8 Tips for Writing Your Story's Climax
Chapter 6 “Plot Points” – Section 11 “Climax”
“In the planning stage of a book, don't plan the ending. It has to be earned by all that will go before it.”
― Rose Tremain
With only two plot-points to go, you've very nearly made it to the end of the story. Following the Stand Up, the next plot-point is the Climax—often referred to as the final battle, the main confrontation, or the showdown of your story. This is the point at which your plot comes to a close and where your primary protagonist will either triumph or be destroyed by the primary antagonistic force. As the core of your story's plot has been the question of if and how the protagonist would achieve their goal, the most important thing to achieve with this chapter is a conclusive answer to whether he/she will achieve it or fail.
Tip 1: Know your four primary options for concluding your plot.
There are four primary options for concluding your story's plot: an inconclusive ending, a conclusive ending, a comedic ending, and a tragic ending. In Star Wars – A New Hope, in which the showdown features Luke destroying the Death Star and saving his friends, we see a comedic but inconclusive ending. In other words, the story ends with the protagonist winning (making it a comedy); and though that central conflict is resolved, the story is clearly not over (making it inconclusive). In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke is defeated by Vader in the end—barely surviving the Climax—making it a tragic and inconclusive ending. Is it “tragic” in that the hero fails to overcome the primary antagonist and achieve his goals, and “inconclusive” in that, while the core plot is concluded, the story as a whole is not finished. Return of the Jedi, where Luke helps Vader achieve redemption in saving his son and destroying the Emperor, is a comedic and conclusive story. The protagonist achieves his goals, making it comedic, and the overarching story is concluded. Of course, you can also conclude your story tragically and conclusively—as in Star Wars – Revenge of the Sith. Some storytellers will tell you that cliffhangers are a fifth valid form of ending a story (in this context, a complete lack of any sort of ending); though I would argue that you are selling an incomplete story and failing to meet audience expectations, which will leave them feeling disappointed and cheated.
Tip 2: Don't choose the ending that you want; find the ending that your story deserves.
When I wrote the early drafts of my first novel, I had glorious plans for a long and expansive series that would go on for many novels until a point where I would eventually decided that I was finished with the world and the characters. As I wrote and created draft after draft, something changed. I began to intimately know the characters, as if they were my closest friends, and the plot took a life of its own as the world and the characters worked together to create a plot that was organic and true to itself through the inherent nature created within each of them and their actions born of that nature. The result of this was that I had to throw all of my plans out the window and allow the story to reach the place that it was supposed to be—a tragic comedy that would end after book two. In the planning stages of writing our novel—particularly when outlining the plot—we created a loose plan for how we would conclude the story. That planning is completely legitimate as a marker for where your plot will be concluded, as well as to note your ideas for that conclusion. But as you grow as a writer and become more familiar with all the elements of your story, you'll see that some of your plans just don't fit what the story has become. Follow your instincts, consult with your Writing Partner, and create the type of ending that will compliment all of the heart and hard work that you have put into your story.
Tip 3: Have your primary and secondary protagonists each face their own personal antagonist.
It is important that both your primary and secondary protagonists face the force which is keeping them from their goal. Take Han Solo in A New Hope, for example. Though his primary antagonist changes in each movie of the trilogy, the primary antagonist is originally his fear—fear of the Empire, fear of Jabba, fear of commitment to his friends, and fear of holding his head high in the face of danger. In the Climax, Han faces this fear as he returns to save Luke and open fire upon the most powerful enemy in the galaxy. Once you have figured out what each primary and secondary character's Climax will be—based on their goals and what force serves as their own personal primary antagonistic force—determine which of your characters will fail and which will succeed. By considering each secondary protagonist's story-arc, you create a more dynamic story where there is an actual payoff and relevance to the time your audience has spent getting to know and empathizing with these characters. Keep in mind that the more of your heroes experience a loss, the more significant a win will become; and the more characters that succeed, the more devastating a loss will be. This will become very important for increasing the dramatic tension of Act III.
Tip 4: Figure out your hero's epiphany.
In the tutorial on your story's Stand Up, we talked about how a protagonist's goal should be refined to its truest form, how they need to have a moment of self-discovery, and how your Stand Up can take place within the Climax. If you should choose to keep the Stand Up and the Climax as separate events, your Climax should contain a hero's epiphany. Think of the hero's epiphany as the little brother of the Stand Up; they are closely related and perhaps nearly one and the same. The reason we use it is because the Climax will be a long and difficult battle where our hero will again nearly be crushed by the primary antagonistic force—almost like a miniature 3-Act story in and of itself. In order to keep that pace, as well as to remind the audience that the hero's renewed strength comes from what they learned in the Stand Up, we initiate the hero's epiphany to turn the tide of battle. We see this in Return of the Jedi, when the Emperor attacks Luke—putting his faith in the hidden goodness within his father to the test. For a moment, it looks like all has been lost, but then we see Luke's refusal to kill Vader in the Stand Up reflected when Vader attacks the Emperor and sacrifices himself to save his son. Now, it is quite unusual that the epiphany occured for the secondary protagonist, Vader, but it still serves the same narrative purpose. Remember that the hero's epiphany does not have to be big, grand, overtly obvious, or involve any sort of monologue—just some vital truth that your hero remembers that gives them the inner strength to fight.
Tip 5: Remember story endings that made you feel cheated and learn from them.
Go back and watch some movies or reread some books where you felt cheated in the end. You don't have to have an objective reason for feeling this way and nor should you pick stories that were simply renowned for having ended badly; you simply need to know that you felt immense personal disappointment when you reached the ending. One of mine, for example, was Alien vs Predator 2. The movie spent its entirety setting the groundwork for a massive and glorious battle between the xenomorphs and the predators; but then the movie ended with humanity nuking the entire city right before that battle occurred. I personally felt like I had been lied to and tricked, and like the director just didn't want to choreograph such an epic battle. From that experience, I learned the principle that your setups throughout the course of a story create implicit promises to your audience, and that part of the writer's job is to honor these promises if you want your work to retain quality. What would make you feel cheated? A showdown that was promised but never delivered? Some sort of terrible cliche? Deus Ex Machina? A fake happily ever after? The hero's pointless death? Figure out why these ending left you feeling cheated, try to understand what universal principles may be at work, and make sure that your story does not imitate these mistakes.
Tip 6: Be aware of story cliches, but prioritize the quality of your story over total originality.
Try not to make your ending too much of a cliche—like the love interest being killed and then revived by true love's first kiss, the villain dying in the midst of a pointless monologue that gives your hero time to win, or the mostly inept protagonist somehow blowing up the monster via plot convenience along with a cool one-liner (unless you are creating a parody). But don't be overly concerned with making your ending wholly original, either—especially if you are thinking about sacrificing quality. It is perfectly fine for the hero to vanquish the villain in the end, or for the love interests to finally realize their love for one another, or for the hero to realize that they were searching for the wrong goal all along. They work because they are timeless truths and needs that are general enough so that they can be fitted to suit your story perfectly and with an appropriate amount of uniqueness so that it is more capable of fitting your particular story. Originality in an ending is wonderful, but it comes in greatest part from the setups establishes earlier in the novel and should match the level of originality within the story, plot, and characters that came before it.
Tip 7: Resolve all remaining charged subplots.
All of the unanswered questions and unresolved quests in your story must come to some sort of resolution by the end of this chapter (except, perhaps, for some lighthearted or humorous ones that you can solve in the epilogue, like the resolution to a minor romantic subplot). In order to give your story's ending the most power, you want to detonate every last explosive keg you assembled throughout the course of the story—giving the Climax a dramatic sense of resolution. The only general exception to this rule is when you have a specific sequel to your novel already planned out and need to create an inconclusive ending. We see inconclusive subplots in A New Hope, such as Han's outstanding bounty (which becomes a major element of the plot in the sequels), his romantic tension with Leia, and the continued mystery as to the true force controlling the Empire. In those cases, the unresolved plot-points should be quite obviously left unresolved for the purpose of being explored in a sequel so that the reader does not think that you have just forgotten or left them hanging. Also, none of these plot elements should have been dire in importance to the core of the immediate plot.
Tip 8: End on a powerful and conclusive moment, and save the epilogue for the epilogue.
A common problem for storytellers is that they end the story with power, but want to create a sense of resolution before they reach the Epilogue. The resolution (such as the drive home or something like that) usually ends up softening the power of that final explosive plot element. End your Climax chapter within the scene that it occurred in; you want to end the scene with power, dramatic resolve, and in a place where an epilogue would be nice but not essential. The story is over—and everything that happens to the character after that (whether it be their funeral, their doom, their continued lives, or their happily ever after), is not part of the core plot, but part of the Epilogue. Spend the Climax chapter devoted to making the most powerful ending you can—concluding with the most powerful page, paragraph, and sentence you can. We will create an Epilogue chapter later on; but do not water down your Climax with it here.
Weekly Recommended Watching: Black Butler Season 1 (This season of this show completely delivers the climax that it promises throughout the journey. It is exemplary in its form, and gives the ending it promises without cheating. I will not speak for later seasons; the ending was so perfect that I could not bring myself to watch them.)
Write-a-Novel Exercise 6.11
Write your story's Climax, following the steps above. Click here to submit it to the gallery.
Dufaii - Chapter 18 - Pain and Beauty
Writer's Tip: Show, don't tell.
Story Arc Explained
How to Write Plot-Based Dialogue
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She raises hell the whole movie. There are epic fight scenes. But then she kills him by poking him 5 times. Like...I understand that it's symbolic, but with the way the rest of the movie was with action and amazing fight scenes...that their confrontation. The culmination of her rage, came down to a silly move that he was never taught. Bleh. They could have made the move or the moments leading up to the move more epic.