4 Tips to write the climax of a story

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!

About Lavanya

Lavanya Shanbhogue-Arvind | MBA | Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Special Prize (2011) | MFA in Creative Writing programme (City University of Hong Kong) | Her literary fiction novel will be published soon by Roli Books.

3 thoughts on “4 Tips to write the climax of a story”

  1. Shivaji Nayak

    Thanks a lot madam!!
    I definitely needed it. I recently found my story lacks this. I will keep all the points in my mind.
    SAMEER SIR had asked me to contact you yesterday for I have some queries. I don’t know how else to contact so….
    At hachette website, there are different provision for submitting queries on Adult books and children’s book. (through agents for adult books; and without agents for children’s book)…
    A book on school life- love and dreams… will it be considered a children’s book? I mean, it has a love story with it but nothing sort of kissing or anything like that.What actually it means by children’s book and adults book?
    In there at children’s section, there’s a romance category too and the books are on dating and all…based on high school.
    so, I’m a bit confused.
    By the way, all your posts are really great!! I’m just going on and on through it.
    A storehouse of priceless information and help for me!!!

  2. Jordano Quaglia

    I have a different take on writing a good ending, which is not easier, but works for me. In my book(s) I make constant endings during the development of the story. I direct my chapters-end to a climax most of the time. I want to create that anticipation for the next step-chap and, if I can without changing the story fluidity, I can move the best of all fine-tuned chapters to become the end. I do that by creating situations that even I don’t know how to escape, At times, I continue writing/developing the story somewhere else in the book until the solution hits me (it takes one to three days), but it is a fantastic result. What kind of writer can do that? I don’t know, but it works for me. Inspiration is a dream, a floating idea, a sight. One has only to catch it or remember it. 🙂

  3. Prerana Das

    I’m a fifteen year old amateur writer. I write mainly for the young adult genre. Something related to love or friendship. So, the hitch is- this genre makes it so hard to climax stories with. I mean, if you think you’re gonna end it this way, then you realize that- oh, this already happened in this film or book. So, you dig your mind for an alternate ending. But, the same happens. The genre is so widespread that every possible thing has already been used up by someone. And you can’t just bring in a character or wave of intrigue or something of the sort because these stories are unlike mysteries and thrillers. Please suggest ways to keep the endings simple and ‘not-too-hokey’ but at the same time, worth remembering.

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