On December 15, 2018 we were live in the studio at 100.7 The Point and talking about the beginning of the end, or the climax scene. Here are the show notes:
Dr. Kasie Whitener, Clemson Road Creative, fiction writer
Rex Hurst, English Instructor, fiction writer
Theme for the day
The End Part One
- Who we are and why we’re here
- The topic for the week: The End Part One
- Book discussion — currently reading and its analysis through the lens of the topic
- Craft book discussion — Elizabeth Berg’s Escaping into the Open
- Famous Quotes – brought to us by Bonnie Stanard, show patron and Historical Fiction author
How did we get here?
Traditional structure says stories have a beginning, middle, and end which would suggest a three-art podcast series. Except we know that thing that straddles the middle and the end — the climax — deserves its own episode.
The climax, or peak, of a story is only one part “what happens.” It’s three parts what started this whole thing, what happened leading up to it, and what happens after it.
So, since we did beginnings and middles, we’re splitting the end into today’s episode — what actually happens in the climax scene — and next week’s Part Two episode which will be what happens after it.
The climax of the story is the highest peak or the most intense part of the story. It’s where all of the protagonist’s efforts find their payoff. It’s where the fate of the story is determined.
LiteraryDevices.net tells us the climax is where the rising action (which has carried us thus far) turns into falling action, leading us to a resolution.
We’re also not the only ones to do this. Check out this podcast and blog series with their own three-part series on the same topics.
Some examples include:
- Romeo killing Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet
- The narrator realizing he is, in fact, Tyler Durden in Fight Club (link)
- Robert Cohn attacks the narrator, Jake, for setting Lady Brett Ashley up with the bullfighter — confirming she was never really his and solidifying his own foolishness at thinking she was (link) — in The Sun Also Rises
- Othello kills Desdemona
- Hamlet joins with the play actors to deliver the “truth” in front of everyone
- Melanie Hamilton Wilkes dies in Gone With the Wind
- Katniss and Peeta threaten to kill themselves rather than let one of them survive as victor
- Augustus dies in The Fault in Our Stars and Hazel gives a eulogy and the writer she’d obsessed over shows up and her response to him is that evidence of her growth
What makes a good climax?
It should be, to some extent, inevitable. Something has to change. Something has to break. Things cannot continue as they are. The climax is that pivot. That shift. Where we know nothing will ever be the same when this happens.
- Main character reaches a point of confrontation and realization
- Main characters “meet” the unknown — or “all is revealed”
- All the side conflicts come to a head here, too
Figure out your hero’s epiphany — what does he or she realize about himself or herself? What does he or she learn about others?
Leverage that dark secret, truth, or flaw in your hero.
Tie the climax to the theme of the story. How does this thing happening underpin the entire point you (the author) have been making with this story?
Revisit this resource for examples from John Green, Jane Austen, and Suzanne Collins.
How do you write a better climax?
Of course Writer’s Digest has some advice for us. And it’s a list! Bonus! The author suggests the climax has four parts (from the post):
- The run-up to the climactic moment (last-minute maneuvering to put the pieces in their final positions)
- The main character’s moment of truth (the inner journey point toward which the whole story has been moving)
- The climactic moment itself (in which the hero directly affects the outcome)
- The immediate results of the climactic moment (the villain might be vanquished, but the roof is still collapsing).
The climax has to have pace and tension. Here are some questions to ask on that front:
- Does it encapsulate all of the details laid out in the story?
- Does it satisfy all of the basic elements of timing, character development, scene, tone, and realism?
- Is it written in the same style and tone as all of the book’s other sections?
- Is there an ample amount of mounting tension leading up to the climax?
So you’re wondering how to add just the right complication for that climax scene? Honestly, if the climax scene doesn’t just come to you, then you probably haven’t done enough of the middle work to get there.
But, if you’re looking for a turnkey solution, try these:
- Increase external conflict
- Amplify internal conflict
- Use setting to add uncertainty
If you’re uncertain about what the real climax of your story is, don’t fret. Just keep writing. Our craft book — Escaping into the Open — suggests you don’t have to know where you’re going when you begin writing. Elizabeth Berg says the less you know about where you’re headed, the better and quotes an ancient philosopher, “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
Quotes from Authors — for Bonnie Stanard
“The climax is the place where two opposing forces in your story finally clash. This is true whether those opposing forces are two armies or two values inside a character’s soul.” – Nancy Kress, science fiction author
“Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.” – Orson Scott
May you all see five or six stories while you’re out and about today. See you next week!
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