Climax is more than a tickle
I readÂ thatÂ the “climax” is simply when hero meets challenge. So I dutifully wrote a “climax” to describe a scene my hero had dreaded and wondered why even I found the story boring.
ItÂ did not rock the hero’s world.Â Meeting what I thought was her greatest challenge did not blowÂ my hero’sÂ life apart and that’s what a climax must do if your story is to resonate with your audience.
Lousy climax, lousy story – walk away and write a manual; that’s what I was ready to do.Â Was my hero so weak that she wasn’t capable of generating strong feelings?Â What was theÂ fundamental flaw in my first story?
After severalÂ rewrites, I discovered the key to my hero. She wasn’t shallow, as I’d begun to suspect; I hadn’t given her a relatable crisis.
How I found the climax
Finding the climax was a synthesis of figuring out what made the hero tick and destroying it.
Humanize the hero
In the original version of my boring story, lived aÂ forgettable scene. My hero interacted with a bystanderÂ inÂ aÂ trivial “buy bread and eggs” choreÂ I’d written toÂ make the hero moreÂ human. Bonus: it slowed the action,Â helping to pace the story.
When I decided theÂ story was boring,Â I edited the whole thing, injecting conflict along the way. Reaching this pointless scene, I almost eliminated it. Something about the bystander gave me pause. Who was he?Â Who’s the only person my hero would abandon the chase to share a moment of intrigue? No character should be completely expendable;Â I handed this bystander a pivotal role andÂ the story came together in a whole big ball of crisis and conflict. My hero had a moral compass. Bonus:Â their interaction injected doubt into the hero’s love interest, redoubling the conflict.
Identify the moral compass
The “moral compass” is the element that defines and drivesÂ you hero’s soul; it’s where your hero looks for guidance when there’s no easy answer.
RecognizeÂ the climax
The climax came together when during the hero’s “challenge,” a catastrophe brought her moral compass on stage; his loss blew awayÂ everything that defined her.
The climax must eviscerate the hero.
In my story,the hero had toÂ lose herÂ moral compass – it’s the only loss significant enough to rock her world. LossÂ defines a climax.Â That’s why, in the sections about character development techniquesÂ and about completing your fledging story, I’ve come to realize the importance of identifyingÂ your character’s moral compass.
Know your audience
Your audience will have to buy into the moral compass.Â Generally, that limits you to a few universals:Â lover, family,Â deity, the world, humanity, theÂ environment.
- Avatar the moral compass was the alien world but it was also our hero’s belief in who he was, his core identity.
- Gone With the Wind posited the antebellum South as both setting and core identity of Scarlett and Rhett; in losing him, she lost her love and the last remnant of the world she’d known – which is why the consolation prize was her home, Tara.
- Rocky,Â what was on the line during the climax was everything the hero identified as “self.”
Fallout of the Crisis
Your elevated, core-cutting crisis also elevates what was a “resolution” toÂ a broken recovery; if the climax is followed byÂ a few boring beats that tie up loose ends, the story’s a bust.
“Recovery” should be people dragging their tattered carcasses back from an explosion that shook them all and trying to go on with their lives. AndÂ the love interest or partner or whatever witness you chooseÂ isn’t just standing there like a plastic dummy, a propÂ toÂ wander off into the sunsetÂ with your hero; having watched the crisis tear the hero apart, they must decide what to do with the broken remains.
Once IÂ found my hero’s moral compass, I wrote the climax of my story in a single night.Â Â But I didn’t know my very first hero until I’d put her through a thousand different scenes, and it tookÂ every one of those scenesÂ for me to realize that to her, the “moral compass” I’d identifiedÂ wasn’t merely comic relief.