How to Write a Climbing Scene – WRITE THAT SCENE

How to Write a Climbing Scene



Part One

  1. Where/What are they climbing and how do they prepare? It feels different for everyone. Depends on the character, if they’re afraid of heights, have they climbed before, are they using safety equipment? 

»A. Where or what are they climbing?

I. It could be a mountain, stairs, a ladder, a wall. They could be climbing down, up, to the side, to the right, zig zagged. How is the weather or the environment? Can they breath easy, are there people around? Did they decide to go by themselves?  
II. What made them decide to climb here? Is there something at the top or bottom that they need? Is it a hobby? To escape someone or something? Is this place or thing familiar? Describe what’s around them, above them and below them BEFORE they begin climbing. 

Suggest YOUR Scene Idea


»B. How do they prepare?

I. Are they already experts at climbing and don’t need anyone’s help? Maybe they can’t get help at the time so they are figuring out how to do the task. Depending on how high or low they are climbing, it will make the character hesitant about rushing. Although, if someone or something is chasing them the fear will go out the window for both the height and the task. Instead, the mission would be to survive what’s attacking them. 
II. What equipment do they bring, if any? It could range from the appropriate shoes to the water they would drink. They can climb in boots or tennis shoes; they are just not as effective as climbing shoes. Climbing shoes allow them to step up on tiny ledges that other footwear will slip off.  Since climbing with they will be legs/feet rather than the arms it is the most efficient way; not having good shoes will be a hindrance.

Again, when a character doesn’t have the means to prepare, for whatever reason, they would use whatever they can. Might even create certain items in order to climb successfully. Here is an example: 

  • A character who doesn’t have a rope and is climbing a hill may use rocks to stab into cracks for leverage. Or tie together his clothes to climb down.

III. Were there any mind meditation, pep talks, prayers, certain regimes that had been practiced or completed before arriving to the climb? Show how it has helped your character calm down or become more confident in their abilities to succeed. Also, is there people expecting something of the character and if they fail, they are laughed at or shunned? This can greatly affect how the character prepares as oppose to someone who is climbing for a hobby.
Here are a few things that can affect the climber’s confidence:

  •       The gear she has at her disposal. 
  •        The difficulty of the rock vs her experience level. 
  •        Quality of the rock(solid/crumbly). 
  •        Environmental conditions (Day/night. Dry/wet. Hot/cold. ) 


Part Two

    1. Explain the very first steps to the climb.

»A. How are they feeling?

I. Who is there to witness the climb. Animals can watch a human climb too :-). This can take a toll on the character if they are trying to impress the watcher. When a character is escaping something dangerous, the attacker can watch in disbelief before proceeding to climb too or attack the character from below or above. 
II. Depending upon her stamina and mental condition (fresh, fatigued, etc) will go a long way in determining her level of stress, risk and success. Nerves regulate a persons body more than we would like in these situations. Go into detail if the character is getting nervous. Their hand might slip because of the sweat. Their clothing seems more heavy. The height looks much more dangerous now that they began climbing.  

If they never climbed before then they will use arms a lot, quickly tire and lose grip and fall. If they are experienced she will know how to use her feet properly, have a appropriate body positioning and use appropriate technique for the route (as long as it isn’t above their skill level). 
III. Anything stopping them? Themselves? An attacker? A teacher? The environment? Based on the character’s current emotion, if they have to stop or restart the climb, show the change in attitude. Do they seem more determined to prove themselves or others wrong? Has what stopped them deter them and they need to gather enough mental strength to continue? Once of the ways they can do that is by praying, meditating, singing a song or visualizing the end of the climb. 

Suggest YOUR Scene Idea


»B. Barriers can be big or small. How do they change the climb?

I. Was your character going in one direction and now has to go in the other? Did an object break, look unstable, or is too risky so an extra hour is added onto the climb? Not only do they have to climb up to the top, climb down, etc but now they have to get over this enormous boulder and/or bridge that looks sketchy. 
II. What is sacrificed that the character was saving to use closer to the finish but now has to use for the barrier? The water they’ve been keeping in their backpack is empty only halfway through the climb because they became dehydrated while getting over the barrier, whatever it may be. Here are a few obstacles you can include in the climb:

  1. Animals such as birds, bears, mountain lions, etc can randomly attack your character or steal important resources from them.
  2. Tiny rocks falling down like an avalanche if the character is rock climbing.
  3. Becoming allergic or sick to an unknown substance and having to work through the pain
  4. Equipment not working properly/faulty or incorrect items brought for the limb.
  5. Climb destination extends or is longer than thought to be


Part Three

    1. How is the halfway mark going for them?

»A. Does the character have a change in mindset?

I. Are they tired? Regretful? Even more determined? Angry? Hopeless? What pain are they feeling? What pain do they intend to feel? Is the rest of the climb predicted to be easy for them and they are looking forward to it? Or is it harder, more strenuous? More obstacles?

Write about almost losing their grip, rocks and dirt cutting into their hands, small pebbles being knocked off the cliff by their hands clattering against the rock as they fell and fell. Beads of sweat on their brow. Ex:

“The rocks scraped against bare skin painfully, red seeping into cloth” 
II. What is the character relying on now and how do they keep themselves in the correct mindset? Do they chant a few inspiring words? Pray again? Zone out the world and only focus on the climb? Do they have to drink the rain water because their water is gone thanks to the barriers from earlier? Is their rope become weak and they need to be cautious the rest of the climb? How about their muscles? How long of a break do they take before proceeding? 
III. Describe how jagged and sharp the rocks feel against the flesh, but how they don’t even notice the pain because of the adrenaline pumping through their veins. What do they hear? Put yourself in the character’s shoes and imagine yourself climbing a cliff. How would you describe your surroundings, and how would you perceive it at that moment?

IV.  When climbing in cold whether such as rainstorms or snow, their hands should feel numb and as if they aren’t working right, aren’t coordinating with everything that needs to be done. Their fingers probably won’t move correctly and it makes it harder to grip, which slows the process down and freaks your brain out and makes it do all this crazy stuff. 

Suggest YOUR Scene Idea


»B. Compare what they can see now to what they first saw and what they will see.

I. In the beginning the character didn’t have much to see, depending on if they are climbing up or down. Now, halfway the view looks completely different. Describe the view but let it correlate to how the character is feeling at that particular moment. In the beginning the character may have been determined, prepared and excited. They would have describe the birds chirping or the wind feeling like a breeze and how beautiful the sun is. But things most likely changed when they’ve reached the middle of the climb if it’s long distance. Instead of calling the sun beautiful they will see it has a demon or a burden. The cute chirping birds to them are now annoying pests that won’t go away or shut up.

Because of being tired or in pain or frustrated, the character won’t see things in the same light. Does seeing how far up they are make them nauseous? Can they see the grass at the bottom or if they are climbing up can they see their destination? This can greatly impact the character for the better.

Are they afraid of heights? If so, you can talk about looking down and experiencing some vertigo. If they are tired or out of shape, you can talk about how their muscles start to burn and hands grow tired and having a hard time holding on to the rungs/grips. 
II. What do they wish? Do they wish they could jump down even though they’re a few hundred feet above ground? Wish they had a parachute, could fly? Brought more water or had a friend with them that could push them along? Wish they had more rest from last night, a better breakfast, didn’t even climb in the first place?


Part Four

    1. Talk about the doubts and the horrors that may or may not play in your character(s) mind.

»A. How does it affect their climbing performance?

I. A character who is afraid they might fall may begin to think about the process of falling and dying. How their loved ones will be sad. And if they can’t reach that leverage to the right at a 30 degree angle, then they are doomed. Someone who may be climbing to the side or down might develop tunnel vision where they’re fixated on one certain way of climbing and their destination that any creativity goes out the window. One small slip up, and because the character refuses to think outside the box,  the complete climbing experience will fail. They doubt that any other way of climbing is prohibited or too dangerous so therefore they stick to what they know. This way of thinking can be fatal. Describe the doubts your character has and what sort of horrors, whether far-fetched or not, they are conjuring up in their minds. 
II. Thinking as such can cause fatal attraction and the inevitable. For example, a character who is constantly thinking of horrors can make themselves vulnerable to the here-and-now. They themselves can provoke their own body to make a mistake. Now where are they. Did they miss a leverage or step on the climb and fell 10 feet down because of their negative thinking? Were they taking out important equipment from a bag and it dropped just as they predicted?? A mind is a powerful tool and using it against our own-selves can be damaging to our success. 

»B. Write about what they were taught or prepared to do and how they aren’t doing any of it.

I. There is a difference between practice and actual performance. For a character to do everything they are taught or prepared for that is great, however, in life unusual occurrences happens that are out of our control. Compare and contrast what the character was taught as oppose to what they are doing or what they have to do instead in order to succeed. Ex:

Angela knew from several hours of training that see must keep at a steady pace. Her instructor never once went a class without repeating it constantly. Except, this wasn’t Kansas Climbing Training Class anymore. It was reality with no indoor air conditioner. Angela’s weak arms and dehydrated body could only hold her up for so long. Keeping a steady pace was far from her mind. Instead, surviving at any cost, replaced it.



Part Five

    1. The last moments of climbing. Arriving at the final destination.

»A. Imagine finally finishing that long essay or graduating from college. Insert your emotion to your character. It is a triumph to finish a climb, no matter how short the height.

I. Instincts start to kick in during the last moments of climbing. Adrenaline either kicks in overtime or settles/calms. Does the character look back at where they started one last time? Take a deep breath before making the final move? Close their eyes before seeing the promise land… so to speak. During the final moments of the climb write about the emotional toll it has on the character to finish. 

II. When reaching the destination, is it how they pictured? How they were told it would be? Is there anything wrong with the finish such as another attacker, no people, no kingdom, no water, etc. Whatever the character was climbing towards, is it there and how there is it? In other words a character who had been climbing to reach water may get there and there’s water. Except, the water is contaminated or dirty. Maybe not enough water at all.
III. Describe the finish thoughts and actions. The character WILL have thoughts about the climb and the destination. Was it worth it to them? Would they do it again? How are they going to get down if they have to? How long will they stay in the destination? How tired are they?

For actions: they may pass out, jump for victory, run madly to whatever they were climbing for,  shout for joy. Bring this scene to a close by showing the reader how accomplished the character feels they are.



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