It’s that time again! So…let’s talk about climaxes!
Wait! Not THAT kind of climax! Stay out of the gutter! Geez!
We’re talking about story climaxes.
This is the grand finale to your project! This is the big finish! This is where you’re able to give your readers the big pay off that they’ve been waiting for since they got hooked on those first few sentences of your story. A story’s climax can really make or break a wonderfully written project, depending on how well it works with your audience. It expresses the overall theme of your story, the reason that you wrote it in the first place, and what you want your readers to walk away with once everything has been said and done. So…put some thought into it, folks! Hehehe, this is important!
For me, personally…I like for most of my own stories to come full circle. For the end to somehow encapsulate what was taking place in the beginning. I like for the climax of the story to be the defining moment for my main characters, and have that moment either bless the readers with a satisfying ‘happily ever after’ scenario…or have it be the merciless sucker punch that causes the whole story to collapse and end on a darker note. Or at least a note that’s somewhat bittersweet in the long run. While I definitely concentrate on making the story addictive and enjoyable as a whole, I do make it a point to save my most heavy hitting moments for the very end. In my opinion, the climax of a story should be more amazing, more shocking, more jaw-droppingly dramatic, than every major event that came before it. The climax is the sincere promise that you made to your audience from the very beginning. “Stick with me, and I’ll give you the reward you’ve been patiently waiting for!”
Now, depending on the kind of story that you’re writing…this climax can mean a bunch of different things. It can be the defeat of a major enemy, or the salvation of a lost soul. It can be the big showdown between a super strong hero and an equally powerful antagonist. Or it might be the first kiss or hot sexual experience that your main characters have been trying to have, but obstacles have been standing in their way. Whatever the climax may be in your story…it should be the peak of your project. You’ve been seducing your audience into reading along and following your protagonist through this amazing adventure for all this time…so when they reach that major moment, when they’ve finally dug down deep enough to find that treasure chest…you want to make sure that they all feel like the hard work was worth it. The last thing you could ever want is for that big reveal or elevated event to fall flat and end up as a disappointment to readers who were looking for something more. That can be a curse on your story as a whole.
Even if you’ve written a true masterpiece up until that point…the climax of your story is what you will, ultimately, be graded on when they comment or spread the word of your story to other people. I’m not kidding when I say that this can be a ‘make it or break it’ scenario. Don’t spend all of your hard work and energy on writing a fascinating story, only to have it fizzle out like a spent candle at the very end. The end of your story is the personal stamp on the fictional journey that you’ve created. It’s what people are going to remember most when they close the link and reflect on what they’ve just experienced. You want your lingering effect to give them a feeling that will stick with them in a way where they will not only read your work again some time, but will refer it to other readers as well.
Always remember that the climax of your story should answer the intriguing questions that you set up in the earliest parts of your story. Let it be the punctuation mark on your story in general. Seduce your readers into expecting something MAJOR just over the horizon…but only give them small hints and glimpses of what’s coming along the way. I think that an effective climax is all about the ‘tease’. All about making that promise, that unspoken contract, with your readers…and then following through by giving them something eyebrow raising once they see the finished product. And…accomplishing this feat, as always…comes from planning. Always planning.
When you’re diving into a brand new story, and you want it to be something special, and memorable, and loved by all…planning is essential. Think of it like you would if you were telling a joke to somebody. The biggest impact of the joke is the punchline, right? But that punchline can’t work without the setup. And the setup falls flat without the punchline. You’ve got to have both in order for the comic element of the joke to work. The timing, the delivery, the surprise of it all…it matters when it comes to bringing the most potent part of your story to life. Always give your story somewhere to ‘go’ when you’re building up to your climax. You want there to be a peak to your roller coaster. A finale to your fireworks display. This comes from plotting out the most important part of your story, and gradually building up to that punchline without overshadowing its impact ahead of time. KNOW where you’re going with your story when you start! That’s not to say that you can’t be flexible and let certain ideas change and evolve over time while you’re writing, but having a definitive idea of what your story’s ‘big moments’ are going to be ahead of time will help you out a lot when it comes time to top all of your previous highlights in the story and are looking for that major ‘WOW’ to send it off with.
So know where you’re going, tease your audience with awesome plot points, complex twists, and surprising turns, along the way…and then deliver a final blow that can act as an effective punchline for the story that you’ve been telling the whole time. Be an entertainer! Give your audience something to cheer about. Or cry about. Or get angry about. Whatever the outcome…give it that punchline. You’ve only got one shot at this, so make it count.
Now, one example that I’d like to use here, comes from the movie, “Blade”.
I LOVE “Blade”! Hehehe, I really do! Even though people nowadays don’t talk about it much, Marvel’s “Blade” basically SAVED the whole comic book movie genre! Without that movie…taking a comic book hero seriously…and making it R Rated and action packed…we wouldn’t have what we have today. We’d have campy “Batman And Robin” with George Clooney, and campy “Superman 4” with Christopher Reeves. “Blade” paved the way for “Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, “X-Men”, “The Avengers”, “Black Panther”, “Deadpool”, “Justice League”…I mean…we have Oscar winners in comic book movies now! That’s crazy! So THANK YOU, “Blade”, for showing the world that it can be done!
As much as I love that movie, I believe they made a huge mistake when it came to putting that movie together. And this is a perfect example of why a climax is so important, and why it should be strategically placed at the END of the story!
See, when “Blade” opens up, there is a SWEET action sequence that takes place in the first ten minutes of the movie! And I remember seeing that in the theater, and thinking, “HOLY SHIT!!! Let’s GO! I’m so psyched, right now!” It was everything that I wanted a Blade movie to be! And by drawing me in with that opening scene (Highly effective!), I was glued to that screen, waiting to seee what would come next. But…and this is NOT to say that “Blade” wasn’t awesome…it never really topped that opening scene. I mean…how could it? You’ve got a major protagonist reveal of a shotgun toting, sword wielding, vampire hunting, ninja in a long black trench coat, laying waste to an entire underground club full of panicked bloodsuckers!!! I mean…where do you go from there? The most over the top moment of the whole movie happens right after the opening credits, and it’s hard to even match that, much less surpass it later on in the movie when it comes to fighting the big baddie, right?
I mean…here. Look at this!
Again…as much as I LOVE that scene…the rest of the action scenes never really live up to the hype and the utter chaos of that first opening slaughter. That’s a hard act to follow. Hehehe! So it’s understandable, sure. But that, to me, was a ‘climax’ scene. Imagine for a second, that this had happened at the end of the movie instead of the beginning. See, the advantage that you, as a writer, has when it comes to a story climax is that your readers already have an entire journey behind them to build upon. They’re familiar with your main character. They have a short history of experience, learning about how high the stakes are, what is most important, and they’re already on board to cheer you main character on as they go complete APESHIT on an army of adversaries! Imaggine if Blade had been taking on vampires two or three at a time, and the situation had gotten so bad, things had escalated SO much, that he just had to let loose and slash his way through an armada of the undead to bring an end to this once and for all. That would be EPIC! The climax of your story has already been set up, it has been reaching a boiling point over time, and now it’s time for the major payoff. If it can’t match or outdo what you sold your readers on in the opening scene…then you kind of miss the mark in terms of bringing everything to a head and making the kind of impact that you set out to make.
Now, compare the “Blade” beginning to the defining scene in the original “Matrix”. This happens at the END of the movie this time, and the whole impact of this scene has a different feel to it. Check it out…
This time, you’ve spent some time with the main character. You’ve come to relate and understand him and his motivations. The movie sets up ‘Agent Smith’ in the beginning as being one of the most terrifying things that the Matrix could possibly throw at the protagonist. Calculating, precise, unbeatable. Everyone is scared by the mere appearance of such a creature, right? But…the story ‘teases’ you by letting you know that Neo isn’t your average guy. It then teases you into realizing that he’s special. That he can almost dodge bullets the way that they do. And then teases you even further when he turns and tries to actually fight with an agent…something that has never been done before. All of these things, while amazing scenes in their own right…they’re building up to something big. They’re the preamble to a climax that audiences are waiting for. Neo has transformed into the hero that the story needed, and the WORST thing that the Matrix can throw at him can be easily dispatched one handed if needed. But what gives the reader a rush is the journey that brought them to that point. The training, the mind games, the realization that…”I can do this!”
All of these things make a difference when it comes to making a climax the major event that you want it to be. And, again..that doesn’t mean that there has to be some sort of knock down, drag out, fist fight or anything. It can be a first date, it can be coming out of the closet for the first time, it can be standing up against an abusive parent, or finally getting the courage to follow a lifelong dream. Whatever the climax of your story might be, make it the fireworks display that it deserves to be. Fulfill the promise that you made to your readers when they started investing time, effort, and emotion, into what you were writing. Let them know that this is actually leading somewhere. And when your story is done…they’ll thank you for a wild ride.
Hopefully, one that they’ll remember for years to come.
One last example…
This is from the movie, “V For Vendetta”, which is awesome if you’ve never seen it! This, actually, isn’t the climax of the movie…but it feels like one. It’s a more physical and action packed build up to what is the ultimate climax of the movie. But is equally as effective, as it drives the main point of the movie forward, and gives the movie going audience some adrenaline and eye candy…all while preparing to absorb the overall meaning of the story itself. I guess you could call it a ‘soft climax’. Hehehe! Anyway, check it out! This is what I’m talking about. It’s a payoff for what you’ve been watching up until this very moment.
Do you see what I mean now? Consider your climaxes to be a reward for your readers for sticking with you from the very beginning. Make it something monumental. Meaningful. And a ‘soft climax’ can be a really cool red herring for whats to come. Get people emotionally involved…and you’ll never go wrong with your writing. K?
Anyway, that’s my little spiel on Climaxes. I really do see them as being a major part of your story as a whole. Without a defining moment to validate the whole reason for reading the story in the first place…your project and all of the hard work that you put into it can become a distant memory in a very short amount of time. I’m going to assume that you guys don’t want that.
I hope this helps! And I’ll see you soon with more! Take care! And happy writing!