What is the climax of a story? The conclusion of a story is the height of the action. Then, finally, all the plot threads come together, and the central conflict is resolved. But what elements make the climax of a story? And how do you write a good story climax? Here we answer these questions and more.

What is the climax of a story?

When you’re writing a story, whether a short story or a novel, the climax is the part that everything else has built towards. It’s the pinnacle of the protagonist’s journey, where they achieve the goal set at the story’s beginning. So a good story climax is usually the key to a truly satisfying story.

To understand the climax of a story, we need to look at the plot, story structure, and what we expect from a story climax. We’ll look at all these things here, and some examples of famous story climaxes to help budding writers see how it should be done. We’ve also got some ideas of handy resources to help you teach this topic in English lessons.

How does the climax of a story fit into the plot?

Every story has a plot. This is the sequence of events that form the backbone of your account and the order in which these events happen. Writers take considerable time and care over the plot of a story because every occasion needs a purpose. Therefore, each event should represent an important stage on the protagonist’s journey toward the climax. This way, the story’s climax will be the most exciting part of the plot, where the stakes are realized and all the story strands are brought together. Essentially, the climax is the whole point of the story, and readers should be looking forward to it.

To create a good plot, writers need to understand story structure. This is often pictured as a pyramid or a story mountain. There are five distinct phases to the form of a story. These are:

  • This comes at the beginning of the story. It introduces the main characters, settings, and themes, as well as the idea of the central conflict that needs to be resolved.
  • Rising action. The rising action is the most extended section of the story. This is essentially the journey from the initial conflict to the climax, with twists and turns along the way. The purpose of the rising action is to build tension and suspense, to keep the reader turning the pages.
  • Once the rising action has built to the boiling point, this is where the conclusion of the story fits in. The climax has to tie up all the plot threads and resolve the central conflict, moving us toward a satisfying ending.
  • Falling action. This is usually a short section describing the aftermath of the climax. It gives the reader room to breathe after the intensity of the conflict resolution and leads us smoothly to the story’s conclusion. In this section, characters may reflect on the lessons they’ve learned throughout their journey, reinforcing the novel’s key themes.
  • Conclusion or denouement. The conclusion is the end of the story, where all the plot points are entirely resolved. Any subplots are usually wrapped up within this section rather than confusing the central climax. This last section of the story gives us an insight into what life might look like for the characters now the story is over, letting us close the book.

We can see from this structure that the climax is, in many ways, the most crucial element of the plot. Everything before the climax builds towards it, and everything afterward happens as a result.

Where in the story structure should the climax occur?

The story mountain is based on the idea of Freytag’s Pyramid, named after the famous German novelist Gustav Freytag. In the 19th century, he wrote a book called Freytag’s Technique of the Drama, introducing the idea of the plot being a pyramid. The story mountain idea is heavily influenced by this, with the rising action climbing towards the climax at the top and the falling measure coming down the other side.

However, if we examine any of the plots of famous stories, we can see that plots are not pyramids or mountains with equal sides! Instead, the rising action usually takes up the vast majority of the plot, with the climax happening near the end of the story. After all, what is the climax of a story there for if it’s not giving us a reason to keep reading? So instead, we should want to find out how all the strands of the story come together, and the central conflict is resolved.

This is something to bear in mind if you’re plotting your story. It would help if you built as much tension as possible throughout the rising action. Every plot stage needs to be interesting enough to keep us reading until the climax near the end. Once we reach the story’s climax, we’ll want to keep reading to find out what happens afterward – we’ve already invested so much time into the account that we won’t want to stop now.

What makes a good climax of a story?

There are numerous things to keep in mind when you’re planning and writing your story climax. Here are some of the elements that make a story climax successful.

Make the stakes high

For the climax to be satisfying, we must care about the protagonist’s fate. This means the stakes have to be high – there has to be something on which the characters’ future happiness, or even their lives, depend. Writers can achieve this by introducing an interesting central conflict in the exposition part of the story. They can then make us more invested in this conflict by continually building the tension and suspense throughout the rising action so that we can’t wait to find out how things will resolve.

Make it exciting

It’s no good building suspense and tension in your rising action if your climax is going to fall flat. The whole point of the climax is that it should be the most exciting part of the story. This means creating a significant plot event like a battle, a murderer being unmasked, or two people who previously hated each other finally falling into each other’s arms. In addition, the climax should be satisfying for the reader – it needs to be an event that perhaps they saw coming, but they want to find out how it happens. You don’t want them to be disappointed.

Put it in the right place

The timing of your story climax is key to the overall success of your story. If it occurs too early, readers won’t feel satisfied that enough tension has been built. They may not want to bother reading the rest of the book as they think you’ve resolved all your plot points too soon. However, the climax can also come too late. If your climax occurs too close to the end of the story, this doesn’t leave the reader any room to breathe. It also doesn’t give you time to wrap up any subplots or discuss the characters’ futures now that the story’s main arc is over. Ideally, the climax should occur towards the end of the story, but not right at the end.

Make it resolve everything

The climax of your story is necessary because the resolution of all your plot strands depends on it. This means you must remember all the plot points and subplots you’ve introduced throughout the story to tie up all the loose ends. If you leave any strands unresolved, this won’t provide a satisfactory climax for the reader. If you don’t think you can resolve a particular plot point, consider whether it belongs in the story.

The exception to this rule is, of course, if you’re planning to write a sequel. If this is the case, you’ll need some plot points unresolved, so readers will want to discover what happens in the next episode.

What are some famous examples of story climaxes?

Every story has a climax, so you can probably think of plenty of examples! However, some story climaxes are better-known than others. Here are just a few of the most famous story climax examples.

Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s classic play is always included in lists of famous story climaxes simply because there’s some disagreement about where the climax in this story occurs. Freytag, who invented the story pyramid, argues that the story’s climax occurs when Romeo kills Tybalt and has to run away, leaving Juliet behind. However, most people see the climax as when Romeo finds Juliet and thinks she’s dead, resulting in his death.

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen’s novel is unusual in that its climax is an event that has previously happened once before in the story. The story’s climax is Darcy’s second proposal to Elizabeth, which she accepts. However, he has already proposed once, in the middle of the rising action, when Elizabeth turns him down. The rising action builds tension between them and allows Elizabeth to see Darcy for who he is. Hence, her ultimate acceptance of him is a satisfying climax for the reader.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

If you’re writing a series of books, each story has to have its climax. However, the overall plot still has to stay unresolved, so we’ll want to read the next installment. This is what JK Rowling does in the Harry Potter books – each book has its climax, but the central conflict is still unresolved until the climax of the Deathly Hallows. So the whole series has been building toward the climax of this book, which is, of course, the duel between Harry and Voldemort.

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