Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lessons From the Pros: Does Your Story’s Climax Pack a Punch?

The best part of the Fourth of July (other than the fried chicken and potato salad, of course) is the fireworks at the end of the day. Everyone looks forward to sundown and the explosions of color that light up the darkness. The climax of your novel is like that. Readers will enjoy the preceding chapters (just like I enjoy my fried chicken), but what they’re really looking forward to are the fireworks at the end of the book. As authors, we need to make sure we put on a show worth remembering all year long. But just how do we do that?


Gardens of the Moon, the first book in Steven Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen series, is a complicated (if sometimes convoluted) and exquisitely detailed fantasy that artfully leads readers up to a whale of a fireworks show. Let’s take a look at how Erikson accomplishes this:

1. He utilizes foreshadowing throughout the book to heighten the tension and give readers an idea of the insurmountable odds piling up against the protagonists.

2. As the climax approaches, he starts choreographing his huge cast of characters to allow them all to appear together in the climactic setting.


3. He steadily increases the pacing, via short scenes that jump from character to character, to ramp up the adrenaline.


4. He holds nothing back. When the climax finally arrives, Erikson pulls no punches. He gives readers everything he’s got by incorporating every element he’s introduced so far in the story (and a few he hadn’t).

No matter how good the preceding chapters may be, if your story doesn’t pay off in the climax, readers will be disappointed. So take a page from Erikson’s book and let the fireworks light up your story’s sky.

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12 comments:

  1. Utilizing foreshadowing--that's one thing I'd like to learn to do better. All of these are excellent tips.

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  2. I'm planning at least one post (over at Wordplay) on foreshadowing sometime in next couple months. So keep an eye out! :)

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  3. I'll be interested in the foreshadowing post too.

    My characters approached me with an idea for a better ending of my WIP than the one I had in mind. After careful consideration, I think they are right, and I'm going to listen to them. It will definitely light a few fireworks.

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  4. Characters often know best how to end their own stories. None of us likes to go out with a fizzle. ;)

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  5. Good points, Katie. I stink at climax scenes the first time around. I always have to go back and add more layers. By that time in the story, I'm usually DONE with the story - I know the ending and that's that. :p My crit partner is very good at pointing out that the scene needs more bang and sparkle.

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  6. I know what my climaxes will be before I start the first drafts. But they *always* have a way of changing on me by the time I actually reach them. I have to write them three or four times before I can get all the pieces to fit together.

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  7. I'm anxious to read your post on foreshadowing. I stink at it!

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  8. Well, then, I better get to work on it! :p

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  9. You got me on number four, "hold nothing back". I've been disappointed by books and movies that provide great build up and then, wa-wa-waaa. If you're going to talk big, you better be able to back it up. And so it is with writing a climax. Thanks for the reminder!

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  10. Exactly. If you flip this advice on its head, then the very least, if you can't deliver the big bucks in the end, you should cut back on the build-up. That's not optimal, of course, but at least it might save readers from chucking your book across the room in disappointment.

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  11. I've never finished a novel before, but this one's getting close. The ending is going to be a major challenge. I've plotted it, but is it good enough? Your article has certainly helped.

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  12. I look forward to that post on foreshadowing. I need to do a better job of that.

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