In the simplest of words the climax is the point of maximum tension in your story. Throughout this series, we have been using The Emperor’s New Clothes, a popular children’s story as an example. Until now, we know that the emperor is obsessed with new clothes and that he has appointed two weavers who are actually swindlers. The swindlers have promised to weave the finest cloth for the Emperor but the ‘finest cloth’ cannot be seen by incompetent or stupid people.
Here’s the climax of the story.
The emperor walked beneath the beautiful canopy in the procession, and all the people in the street and in their windows said, “Goodness, the emperor’s new clothes are incomparable! What a beautiful train on his jacket! What a perfect fit!” No one wanted it to be noticed that he could see nothing, for then it would be said that he was unfit for his position or that he was stupid. None of the emperor’s clothes had ever before received such praise.
“But he doesn’t have anything on!” said a small child.
Finally everyone was saying, “He doesn’t have anything on!”
From the climax of this story what inferences can you draw about writing a climax?
Here’s what we think what story climaxes are made of:
A. The climax creates tension!
A man, and no less that an Emperor, realizes that he has no clothes on in full public view. This realization coupled with the fact that he, until that point, thought that he was wearing the finest clothes makes for an obvious tension-filled moment.
B. The climax leads to a point of confrontation & realization
When the little boy points out that the Emperor does not have any clothes on, the main character realizes the situation he is in and has to finally confront the problem.
C. The main characters ‘meet’ the unknown
Here the Emperor does not know that he will be exposed the way he was.
Often, readers will know what is in store for the main character. This is especially true in 3rd person narration. So, the tension arises from what the stakes are and how high the stakes are – what the character might gain or lose.
D. Culmination of conflicts
All conflicts created until know might become one big giant conflict and sometimes these problems or conflicts culminate into a point of maximum tension beyond which the story can only progress towards the conclusion.
4 Tips to Write an Effective Climax for a Story
I read somewhere that it is the beginning that sells ‘this’ novel but it is the climax that sells ‘the next’ novel. Do you remember watching the movie Sixth Sense? How did you feel when you realized that Dr. Malcom Crowe has been dead all along?! Doesn’t something hit you hard? A good climax does that. It hits you hard. Whatever form you are writing in – the novel or the short story, the climax requires thought and planning. Here are some pointers while writing your climax.
Tip 1. Don’t make it too Easy (read: convenient)
- The hero needs 10 million rupees. He suddenly wins the lottery.
- Somebody sends the hero an anonymous note revealing the location of the treasure. (Wouldn’t you rather have him solve clues?)
- The big bad villain troubling your hero develops a mysterious illness and….dies!
- The girl calls her assaulter ‘Bhaiya‘ and he lets her go! (It might work in a parody)
- The hero is saved by somebody else, somebody much stronger than him!
Do you like any of the above situations? So, don’t create ‘easy’ and ‘convenient’ situations for your characters. Readers like to see characters tested to their maximum limits. Create these tests as part of the climax. Keep the confrontation and meeting the unknown difficult enough for your characters. These create tension.
Tip 2. Be True to the Genre
As a writer, you have to create conflicts that are logically solvable within their own worlds. For instance, if your character has reach the airport in fifteen minutes time, you can’t suddenly have him sprout wings if the world you’ve created is not one of magic.
Tip 3. Avoid Clichés!
The hero confessing love at the airport right before she’s about to board, the father ‘sees’ how nobody can love his daughter more than this boy, the train chugh-chugs past and voila! – she’s not boarded it, a whodunit in a house full of servants and hey the gardener did it!
Nothing can be a bigger let-down than readers experiencing a seen-it-before feeling.
4. Making way for the Falling Action
What happens after the Emperor realizes that he has no clothes? What happens after Cinderella’s glass shoe fits her foot? This is what the falling action is made up on so you have to make a choice as to how you will end your climax – in a moment of tension letting things linger on or will you end on a note of finality?
Example: In a novel you could end the chapter containing the climax with, “…and it all went black” after the hero has killed the villain. (Note that this is a cliché but I am using the same to make a point, so bear with me!). Nobody knows what happened to the hero but this could lead you straight to the falling action where the hero wakes up in a hospital.
A novel’s climax is dependent on everything that you have created earlier on – character traits, motives, and nature of conflict. so before you write pause and ask yourself these two questions:
- Is this something the character will do? If not, why the change in him or her
- Will the reader feel cheated if I end it this way?
Do you think there are other ways to write an effective climax of a story? What are the questions that you would consider? Please leave a comment!