Showdowns are, I find, one of the most necessary elements of story, as well as one of the trickiest. Actions are a blur, emotions and motivations impossible to explain, don’t let it go too long or the pacing drags, don’t let it go too short or you’re better off not bothering at all, the setting’s impacted so you better talk about that, and what about the OTHER characters outside the showdown you can’t forget them and ARGH.
Oh, and it’s not like you can only have ONE showdown.
Music is a savior here, one which I’ll happily share over the next few “Writer’s Music” posts. Every showdown must be unique: there is no one quite like your protagonist in this moment, for he/she is either a) barely understanding the world right now, b) still learning his/her abilities, or c) ready, impassioned. These moments of growth influence the showdown, so the music should reflect that.
Your antagonist may be on a similar arc, or not. Some prefer the antagonist to be impossibly powerful so the final showdown and defeat is all the more satisfying, but I think it’s interesting to watch the antagonist grow, too. Any earlier interaction with the protagonist should affect the antagonist, and make him/her more intelligent, wary, etc.
Hans Zimmer’s “Air” is a favorite showdown track for me because, being a longer track, it does allow the characters to think and feel. To realize. Such moments are important, I think, when the protagonist doesn’t really get what’s going on; therefore, those breaths in the action help ground the reader, too.
I am also a sucker for ominous choirs, which Zimmer uses in abundance here. Strings carry the main weight of melody here, but when it’s time for the true tension to arise, percussion and choir overwhelm; you can feel the physical battle here. The eerie soft moments in the choir’s absence only add more to the tension—a moment of dialogue here, perhaps? Or perhaps a moment to run and hide? Give your characters “Air” and see what they do.