A boring climax equals a boring story. That’s it, you cannot have a good story if the climax is bad.
The logic is simple: we expect the story’s decisive moment to be perfect, all the tension in the story builds up to this moment, and it has to deliver.
Whether a thriller, murder mystery, or romance, the climax has to have an impact on your readers—leave them crying, shell shook, or satisfied.
But how do you reach the level of writing a climax that leaves a lasting impression on your readers? As is the case with a lot of things in the writing profession, it’s easier said than done, but with practice, you can perfect it.
If that’s what brought you here, you’re on the right page because I’m dishing out tips on how to write the perfect climax (narrative). Toward the end of the article, I will briefly explain the elements of a fictional narrative.
Let’s get started.
What is a Story Climax?
The climax of a story is its turning point, a pivotal moment in the fourth quarter or third act of the narrative. At this moment, conditions are perfect for the protagonist to confront the antagonistic elements in the story.
All the events in the rising action section lead up to the climax, after which the story enters its falling action section. As you can see from that simple explanation, the climax of a story is what every reader waits for if they find the beginning interesting. Lately, I have been watching a lot of K-drama romance classics, and I have noticed that the lovers always have this “hate at first sight” relationship, then there are rising action loops where they continuously repel and attract until they get to the climax. Those romances kill me with impatience, so much so that the climax can’t come quickly enough.
The word “climax” is derived from “κλίμαξ (klimax),” the Greek word for “ladder.” It makes perfect sense when you compare the word “ladder” to the way the story moves the rising action to the highest point where the conflict is resolved.
Why Is It Important to Have a Climax in a Story?
The climax is so important to the story because it is the point at which all tension and suspense are released and when all the conflicts are resolved. The moment when the protagonist will triumph or—in a cliffhanger ending—face defeat.
This point makes the narrative more exciting, and it’s what makes the story a success or failure. The whole structure of the plot depends on the climax; if it’s bad, the other parts of the structure are useless.
So, when you’re writing the climax, you should always know that your readers will not only be waiting for the protagonist’s success or failure but your story’s as well.
How to Write a Good Climax for Your Story
Focus on Internal Conflict
Sometimes writers destroy their stories simply by placing too much focus on the climax, thereby neglecting other parts of the story.
You have to know or remember that it’s not only about the story’s turning point; it’s also about the protagonist’s journey. Not every climax has to be action-packed with the protagonist banging down doors and blowing things up; it has to align with the story (the protagonist’s journey). The climax will only matter if the reader can understand the need for that particular type of climatic confrontation.
A good internal conflict improves the story by evoking deeper empathy; the reader relates the choices the protagonist has to their own life choices.
Be Elaborate When Building Tension
In addition to the internal conflict, the protagonist(s) also face external conflict. The combination of the two intensifies the tension in your story.
Some pantsers say that they let the story flow on its own, but you can’t just leave the quality of your story to fate. You have to figure out how to build tension and plan every little detail.
If you’re a pantser, you don’t have to change, but when you reach the rising action, you have to coordinate the internal and external antagonistic forces to build tension.
The level of challenges that your character faces and their response illustrate their transformation and can help the readers get emotionally attached to your character, rooting for them during the climax.
Include a Crucible
A crucible is used to create an environment or situation where the characters are, in a way, trapped and forced to approach the story’s climax in the same dramatic space.
The crucible binds the characters, who are at risk of diverging due to the tension in the story, by enforcing restrictions within the story’s setting.
There are three types of crucibles, namely, physical, social, and emotional. You can introduce a crucible using weather conditions, available resources, physical borders, etc. For an emotional crucible, you can use things that form emotional bonds such as family ties, aspirations, wants and needs, and values.
Social crucibles use cultural values or social laws of the setting to bind the characters. An example of a social crucible is a shared profession or workplace
Have Multiple Climaxes
Stories usually have several plot lines: a subplot, an internal plot, or an external plot; each should have its own climax.
Of course, the climax in the main plot is the most important one; therefore, you can combine internal and external climaxes to form the major climax. You can do this by condensing them into one core climax or by letting them play out simultaneously.
The best way to go about the subplot climax is to keep it as a bonus for your reader; do not resolve the subplot until the denouement so that the tension isn’t all gone in the final scene. This way, the plot still ends with some intensity.
The reader should not feel like there is nothing else in store for them after the core climax.
Key Elements of a Narrative
The theme is the overarching idea or message that the writer is trying to communicate to the reader. It is the writer’s commentary on a particular topic, and every literary instrument used in the story is aimed at advancing this idea.
The plot is the sequence of events in the story (what happens in the story) and the structure of the narrative as it progresses. It consists of five main elements: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denouement.
Characters are the people, animals, machines, or any other entity that is involved in the interactions in the narrative.
Characterization also involves coming up with character roles such as main characters, antagonists, love interests, confidants, foils, deuteragonists, and tertiary characters.
A story is only as compelling as its characters, so you have to make sure that the characters grow or transform.
The issues or problems facing the characters are all subsets of conflict, and it is this conflict that brings about the tension in the story.
As I have already explained, the conflict might be internal (a moral struggle within the main character(s)) or external (challenges posed by the antagonist). Although necessary, conflict must have a reason, and both the protagonist and antagonist must have backstories with underlying issues to make the tension valid.
The setting refers to the time and place in which the story takes place (the world in which the story is set).
In terms of place, it might be a universe, planet, country, or apartment complex. It might also be in the 70s, in A.D. 200, at night, in summer, etc.
Point of View
This refers to the perspective from which the story is told. There are four types: first-person, second-person, third-person limited, and third-person omniscient.
First Person: Because the narrator is present in the story, first-person POV uses the pronouns “I,” “we,” “my,” and “our” to tell the story.
Examples: (1). I had just left the house when he called. (2). We knew the battle had already been lost.
Second person: These narratives use pronouns such as ‘you’, ‘your’, and ‘yours’,
Example: You take everything to your headquarters.
Style refers to the way all the elements are used to make your storytelling distinctive—and this includes the tone used, the pacing, word choice, voice, etc.
There’s no single universal blueprint for a good writing style. Stephen King’s writing is unique, and he is good, but so are John Grisham and J.K. Rowling. They might have different writing styles, but there are a lot of people who have read the works of all three and agree that all three are good writers.
Final Words on Narrative Climax
An epic climax is good for your story, but your story might suffer from you being too gung-ho about making the climax exciting.
You ought to remember that the sequence in the rising action is just as important as the climax itself. A good climax maximally benefits from the conflict within the main character and blends it with the external conflict.
And, just a reminder, write multiple climaxes, each for the different types of plots in the story.