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. It’s 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. It’s 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!
PINCH POINT & CLIMAX ANALYSIS
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: http://storyandcraft.net.
Larry is currently away on a three week anniversary vacation with his wife. Until then Storyfix.com 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.