Category Archives: Guest Bloggers

The Unspoken Pinch Point: Your Climax

A guest post by David Villalva

The climax of your novel should leave readers with some combination of emotional and intellectual satisfaction, as well as any intended sense of unease – often creepy.  Or if it’s a part of a series, a compelling bridge into the next installment.  Either way, you want your final act to resonate, to be memorable.

Nailing it should inspire five-star reviews, positive word of mouth or future book sales. On the other hand, a weak apex may foster criticism or worse, indifference and silence.

You’re a storyteller so there’s no doubt you want to create a lasting impression. This article will explain how to deliver the crescendo your audience deserves.


Just about any dictionary defines a climax as the turning point of a story where all the conflict, drama, and rising action finally meet. While all of that may be true, the word climax actually comes from the Greek word klimax, which means “staircase” or “ladder.” So it makes sense when you see images like this.

Except definitions and images like that don’t tell you how the climax fits into the story structure we’ve all explored here at Storyfix. Or exactly when the climax should occur along a plotline. And honestly, I’m surprised it’s not highlighted more often.

Because your climax is more than the turning point in your story. Its the turning point between you and your audience.

This key milestone is where you reward audiences in dramatic fashion for sticking around. It’s where your audience decides whether or not they’ll commit to your next story, too.

Have you ever finished a story and immediately sought out everything else put out by its creator? Or been blown away by a story that prompted you to tell a friend they had to read or watch it now.

Maybe The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins? Or The Dark Knight by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan?

Remarkable stories have well-designed climaxes that reward audiences. In fact, well-orchestrated climaxes brought those storytellers so much goodwill that people will continue to tune into anything they put out for years. For good reason, too. They honored their audiences with a turning point that fulfilled the conflict and drama established in previous scenes.

That’s what you must do when crafting your climax.


Now let’s break down the critical elements of a climax, and illustrate when it should occur along a plotline.


We’ll start with the good news. You already know how to write a climax.

This is not some positive thinking proposition. Nope, it’s the position that you’re a student of story structure, and you’re already aware of pinch points.

I propose your climax serves as a 3rd and final pinch point. Its the unspoken pinch point.

Crash course: Pinch points generate two well-timed milestones that showcase your antagonist in all its monstrous glory. The 1st and 2nd Pinch Points occur, respectively, at the 37.5% and 62.5% markers in a story. They’re not always spot on and they don’t have to be. They just need to be in the approximate area and generate a properly timed spark to your story.

These sparks promote your antagonist while communicating much more:

  • First, they provide a clear view of the antagonistic force that opposes your Protagonist’s story goal.
  • Second, they give your Protagonist additional motivation to accomplish the story goal at hand.
  • Last, they connect your audience with the protagonist and antagonist by uniting everyone in quality conflict (emotional or physical).

Your climax should occur around the 90% mark, serve as the brightest spark in your story, and complement the previous two pinch points.

Take the same pinch point format you implemented twice before, use the previously established conflict between your protagonist and antagonist, and conclude with an epic confrontation.

And only one can win. Your audience wants a resolution. That doesn’t mean one of them has to die. It simply means only one should be victorious by the end of your story (emotionally or physically).

Keep in mind that delivering your climax too soon may prematurely break the tension. Too late and it may not allow your audience to absorb its full effects. So this 90% mark area primes your audience with just the right amount of built up tension, preparing them to accept their special reward.

The 90% mark opens the door for the remaining storyline to reveal the aftermath including post-climax shockwaves that impact the remaining characters. And your audience wants to know the aftermath so leave plenty of room to tell the rest of the story!


Let’s take a look at the aforementioned bestselling novel and blockbuster film to see how those master storytellers did it.

The Hunger Games, novel by Suzanne Collins

  • Protagonist: Katniss Everdeen
  • Antagonist: The 74th Hunger Games run by The Capitol

1st Pinch (39% mark of story):

  • Katniss enters the Cornucopia, faces the other 23 tributes and finally meets the horror of the 74th Hunger Games.
  • She witnesses the first deaths of the Games, and experiences paralyzing fear despite watching no one die that she’s personally invested in.

2nd Pinch (62% mark of story):

  • Katniss again faces the terror of the Games as she arrives just in time to watch a tribute kill Rue.
  • Rue was a new ally that Katniss became attached to, and an eerie reminder of her sister Primrose.
  • Katniss shoots an arrow into the tribute who murdered Rue, representing her first official, intentional kill.

Climax (91% mark of story):

  • Katniss and Peeta overcome and kill the deadliest tribute (Cato) and wolf-like mutants.
  • Except The Capitol revokes their previous announcement of two winners, compelling Katniss to choose to either kill the person she cares about most in the Games (Peeta) or die herself.
  • Katniss and Peeta decide they’ll both eat toxic berries which forces the Capitol to end the Games with two winners.

Post-Climax (92-100% mark of story):

  • Katniss learns her suicide-attempt rebellion upset the The Capitol.
  • Katniss must continue to convince the world that she and Peeta are in love, except Peeta is truly in love.

The Dark Knight, screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan

  • Protagonist: Batman
  • Antagonist: The Joker

1st Pinch (36% of story):

  • Batman fights The Joker at Harvey Dent’s fundraiser where The Joker captures Rachel Dawes.
  • The Joker throws Rachel out a window, threatening the life of Batman’s true love and desired future.

2nd Pinch (62% of story):

  • Batman faces The Joker in the police interrogation room where The Joker reveals he’s captured Batman’s only two hopes in the world (Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent).
  • The Joker forces Batman to choose one to go save, threatening the life of his personal love (Rachel Dawes, his desired future) and professional hope (Harvey Dent, Gotham’s White Knight)

Climax (92% of story):

  • Batman defeats The Joker in hand-to-hand combat after subduing a building full of good and bad guys.
  • Except The Joker reveals that despite his capture, he’ll still be victorious because he pushed Harvey Dent over the edge, threatening the hope, life and soul of Gotham itself.

Post-Climax (93-100% mark of story):

  • Batman deals with The Joker’s revelation as Harvey Dent attempts to kill him and Lieutenant Gordon (Dent already killed five people).
  • Batman stops Dent and decides to accept responsibility for everything Dent did, all to prevent Gotham from imploding.


Your audience craves a rewarding apex. You can use story structure to give them what they deserve.

Get started by acknowledging your climax is the unspoken pinch point.

Next, design an epic confrontation between your protagonist and antagonist to conclude the conflict established during the 1st and 2nd pinch points.

Last, place your climax around the 90% mark, and use the remaining story to resolve the aftermath.

Get at it.


David Villalva helps aspiring novelists craft stories that connect with readers. His free visual guide, The Storytelling Blueprint, illustrates the plot structure used in best-selling novels. Get it free at his website:


Larry is currently away on a three week anniversary vacation with his wife.  Until then will feature several much appreciated guest posts, and a couple of surprise pre-scheduled visits by Larry, as well.

Larry’s new writing book, “Story Fix: Transform Your Novel From Broken To Brilliant,” has just been released and is available on all online venues, as well as most bookstores.  If they don’t have it in stock yet, ask them to reserve a copy for you.

Story Fix cover jpeg


Filed under Guest Bloggers

An Interview with C.S. Lakin

Author of “The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction,” and other craft books and novels.


C.S. Lakin and I have a lot in common.  We are both novelists who were so inspired by the experience of writing fiction that we decided to write about that – about the craft of doing so – as well.  In addition to our writing roots and our current multiple focuses, it is also worth noting that our views about craft, especially story structure, are almost mirror images.

The more you read about doing this work, the more commonality you’ll see among the folks who write about the principles that make it work.  But you may also notice the occasional departure from these core tenets of craft, particularly in forums that include unpublished authors and in interviews with novelists who don’t usually write about it.  When that happens, pay close attention and avoid jumping to conclusions.  Because there’s a meaningful difference between being asked about process and the principles themselves… the later applies to any and all processes, and too often those waters are muddied by folks who aren’t qualified to discuss it in a context to easily misinterpreted and credible advice.

When C.S. Lakin talks about writing, stop everything and take notes.  She’s a sure thing, in an avocation and profession that offers very little with that description.

LB: Your book, “The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction” was published in February.  By my count that was your fifth writing craft book, all of them within one year of each other.  Does this signify a complete switch to craft from writing novels?

CSL: Not at all. Earlier this year I wrote and published my third novel in my Front Range Western romance series—Wild Secret, Wild Longing (pen name Charlene Whitman), and I had two other novels come out last year. I have planned a number of novels to write as soon as I find time. But working almost full-time as a writing coach and copyeditor makes it hard to carve out time for writing anything, including blog posts.

LB: You’ve been writing fiction over the last few years.  What is the status of your fiction writing work presently, and looking forward?  Where is your heart, on that issue (I ask because my heart and mind are in different places when it comes to balancing fiction with writing about craft)?

CSL: I’m not sure what you mean by status, but I love to write stories, as well as help writers write theirs. So I try to balance my time (somehow) so that I get that joy and fulfillment of immersing myself into crafting stories. If I can get one or two novels written a year, that usually satisfies that craving. But if I go too long without story creation, I get antsy and restless. I think a lot of writers feel this way. It’s not so much an addiction as a need. A need to nurture and express our creativity and imagination through some form of media (and this of course applies to any of the arts). It helps me to alternate project types. I’ll work on a writing craft book for my Writer’s Toolbox series, then once that’s done, I dive into a novel.

LB: How do you handle writers who push back on the key principles of craft, which are consistent across your books, my books, and other craft authors like James Scott Bell and even Donald Maass?

CSL: Well, I tell writers they can do whatever they want. It’s their book. But that doesn’t mean anyone will like it or that it will sell at all. As you know, I’m very adamant about structure, and probably swing way to the “right” (just picking a random direction here for example) about plotting. I personally feel no one can write a terrific novel just by winging it (“pantsing”) and those who claim to never plot actually do so in their head. Seasoned “pantsers” have had so much experience writing novels that although they may not plot out their story in detail ahead of time, they know structure so well from experience, they utilize it all the same.

LB: I critique more than two hundred manuscripts a year (as well as edit dozens). I see the same problems over and over, and for the most part the biggest flaw in 90% of these manuscripts is the lack of structure. While we “craft” teachers vary on terminology and some of the minor methods and approaches to structure, I feel we all are basically saying the same thing when it comes to core structure. Whether a writer chooses a three-act structure or a five-act one, structure is there and has to hold up. I’m very adamant in my critiques about structure, and often encourage writers to go back to the concept stage and work out of the kinks in concept before tackling a rewrite.

Speaking of the secret club of those who write “how to” books on fiction (I won’t reveal the secret handshake if you won’t), why does the world need another writing book? “I ask this with all humility, since my new one comes out in October, and I find myself asking the same question.

CSL: Larry, your books have your unique take on writing craft. I’ve read dozens of writing craft books, and while many overlap in some of the things they cover, each author brings to the craft table his unique outlook, personality, and method. My aim when writing and publishing a craft book is to present, perhaps, a little bit different way or seeing or approaching writing fiction. I would never want to just rehash what is already out there, and I try to incorporate what I’ve personally struggled with as well as what I see are big problems in many manuscripts. I want to help writers avoid making the same dumb mistakes I made as a beginning writer. I wish I’d had someone like me—or you or James Bell or Donald Maass—to work with me and show me how to improve and what I was doing wrong. I never even thought about using structural planning for my novels until recent years.

So, yes, writers need more writing craft books—better ones, ones that open up new methods and ideas and ways of looking at craft, ones that tackle writing issues from another angle, ones that give concrete examples of what works and doesn’t . I created Shoot Your Novel when I discovered not one blog or craft book in existence taught novelists how to utilize cinematic technique in a practical manner. Sure there were a few resources that taught film structure, but nothing about crafting scenes with a series of camera shots. Or using image systems. So Shoot Your Novel fills a unique niche and writers continually tell me how it’s radically changed the way they structure their scenes.

The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction grew out of the desire to simplify the novel creating process. To me, the hardest part of writing a novel is taking all those great character, plot, and scene ideas and then shape it into a strong story. I also developed this method of working on the first four key corner pillars first before moving forward in plotting out a novel. This ties in with much of what you teach about idea and concept, and yet it’s different. Our terminology is different, but to me, we both get writers to the same place in the end. A place that showcases a strongly structured story.

In addition, I put together a comprehensive unique workbook for The 12 Key Pillars. I want writers to be able to start with their random idea and develop it all the way to completely fleshed-out novel idea. I did something I haven’t seen in workbooks—I can up with an idea and then answered all the brainstorming questions for my idea alongside the sections the writer uses for her idea. I included a dozen or so mind maps I created for my “novel” to show ways writers can generate and link together components of their story.

So, when we craft writers find new, helpful ways of presenting structure that will help writers write great novels, there is certainly room “on the shelf” for one more writing craft book.

If forced to boil it down, among all the stellar writing tips and truisms out there, what is the single most empowering and eternal fiction writing tip you would give?

Approach becoming a novelist as you would any other career. Becoming an expert or proficient in any vocation takes hard work. Like Malcolm Gladwell explains in Outliers, it takes a good 10,000 hours to become great at something. Writing is no different. Writers, for some reason, think that since they’ve read a lot of novels they can just sit down and pump out a perfect story, no problem. But that’s like someone wanting to be a surgeon reading a few books about surgery or watching a few TV shows striding into an operating room and asking for a scalpel to operate on a patient.

Okay, it’s not that extreme, but I hope the point is clear. If you want to write great novels, roll up your sleeves and be prepared for some really hard work. Book work (study) and footwork (application). In this world of fast food and “I want it now,” aspiring writers need to yank on the reins and slow down. Take your time to learn the craft, put it to practice, and get professional feedback and instruction. It’s a journey, not a destination.

LB: Do you still have a Big Novel in your head that somehow isn’t making it to the page, and if so, what’s the roadblock?

CSL: I have about six of them at this point. The roadblock? Absolutely no time. But I’ll get to them at some point.

LB: Who do you read for inspiration, entertainment, or both?

CSL: I read widely. I love Westerns (like Zane Grey), good best sellers of any genre (except erotica), a good mystery. I often read based on a friend’s recommendation, and I read a lot of my author friends’ books because I want to support what they’re publishing and encourage them. Right now I’m reading a few friends’ novels, and one of Walter Moer’s crazy books. Mostly my reading comes via audiobook as I’m driving in the car because, as with writing, I have little time for recreational reading. And it’s a nice break for my eyes (since I’m usually editing 6-8 hours a day). I just finished listening to Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, and that was great fun. However, it’s hard for me not to edit or dissect structure when I read or listen to any books. Curse of the vocation.

LB: Everything has changed drastically over the past five years.  Where are you on the issue of self-publishing versus the traditional treadmill (which itself bears little resemblance to what it was as little as five years ago)?

CSL: Just about every author I know (including me) who has been traditionally published (even highly successful ones) is now self-publishing. I understand why some writers want to get that traditional contract, and I don’t oppose that in any way. But I do feel it has a price. And that price is mostly time. Are you willing to wait years to land an agent? And then wait more years to (maybe, if you’re lucky), get a publishing contract? And if that book does come out, are you willing to do all the marketing and promotion yourself (since the publisher won’t)? Even though I had six different agents working hard over twenty-five years to get me published, they never got me a contract. I sold nine books to three traditional publishers by pitching to them at conferences (one picked me up via Twitter).

There are tons of blog posts online that discuss this topic (my blog included), so writers trying to decide which way to go have lots they can read about this. I think there will always be traditionally published books, but it’s getting harder for a writer to get a contract, and rarely will a publisher do much to promote. That golden ring is getting so small and dangling so far away, it’s almost as hard to grasp it as it is to win the lottery, it seems.

Personally, I feel this is a great time to be a novelist, and I love the way the self-publishing world is developing and opening so many opportunities for writers. The Internet has made it so convenient and easy for writers to get their books out to readers. It’s a crazy world to navigate through, but I love it.

LB: Your website doesn’t reveal much beyond 2014.  Are you booking any live events these days?

CSL: I have a few things planned. I usually teach at some conferences here and there, and I just held my first small writers’ retreat at South Lake Tahoe (CA) last week and it was terrific! I love getting together with writers and teaching them. So I do hope to teach at a few conferences next year, but I limit that since I have little writing time as is, and have a cute grandson that I babysit each week. Priorities!

LB: You are a very spiritual, perhaps even religious person, which I admire.  In what ways does your writing connect you with that aspect of life, if any?

My faith is intrinsic to who I am. I don’t feel writers of any religious persuasion should “dump” their faith on their readers, but I do believe that our views, character, personality, and beliefs find ways into our stories. We write from who we are. I’ve written novels for both the general and the Christian market, but I try to write great stories that look at human flaws. Some of my books have characters that struggle with faith, among other things, but I don’t want to use my novels as a platform to preach. Some of my themes also deal with faith. But overall my objective is to create complex, compelling characters that are realistic, human, vulnerable. And that often includes questioning belief and purpose in life.

On a personal note, my relationship with God is the most important part of my life and who I am, and I rely heavily on God to move, lead, direct, and inspire me in my writing. I realize all my creativity is a gift from him and I want to use it in a way that will honor that gift, as well as the giver.


S. Lakin is a multipublished novelist and writing coach. She works full-time as a copyeditor and critiques about two hundred manuscripts a year. She teaches writing workshops and gives instruction on her award-winning blog Live Write Thrive.

The latest book in The Writer’s Toolbox Series—The 12 Key Pillars of Novel Construction—shows writers how to take an idea and turn it into a compelling concept, then construct all the needed components to build a solid novel. The companion workbook with hundreds of brainstorming questions, inspection checklists, and lots of bonus materials will take the pain out of novel construction.

Just released—the second edition of Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage—is designed to help writers get a painless grasp on grammar. You can buy it in print or as an ebook. Also available on Nook, Apple iTunes, Kobo, and other online venues.

Want to connect with Susanne? You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.



Filed under Guest Bloggers