The climax of a story is when the conflict of your plot is resolved, or your protagonist’s goal is achieved. It usually occurs toward the end of the story. Resolving it must be hard and impactful if you’ve written an entire book surrounding this conflict.
Because of this, the climax tends to be the most exciting part of the novel. A lot of newbie writers struggle with this. They build up all this anticipation, and suddenly they’re at the climax, everything falls flat. So I’m going to give you effective tips on how to write a strong climax.
How to find the climax of a story?
The climax is the final showdown, or it’s the moment where the character either achieves their goal or fails to achieve their goal. One of the crucial elements of the climax is that the protagonist should not have been able to succeed earlier in the novel. So at the novel’s beginning, the character should have been prevented from successfully defeating the antagonistic force. It could be because the character is not capable of doing it.
There are many reasons, but one problem you want to avoid with the climax is the sense that it could have happened earlier and that there isn’t necessarily a good or compelling reason for why it occurred so late. Because if that happens, the pacing often will feel odd, and the climax won’t feel as satisfying because the reader has the impression that this character probably could have defeated the antagonist at any point in the story. It needs to improve much of that interconnectedness and the solidity we want to go for when writing a novel.
Another essential element of the climax is that the character should complete their character arc right before or during the novel’s climax. So this often takes the form of some personal sacrifice. Often the character needs to let go of a previous flaw or belief, something that’s been holding them back. Depending on the character, they may have to give up their initial goal, especially if the goal is not necessarily kindhearted or positive.
In that case, the character will often have to give up their goal, but they will learn something. So they will succeed because they will have grown as a person or they will have learned some valuable lessons.
It’s fine for the protagonist whose allies help get to the climactic scene or to help facilitate certain elements of solving the problem. But there should be a final climactic moment in the novel where the protagonist has to act entirely on their own. They can have other characters, side characters, and allies battling around them. But they should have a moment where they face the antagonistic force, look it in the eye, and fix the problem or fail to fix it. It can be very problematic if the protagonist ultimately doesn’t solve the problem in the end because it could be more satisfying for the reader.
The reader has stuck around and watched this character through this journey, and they want that payoff of seeing the protagonist face the antagonist. If you deprive the reader of that, it often could go better. It only gives you room to execute that character arc.
Overall, it doesn’t give the reader a satisfying ending to see this protagonist grow and change. So at its essence, the climax is all about the payoff. The character demonstrates growth by completing the character arc that’s been built throughout the entire novel.
How to write a climax? (With Example)
The climax is the apex of your story. It’s the most exciting moment when whatever conflict your main character is navigating comes to a head. Why do most writers fail to create a gripping, riveting, memorable climax that leaves you on the edge of your seat? Because most writers are too focused on making the climax exciting. They’re trying hard to make the climax exciting, and they end up doing the opposite. Your climax will not be enjoyable or exciting unless you have car chases and spaceships blowing up.
It happens at the climax if your main character finally faces off against the villain. It occurs at the climax if you’re a romantic couple and finally get together. The climax is one of, if not the most important, parts of your novel because it’s essentially what the reader signed up for. They want that payoff, and if you don’t deliver, it could completely ruin the reading experience.
That’s why I am breaking down my favorite tips for writing an epic climax that doesn’t leave your readers throwing the book at the wall and leaving negative reviews. I’ll cover how to write a good climax because I have way more experience. Let’s do it!
1. Choose the right level of climax
It doesn’t matter which genre of fiction you’re writing. The story needs to have a climax. Some newbie writers assume that the climax is reserved for action-adventure novels because we usually associate excitement with that genre. Those writers are wrong. Romance, mystery and contemporary all get an ending.
A rom-com will have a much less intense climax than a horror novel. That’s when the genre matters. It will dictate how high or low the stakes affect the climax. Some climaxes involve life-and-death stakes. Excitement is subjective, and you must choose the right excitement level that fits your story.
2. Have a plan
One of the smartest ways to ensure an effective climax is to plan for it ahead of time. Leaving the appropriate foreshadowing and evolving your characters will be much easier if you know where the story is going. So they reach the right point in their character arc. Because of this, the climax is usually one of the first things I like to plan when crafting my novel.
I can ensure my story builds correctly to get my characters where I want them to go. Some people don’t like to plan their writing and if that works for you, have at it. Starting with the climax, or planning it early on, will make the writing process much easier.
3. Match the goal
The climax should be a wrap-up for your protagonist’s and antagonist’s goals since they share opposing goals. Have you ever read a book and got to the ending and thought? Where’s the rest of the ending? If you felt cheated by an ending, chances are the writer didn’t answer the question. Did the protagonist achieve their goal, or did they fail?
This is a big reason to define your novel’s plot points or aspects clearly. That way, it’s always clear to the reader what your characters want in the beginning, and then it’s clear at the climax whether they achieve that goal or not. Even if you don’t explicitly say it, say those goals in your novel. It’s good for you as the writer to know those goals for your protagonist or your antagonist, whether they meet them or fail.
4. The breaking point
The breaking point is a plot device that goes by many different names, but ultimately it is the lowest point for your main character in this story. They suffer a major loss that leaves them feeling sad or tired. This point always occurs right before the climax for a significant reason. You want to take your characters to a new low to do the climb toward the climax that much steeper.
The climax is supposed to be the most intense moment in your novel, and having your characters start from rock bottom is a great way to achieve that. A lot of people need clarification on the breaking point. They think they can add it to any old place in their novel! It has to go before the climax. The breaking point does not have to be the lowest moment in the character’s life. It only needs to be the lowest moment in the story.
- Go through your library, rewatch some of your favorite movies, and notice that the breaking point is a staple in many fiction pieces.
That’s because it does a fantastic job of raising the stakes right before the climax, which is what you want.
5. Make your emcee the underdog
In most novels, the emcee succeeds during the climax or learns a valuable lesson. But the odds need to be set against the character. Even if readers assume the emcee will succeed, they need to be wracking their brains, wondering how that can be the case. It’s one of the reasons why the breaking point is such an important tool. When writing your novel, your character is reeling from a major loss, which usually puts them at a disadvantage.
If your hero lost the previous battle, they’re going into the climax wounded or outnumbered. If your hero broke up with her girlfriend at the breaking point, she’s going into the climax on the outs. It also makes the reader invested. Most people have experienced hardship or struggle.
So even if what the emcee is going through is wildly different, readers can relate in some way. It allows readers to root for the character and feel immense relief at their inevitable triumph.
6. Make your villain the top dog in the Saviors champion
Tobias walks into the climax, injured and without a weapon. Meanwhile, the villain is completely unscathed and has two weapons. It intensifies the stakes, but it takes it to a further degree. Not only is your emcee the underdog, but the bad guy is at their absolute best, which is a very intimidating situation to be in.
Please note this can still be done even if your book doesn’t have a literal villain. Sometimes your characters deal with a difficult situation, an antagonist, or a force of nature. If your main obstacle is a storm, that must be the worst it’s ever been at the climax. Remember, the idea here is intensity and excitement. So pull out all the stops.
7. Bring the fire
The climax doesn’t have to be your reader’s favorite part of the book, but it needs to be the most challenging and intense part. That means whatever you’ve written in early chapters, you need to top it again. We’re going to see different extremes depending on the genre.
- If you’re writing an epic fantasy with dark magic, that magic must be its darkest and deadliest at the climax.
- If you’re writing an action-adventure with many fight scenes, the fight at the climax must be the most intense, whether due to weapons injuries, death, explosions, or whatever.
- If you’re writing a romance with many swoony moments, that climax must bring the most romantic gestures that top all the rest.
If you need help achieving this, look back at your previous plot points and aim to surpass them.
8. Give your protagonist a disadvantage
The climax is supposed to be intense, right? Nothing makes the climax more intense than when the protagonist walks into the moment as the underdog. You want the reader to question whether or not the protagonist is going to succeed. If they feel bored, it’s not going to be exciting. So have your protagonist enter the arena as the expected loser. It can translate into all–if not most–fiction genres.
- If you’re writing a war story, ensure the protagonist’s army is significantly outnumbered.
- If you’re writing a love story, and your protagonist is fighting to win his girl back, make sure she’s already dating someone new.
Putting your protagonist at a disadvantage is the key to ramping up the anticipation right from the start, and that’s what you want! You want your reader interested in the climax from when it begins to when it ends.
9. Your bad guy needs to be worse than ever
Got a bad guy? You probably do. In this case, your bad guy needs to be bad. Even if you don’t have a bad guy, you have an obstacle of some kind. Maybe it’s a disease, famine, the weather, or whatever. Whatever the obstacle, it must suck the absolute most at the climax.
There are few things more disappointing than when the reader gets to the climax expecting an epic showdown, and the bad guy only curls up into the fetal position and says, “Don’t hurt me!” Theoretically, your protagonist has been scared of this lousy guy or this obstacle for the entire book. So when they finally square off, the apprehension needs to be justified. If your reader is not intimidated by the bad guy or the obstacle, you’re doing it wrong.
10. Your protagonist needs almost to fail
The almost is a pivotal part of the climax and translates into an almost fail. What makes a climax especially memorable is if your protagonist nearly fails. It assumes that you’re writing the climax, where the protagonist eventually succeeds. Many studies on storytelling state that climaxes where the protagonist almost dies or almost loses their lover are only more powerful and more enjoyable. Audiences respond to them.
Readers tend to prefer protagonists that work hard. They want to see the struggle. Perseverance is inspiring! So, having your protagonist almost lose it all and suddenly come back swinging will excite your reader! They’ll want to see them succeed, and then they’ll be satisfied when they finally do.
Sometimes during the climax, while your emcee is facing their obstacle. They need to almost lose in a romance novel. This could mean they miss the last train that could have taken them to their love interest in an action novel. It means they almost die. The almost has been a facet of storytelling for eons. You’ll see it in books, movies, TV shows, and even comics. Much criticism about more recent films is that storytellers have been leaving out the, almost making it more of a power fantasy.
People want to see the character struggle and nearly fall flat on their faces or their swords. It depends on the story. Again, this is for relatability. We all have almost failed or failed at some point in our lives. Seeing a character struggle like that endears them to the reader. Plus, it’s way more exciting to see a character trip up a few times and still persevere.
11. Surprise the reader
Not all books feature surprises or plot twists. But if you’re going to surprise the reader, the climax is the place to do it. Do you know what makes a climax that much more exciting? Dropping a surprise on your reader that they weren’t expecting is going to take a climax to a whole new level. The best climaxes will have the reader gasping out loud, cussing, or yelling “WHAT?!” at their book.
There are a million ways you could surprise your reader! Come on! You’re a writer. Get creative! Maybe the bad guy is finally revealed, and she’s the protagonist’s lover. Maybe the protagonist is trying to stop the evil sorcerer from attaining the sword of truth, and it turns out he had it all along. Not all climaxes feature surprises, and that’s okay, but you ought to consider it because a plot twist is guaranteed to take your climax to the next level.
12. Make it climactic
There is nothing more disappointing than an anticlimactic climax. The climax is the most anticipated part of the book. The climax doesn’t have to be the reader’s favorite part of the book, but it does need to be the most intense. A good rule of thumb is to look back at other exciting moments in your novel and try to surpass them because your climax should reign supreme in that department. It’s the moment everyone’s been waiting for, so you must deliver.
I shouldn’t have to tell you that the climax needs to be climactic because they’re the same word. But a lot of newbie writers miss this step. They finish the book nicely and quickly, and the reader’s sitting there going, “That’s it? Don’t make the reader feel like they wasted time on your book. Leave them wanting more.
13. Time for a plot twist
Not all novels or genres require a plot twist. If you’re going to feature a plot twist, the climax is the perfect place to do so. This is especially prevalent in adventure horror novels, crime fiction, and any story involving mystery or high reliance on action. That’s not to say other genres can’t feature a plot twist. They might not be necessary. There’s little to say on this point. If you got a plot twist, the climax is a great place to put it. It’ll amp up the excitement, which is what you want.
14. Take your time
Your readers have been slogging through this entire manuscript to reach the climax. They’ve been watching your main character struggle to achieve whatever goal they’re trying to achieve. If they reach the climax and suddenly the goal is achieved very quickly, readers are going to feel ripped off. They went through that entire novel for three pages of nothing. Why write a whole book if it was going to be a piece of cake?
A quick climax essentially contradicts the point of a novel. Stories are about conflicts that take time to resolve. Otherwise, you wouldn’t need 400 pages to do so. It means you must take your time to get to the climax. The conflict should be at its worst at the climax, which means it will not be quickly resolved. That’s not to say you should ramble on for hundreds of pages, but at least give your readers an entire chapter and let the characters sweat it out. If you followed all of the previous steps, this should be easy enough to achieve.
15. Tie everything up
The climax occurs right before the falling action and resolution. Those two plot points are brief. They usually last for a chapter, but the point is they exist, and their job is to finish answering questions that the characters and readers have and resolve the overall conflict. It means you do not have to do all those things in the climax. Yes, there should be some sense of finality.
The couple needs to get together. The battle needs to be won or lost. The case needs to be solved. But we only need some of the answers, all the explanations, or all the resolutions. When you try to shove this all into the climax, that’s when you slow down the momentum and bog the content down with too much exposition, making the climax less believable. Remember, you still have another chapter to tie everything up in a pretty bow. So if you couldn’t do that in the climax, that’s fine.
The climax is one of the essential parts of your novel. At the end of the day, the key is to put the odds against your protagonist and make it hard to achieve whatever goal they’re trying to achieve. This will keep your reader on their toes and rooting for the protagonist’s success. Here are the overall notes for you:
- To make your climax big enough, your character must have a tough time achieving or trying to achieve their primary goal.
- Your climax should be the biggest moment in your novel. It’s where huge reveals usually take place.
- Avoid the pass-out and win strategy. It’s building to a great climax.
- The climax should never be skimped on.
- Don’t cop out and take the easy road, passing out and then waking up to find everything is all hunky dory.
- Give your reader the satisfaction of reading a big climax.
- Think of your protagonist’s journey. The climax will address the success or failure of your character in meeting their goal. But your climax should also force your protagonist to face something about themselves.
- Use the setting. Add a layer to the conflict between your protagonist and antagonist by using the setting to up the drama here.
- Ask yourself, where will my protagonist go from here?
- What does their life look like now that they have overcome their misbelief?
- What if later you decide to write a sequel?
- How does my protagonist prove their transformation by crushing their misbelief and facing their greatest fear with courage?
- How has my protagonist changed as a result of their journey?
- Where will my protagonist go from here?
- What does their life look like now that they have overcome their misbelief?
That’s it! It has revolutionized how you look at story structure, a story in general, and your story, that beautiful masterpiece you’re crafting right now. Happy writing!
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