Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Perfect Climax

As I hash out the outline for my next project, I'm struggling to come up with the perfect climax.

My favorite climax in a book, ever, has to be from "Ella Enchanted." It was so good that as soon as I got to the last page I turned back a couple chapters to read it again.

See, Ella has three problems. She has this curse that forces her to do whatever someone tells her to do. And she has a prince she's madly in love with who wants to marry her, but if she says yes then she knows someone will figure out how to use her curse to hurt him. This brings us to the third problem - the whole kingdom will be in danger if their new queen has this curse on her.

And then, the prince says, "Ella, say you'll marry me."

I won't tell you what happens next, but all these problems, the internal conflict, the interpersonal conflict, and the great big epic conflict come together and BAM! We have an amazing climax.

Something similar happens in Lord of the Rings. Frodo has three main problems. He's got this internal struggle against the Ring that is trying to turn him to evil. Then he's got Gollum after him. And then he's got the problem that if he fails the whole world is going to go down in flames.

At the climax, it looks like the first two problems get the better of Frodo, and we fear the third is soon to follow. But then chance steps in, Gollum goes over the cliff, and the world is saved.

I liked Ella's climax better. In that one, she does all her own fighting.

There's any number of ways these layers of conflict can play off each other at a climax. Sometimes one gets resolved earlier in the story, sometimes there's mixed wins and losses. But I think my favorite kind of climax requires a character to overcome an internal conflict, which in turn allows the character to overcome the interpersonal conflict and the broader conflict.

I know this is only one of many ways to look at a climax. What are your favorite ways to look at it? How do you create the perfect bang at the peak of your plot?


  1. I loved the climax in Ella Enchanted! It was perfect. Now I'm going to have to go read it again. :) Loved the post!

  2. Great blog! That really is THE question, isn't it? It's a terrible fear that after all the work on your story, you'll ruin it with a lame ending. Surprisingly, in two of my favorite books, the ending wasn't this big wow moment, but rather a quiet moment of perfect satisfaction (the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Game series, for instance). Its resolution, although not perfect, is one that warms the heart and seems real. Now to go duplicate that emotion. Sigh.

  3. I hate it when an ending lets me down. But so far, all my own first drafts have had TERRIBLE endings. I think it's because I'm a discovery writer and I'm too dedicated to my sense of realism. I tend to forget I'm TELLING A STORY and so things have to come together at the end in ways they seldom do in real life. So I work on it, and work on it, until my test-readers say, "Loved the ending, it was everything I could possibly hope for."


What be on yer mind?