The Writer’s Vocabulary — Climax

Climax: The Story’s Point of No Return

The Climax is the main character’s darkest moment, but also the place of their rebirth

Jun 19 · 4 min read
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Photo by Mel Elías on Unsplash

The Climax is the heart of the story. It’s the one place where all the action builds towards. It’s where the heart and mind of the main character get tested and from which the story starts its decent towards the resolution.

It is a pivotal moment.

Characteristics of the Climax

All stories need a beginning and an end, and all stories need a Climax. If we imagine the story as an arch, the beginning and the end are the points where the arch touches the ground. The ground represents a balanced, untroubled situation. When the story starts, it departs from the ground (the balanced situation) and increasingly rises towards an apex in an escalation of crises that will test the character. The apex of the story is the Climax, the moment where everything is on the line. Afterwards, the story decreases toward the resolution, and as it touches the ground again, it finds a new situation of balance.

The only true difference between the story arc and an arch is that the story arc isn’t symmetrical, but leans heavily toward the Climax, that stands not in the centre of the story but visibly towards the end.

A great climax should:

Be the heart of the story

Whatever happens in the Climax, that should be the point of the entire story. On the Climax hinges the action, the themes, the main character’s evolution and a satisfactory ending. Every action, every crisis, every decision-making, should bring the story (and the main character) closer to the Climax, and from there, the story should then ease into the ending.

Be crucial to the main character

The Climax is often described as the point of no return. The place in the story where everything goes so terribly wrong, that whatever the character has done up to now, they will take a life-changing decision. That change that blossomed with the Inciting Incident will find its maturity here, and the main character will have to face it and make a decision about it.

Demand the main character to make a choice

The Climax is not just about change. It is about a change in the main character. While the Inciting Incident may — and often is — an external power that forces the main character to leave their comfort zone, the Climax will demand to the main character a personal choice. The main character should always be the propeller of the story. This is particularly true for the Climax. The decision the main character takes in the Climax is often the reason why he/she is the protagonist.

Why is the Climax so important?

The Climax is the point where every effort of the story converges upon. Therefore it is the hub of everything crucial. It’s the one big crisis that will resolve the problems the Inciting Incident arose. It’s the moment when the main character has to take that decision they never wanted to, or fear to take. Therefore it contains the very core of the theme of the story.

It is so crucial that often writers start from it and build the story around it.

But to be this crucial, the Climax demands an action from the main character. The resolution of the problem should never come from the action of another character or from a lucky chance. I don’t mean that these things shouldn’t happen. They may, but they shouldn’t be the resolving agents, they should merely be the occasion for the main character to make their choice.

Make it the main character’s darkest moment. It will likely be a great Climax.

Sarah Zama wrote her first story when she was nine. Fourteen years ago, when she started her job in a bookshop, she discovered books that address the structure of a story and she became addicted to them. Today, she’s a dieselpunk author who writes fantasy stories historically set in the 1920s. Her life-long interest in Tolkien has turned quite nerdy recently.
She writes about all her passions on her blog

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Author of historical fantasy novels set in the 1920s | Dieselpunk | 1920s social history blogger | Hopeless Tolkien nerd

The Cogs and Gears Storyteller

Storytelling as an experience for writers and readers. How stories work their way into our lives

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