WEEK 10: PART 1: CLIMAX
- write or plan your climax, ensuring it hits all the emotional beats to maximise the impact on your reader
- resolve all the story strands set-up in the novel and potentially leave it open for a sequel (if it’s part of a series)
As we approach this section of the novel, we need to be mindful of several things:
- Where the main character (MC) began – this is where we need to see the growth and change of our MC at its most dramatic.
- Which situation is most likely to force our MC to grow in the way we need to – we need to ensure the climax matches the degree of growth our MC is about to undergo.
- This is where our antagonist or forces of antagonism are also at their strongest – they must be strong enough that the reader is still in doubt as to how our MC will overcome them.
- All the seeds we’ve planted throughout, that may help our MC, need to come to the fore.
‘The climax (from the Greek word κλῖμαξ, meaning “staircase” and “ladder”) or turning point of a narrative work is its point of highest tension and drama, or it is the time when the action starts during which the solution is given. The climax of a story is a literary element.’
If we look at our story structure graphs from our earlier notes, we see the climax is the peak of the rising conflict and action. And it’s often the part that’s most memorable when we think about stories after we’ve read them. If the climax is weak, the story will fail to deliver on the promise of the premise and leave the reader feeling underwhelmed.
Everything in the story up until the climax has existed purely to arrive at this point, so we must ensure it embodies the story so far, but also surpasses it for conflict, tension and emotional engagement. Our emotions and feelings for our MC and their quest should also be at their peak, and it’s worth remembering it’s about the READER’s emotions more than our own or our characters. We must be thinking about how we can make them feel and often that’s about pushing our MC to their very limits and making them grow higher than they ever have before.
Think of Luke, flying that X-wing down the channels on the Death Star, being tailed by Darth Vader, with targeting computer switched off…we feel like it’s all against him. His biggest challenge yet – he must use all that he has learned throughout the story, about the force, to help him destroy the Death Star and land a huge blow to the Empire.
And of those 3 events, it’s the character transformations of Han (to become selfless and serve a cause bigger than himself) and Luke (to believe in himself and the Force) that have the real emotional impact. Yes, the destruction of the Death Star is great, but on its own, it’s pretty meaningless. The real victory is the emotion of seeing characters grow in the way we know they are capable but have struggled to throughout the story.
We also see a seed planted earlier come to fruition, in the redemption of Han Solo. A greedy, selfish smuggler, who comes to the aid of Luke in a selfless, heroic act and clears the way for him to take his shot.
In terms of where it comes, for most novels, we’re looking at about the 90% mark – I checked a few novels to be sure – although some go a little earlier or even later. It depends also on the length of the resolution (which we’ll discuss next time).
Suggested Writing Task
Write down the most important lesson your MC must learn. How must they grow and change from the start of the novel?
Now, do not hold back, do not be kind – jot down a scene which will push your MC to their very limits, to the point of defeat. Then score that one out. Make it harder, make it more difficult for your MC. Make them have to grow so much that they are almost beyond recognition from that character at the start of the novel. And pack it full of feeling and emotion – how does this change make our MC feel. How does it make others feel?
One thing to be wary and conscious of, as you think about the climax is to be make it too expected or cliché. Ultimately, we have to give our reader the pay-off; we need to see our characters change or grow. But that doesn’t mean to say it should come in the way we expect. Write down 3 ways in which they can win. Then score those out. Those are the first ideas to come to you, so are likely also the first to come to the reader. Search deeper, search more unexpected and find something truly different.
And when actually writing the climax, this is not a moment for caution, or to play it small. This is the moment to be ambitious, so ambitious it scares you. This is the moment to go big on emotion and impact and to heighten the stakes higher than they have been at any other point in the book. Do not be afraid to be bold or different or unusual. Take a big risk, and you might just find you get a bigger reward.
Suggested Writing Task
Once you have your climax idea, start working backwards in your story. Can you plant any seeds that will come to fruition in the climax and give your readers an even bigger reward? Bringing together lots of story threads into one climactic moment is absolutely essential to deliver an emotionally impacting and satisfying climax for your reader.
And remember your secondary characters – they should grow, too. How can you weave in their change and transformation into your climax, to amplify that metamorphosis in growth for your characters?
The climax is towards the end of the story, but it needs to be written with double the energy of any other section in the book – it is not an ending, it is the culmination of every word written to that point and must deliver a pay-off that will keep your readers thinking about it long after they’ve put the book down.