If You Know Anything About Climaxes, Please Help

Everyone knows what this diagram shows, correct? It shows the five-point diagram of plot, as specified by Gustav Freytag.

But does anyone really know how to use it?

I understand the exposition, or introduction.  I understand the denouement, or conclusion.  It’s the stuff in the middle that gives me trouble, most notably the climax.

I thought the climax was the characters’ low point, where they go from reaction to action.  The conflict has been piled on them until they can hardly take it anymore all through the rising action, but they start to fight back at the climax.  Their fight takes up the falling action.

At least, that’s what I thought, based on my knowledge of the common form for stories.  Usually the story begins by throwing the main character into dire circumstances, which soon become worse and worse.  This goes on until the hero starts fighting back with some success, at which point there’s a long slog to the conclusion, where everything is hunky-dory again.  This is usually true regardless of the definition of climax.  But today I was told that the climax is usually the point at which the main character succeeds.  Frodo throws the Ring into Orodruin.  Aslan defeats the White Witch.  Valentine isn’t dead after all and the Count of Monte Cristo can rest, having defeated his many enemies.  (I’m just realizing…  That ending to The Count of Monte Cristo is really Dumas saying how he wished Romeo and Juliet had really ended.  I am glad Maximilian didn’t commit suicide, though.)

If the climax is where the hero succeeds, then the falling action has to be extremely short.  Almost nothing happens there.  Frodo destroys the Ring and the falling action is that Sauron dies, the orcs are routed, Aragorn is crowned and the hobbits go back to the shire.  Tolkien drew his out a little with the Shire conflicts at the end, but there still isn’t much.  Aslan defeats the White Witch and the falling action is the Pevensies’ coronation and their eventual return home.  The Count completes his revenge and the falling action is Maximilian and Valentine getting back together and Cristo sailing off into nowhere.  Wait and hope.”

See, I thought all these falling action examples were the conclusions.  They sound an awful lot like conclusions.  I thought the final battle sequence was the falling action, not the climax.

Climax is defined by Wikipedia as being “[a narrative work's] point of highest tension or drama”.  Would I say the point of highest tension or drama in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is when Aslan returns from the dead?  No.  Once I see Aslan, I know he can fix everything– that’s the assumption we make when we see a lion that can be killed and not be dead.  Perhaps I would say that the part just before that is the climax, when Peter is leading the army against the much larger army of the White Witch, knowing full well that she just killed Aslan.  That’s what I would call the characters’ low point, and that’s what I would label as the climax.  When it seems that the hero couldn’t possibly succeed against these odds, that’s what I’d label the climax.  It’s the height of tension.  The hero doesn’t seem to have anything working for him and is in the depths of despair.  The Fellowship is gone, Frodo was seemingly just killed by Shelob and taken by orcs, Gollum has betrayed them, and Sam has to take the Ring on or let Middle Earth perish– that’s the low point of The Lord of the Rings.  That’s when Sam starts fighting back.  He journeys on with the Ring, rescues Frodo and together they destroy the Ring.  That is the falling action, at least from my view of things.

There are a few different ways of diagramming plots that I’ve seen.  There’s the Seven-Point Story Structure, as well as the Hollywood Formula.  Both have points at which the characters are at the depths of despair, each at approximately 3/4 of the way through the story.  That would be what I call the climax.  According to the idea I heard this morning, however, the climax is the point at which the hero succeeds.  According to both of these structures, that would place the climax extremely near to the end.  Is that how everyone understands it?  I agree that just before the final battle finishes there’s a lot of tension, but is it really the climax?  In my opinion, the point just after the low point is where things start moving extremely quickly– thus, it stands to reason that that would be the falling action, doesn’t it?  Things start evening out immediately after the hero succeeds– so that should be the end of the falling action, shouldn’t it?  If you can answer, please do.

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  1. Traditionally, the tension usually builds until the climax. So the falling action is generally pretty short. Pretty much everything that happens in the falling action has little or no tension, unless you are setting up for a sequel. The falling action is usually just the “tying up loose ends” part.

    Reply
    • Can you give me an example?

      My idea of it works building the tension toward the climax, though. You build the tension toward the low point, and then you release it incrementally in the falling action. Is that correct?

      Reply
      • In the film Ruby Sparks, the climactic scene (for me) takes place in the last twelve or so minutes of the film when the protagonist and his female lead share a thematically intense, revelatory experience.

        Depending on whether or not the narrative is goal-oriented, as in the main character seeks an object, a person, or an answer, the climax could be the moment just before success, during, or just after. For instance, one hero’s climax could be merely discovering the identity of the villain, whereas another hero’s climax is in confronting the villain, and still another hero’s climax is in the defeating of the villain.

      • I see. Thank you for the help!

  2. The way I’ve always thought of the climax (and what my schoolteachers have drilled into my head) is that the climax is the height of the story, the place where it’s most tense, most exciting. The place where you’re sitting on pins and needles. With that in mind, I’ve always understood that the falling action is whatever happens after that.

    But thinking about how the climax being where the character succeeds… that goes completely against what I’ve been taught, and what I know.

    I also know that the climax can be completely different to completely different people. It’s got a touch of opinion to the whole ordeal.

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  3. I’ve always thought of it as the part where the story turns around in a different direction… for example, in The Hunger Games it’s after the Careers’ pyramid explodes/Rue dies, because then Katniss actually has a chance.

    Sorry to use that example. xD It was the first one that popped into my head.

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    • So that’s my view, which seems to contradict that of everyone else.

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    • Interesting. For me, the climax in the Hunger Games was when Katniss and Peeta were the last two tributes in the arena, and they had to decide how to end it (Katniss deciding that they both eat the berries being the highest part). Everything after that lacks tension, and the book’s loose ends are tied together.

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      • Actually, I was thinking about it some more… I changed my mind. I think the climax was when the announcers changed the rules for the first time.

      • That’s probably correct. I think I understand now.

      • I was doing some questions for Literature today, though, and it said the climax of Jane Eyre is when Jane returns to Rochester. I don’t know if you’ve read the book, but I stared at my book for a long time trying to figure out if whomever wrote that question was crazy: Jane returns when there are like ten pages left in the book. That’s hardly any time at all for the Falling Action and Denouement.

      • I’ve read Jane Eyre (and I think I can remember that part), and that makes sense to me. The falling action and denouement shouldn’t take up many pages, as they’re supposed to lack tension (if they filled a lot of pages, they would most likely be very boring pages).

      • Maybe it depends on the amount of action the book has. I mean, THG still had a lot to tie up. Jane Eyre wasn’t quite the same way.

  4. From what I have learned, and from what I understand, the climax is where the story is at it’s peak– it is where you pile on the action, the suspense, the panic, the horror, the entire bucketful of hard, exciting, hopeful, horrifically nasty to your character, all at once. Where the odds are impossible but your MC doesn’t stop anyway.
    Kind of like in the movie Flight Plan, when the MC knew there was a bomb. Knew it could explode any moment. Knew the plans and the motives of the antagonist/s. Had been caused to doubt herself enough that she wasn’t even sure if her daughter was still on the plane, but still believed it enough that she was willing to risk the entire aircraft blowing up if that meant she had the slightest possible chance of finding her daughter and proving that she wasn’t insane.

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    • So the climax is just prior to the hero winning, or losing?

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      • Make sure you’re considering what the word “climax” means: the point of greatest intensity; also a culmination. I was taught the climax included those incredibly suspenseful moments in which you’re not sure whether or not the hero will succeed, but also the moment in which he does either succeed or fail. The moments following the success or failure become the falling action & so on.
        Very interesting post! Thanks for the opportunity to discuss!

      • Indeed. Thank you!

  5. I was always taught that the climax was the story’s turning point, but it usually includes a little bit before that. For example, the climax of HP isn’t just Voldemort dropping dead, it includes Harry’s little “battle” with him.
    I also thought that the hero’s low point was the “cave” although sometimes the cave and the climax overlap.

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  6. Here’s how I’ve always looked at it: the rising action is all the conflict building up to the climax, the climax is the height of the story, and the falling action concludes the climax (with the denouement concluding the falling action).

    In Eragon, I would consider all his adventures up until the battle in Tronjheim to be the rising action, the battle in Tronjheim the climax (with him stabbing Durza to be the highest point in the story), and the ending of the battle to be the falling action. The denouement would be Eragon recovering from his wounds, since that ties up some of the loose ends (but not all, since it’s only the first book in a series).

    That’s just my opinion on the matter, as I understand there are different ways of looking at it.

    Reply
  7. Charley R

     /  December 6, 2012

    Personally, I’d say that it would depend on the story and the type of climax you’re aiming for. Not all climaxes are big flash-bang-swords-and-arrows-and-flaming-ferrets affairs; some are literally the change from reaction to action by the characters that then spurs on towards another major plot point.

    Taking some of your examples here: In “Fellowship of the Ring”, the “climax” could be regarded as the point when Frodo decides to take the ring to Mordor himself – the rest of the action follows out from it. OR, if you look at it from the other sense, it’s the moment towards the end when Frodo decides to go solo. It all depends on how you define a climax, and what sort of point you want to make of it.

    This probably makes no sense, but my understanding of story structure is a lot more fluid and individual to the story than perhaps it ought to be :P

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  8. Thanks for sharing :)

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  9. I actually have always assumed the climax typically came near the end. That may have been different in older stories. We don’t have that much patience for mop-up anymore. But as long as it’s a good story, does it matter? And will a good plot diagram actually make a good story? Probably not.

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  10. Never believe line graphs trying to explain an intangible concept, they’re never to scale.

    You’re right that the climax typically rests in the final 3/4 or so of a story. In War of the Worlds it’s when the narrator gives up on life and runs towards the Martian Machine, fully expecting his death. It’s short, sharp and hugely pivotal because it catches both the protagonist and antagonist at their lowest points. The narrator has been completely worn down by the complete destruction of civilization and the seemingly hopeless nature of their predicament. The Martians have, unbeknownst to the narrator initially, also hit their low point as they succumb to the bacteria of Earth. The falling action is relatively swift and wraps up things quickly, allowing the narrator to explain how the Martians died, how civilization is recovering and how he’s rebuilding his life.

    A different example is Dune where the climax goes on for some time. It begins as the Atomics are set off to breach the Shield Wall and doesn’t end until Paul kills Feyd in their duel. The subsequent falling action again serves to wrap up the Emperor’s abdication, the fate of minor characters and Paul’s reflection on what he’s become.

    What makes these climaxes work is that the success of the protagonist never seems quite assured, even though we know that it ultimately will be. They have to face one final, nearly insurmountable hurdle to cross the finishing line. For Frodo in Return of the King, it’s the act of casting the One Ring into the fires of Mt Doom. Throughout the three books we’ve been left wondering if he could actually part with it, and we finally receive out answer.

    In Star Wars: A New Hope, it’s Luke launching the proton torpedoes and them hitting their mark.

    If you design your climax in such a way that your reader will still doubt the outcome right up until the last minute, you’ll be onto a winner.

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    • Perfect! Thank you so much. I didn’t really understand any of your examples until the last two, a fact of which I am truly ashamed, but I grasp your meaning. Thank you!

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      • Don’t worry, as soon as someone starts referencing things outside of my usual genre of reading I get equally as lost. It’s hard to relate to lessons drawn from stories that you haven’t read yet… probably why my English teachers saw through my terrible essays at high school!

      • Indeed, indeed… But once you know what someone is talking about it’s like new batteries in an old flashlight. I felt that way with Ender’s Game and Orson Scott Card. I didn’t read it until about a month ago, and I heard everyone referencing it beforehand. Afterwards, I heard it just as much, but I could triumphantly say, “I know that book!”

  11. Friend, my advice is to not get so caught up in diagrams and formulas. This is writing and storytelling! If you need an example to tell you that there is no formula to great writing, look at the page-ripping scene from “The Dead Poets Society”. As a writer, you should let your story, your creativity, your gut and your heart guide you. Start subscribing to formulas and you should switch professions to being a scientist.

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  12. Climax is the moment which defines everything that follows in the story after it happened. To put it simply, we have bad guys, good guys and a conflict between them. First, we must establish the conflict (that would be the exposition), then we must show how the conflict develops (rising action), then the conflict reaches a stage when the good guys must face the bad guys, finally, and how the good guys behave in that stand-off defines how the story develops afterwards along declining action towards denouement. In multi-story novels you can have several climaxes, as many as the number of subplots (because there’s no point in having a subplot unless it is a plot interesting to follow, and then it must have a climax and all the rest of it).

    So, it is NOT the moment when the hero succeeds (that’s the end of the story, basically). And it’s NOT the low point. It is that moment when the main character is making the decision on what he/she/them would do. And that decision defines everything else. Perhaps, leading to the death of the character.

    From the Frodo perspective, the main climax is when Frodo is standing over the whatever abyss he’s meant to throw the ring into. And, if I remember correctly, he comes to a wrong decision ) But therre are many other climaxes in this book, actually.

    The moment of the highest tension can be inside one guy as well. This is what Dostoevsky and Shakespeare loved to do.

    From Raskolnikov’s perspective in Crime & Punishment the main climax is when he decides to get reborn, after which he confesses in the crime. His confession is not the climax. But the moment of his internal struggle just before the confession is.

    From Hamlet’s perspective the climax occurs when he fully commits himself to revenge.

    Do I make it clearer or just more… cloudy? ))

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  13. The climax is the last big explosion when all seems to be lost for our hero, but he or she finally prevails. Tada! This is followed up by lots of heavy sighs of relief and an applauding audience that says “Yes!” under their breath.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

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  14. From what I have been taught and experienced, the climax is that point in the book from which the rest of the story and the conclusion directly follow, as Charley R. points out. It’s a little confusing, I found, because I had grown up with the notion that the climax is just the most exciting part of the story. But sometimes it’s much more subtle than that–as in the example of Frodo choosing to take the ring to Mordor.
    Haha, I know that wasn’t a very original reply, but I just thought I’d at least reiterate and support what has already been said…

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    • Well, I was also told that the falling action usually has no tension, and the rest of the story after the Council of Elrond is pretty tense. Wouldn’t it be the scene in Orodruin that’s the climax?

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      • Yeah… But I’d have to say that, with The Lord of The Rings, there are many climaxes, inciting moments, etc. that all converge in the one, overarching story. Hence, you could call Frodo’s decision to leave The Shire an inciting moment, and then his arrival at Rivendell a resolution, because originally that was all he planned to do. But then he volunteers to take up the ring again (inciting moment) and we start the process all over again. I know that’s a very crude and general summary, but I guess I’m just trying to point out how some books have many climaxes.
        I must say, it’s definitely caused me much confusion throughout the course of my English studies!

      • True… But I think the climax of the overarching plot of defeating Sauron is the moment where Frodo claims the Ring within Orodruin.

      • Yeah I think I’d have to agree with you there.

      • But you’re quite right– considering all the subplots in the story, there are quite a few climaxes to be found.

  15. I remember this diagram from middle school! My teachers never drew the “falling action” part as long as in the diagram above because the falling action is usually very short and immediately follows the climax. However depending on the author, this diagram is just a guideline. Some stories have several climaxes and falling actions.

    I remember analyzing short stories in class and labeling what moments in the story were the exposition, the rising action, the climax etc. My teachers also liked to add the part right before the rising action–the “hook” that kicks off the rising action. And they also substituted “denouement” for “resolution.”

    Reply
    • That makes sense. I just found this diagram on Wikipedia for this purpose, but I would have substituted denouement for resolution if I could have. It’s much easier when it isn’t French. I thought this was English writing we’re talking about…

      Anyway, thank you.

      Reply
  16. That diagram is disproportionate, and I think that’s half the problem. The midpoint is the turning point between reaction and action in the protagonist. The climax is actually much later, and represents the fulfillment of the conflict. It comes to a head and is dispersed, either happily or tragically. The falling action is much shorter than the rising action and just represents the characters adjusting to the new status quo.

    I highly recommend Larry Brooks on Storyfix [dot] com. He has multiple deconstructions to demonstrate how to identify the different plot points.

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  17. dat6

     /  December 10, 2012

    To me, the hunger games climax was just when the blonde kid (I don’t know his name) held Peeta in a death lock and Katniss was conflicted as to whether or not to shoot at them. To me, if you just covered up everything after the climax, it would be those moments when you have no idea what’s about to happen, plans have gone awry and the future hangs in the balance… and then somehow, by a miracle, it all ends up resolving in the just the right ways. The resolution is the falling action.

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  18. As I learned it, the five-point diagram applies to Shakespearean works, but modern storytelling arising from the cinematic age operates a bit differently.

    Inciting incident: the thing in the first quarter of the story where stuff starts to happen. Could be on the first page, or after we get a glimpse of the protag’s “ordinary life.”

    First turn: End of the first quarter, AKA end of Act I. This is a disaster point where the protag cannot go back to his old life, because it’s been completely derailed by the events arising out of the inciting incident. The protag goes into Flight Mode, trying to escape the derailment.

    At the 3/8 point, a full reveal of the antagonistic forces in all their power.

    At the halfway point (end of the second quarter), a Revelatory Moment in which the protag gains new information, discovers a subplot, loses a best friend, or such. This pushes the protag into Fight Mode. When I studied classic storytelling, this was called the climax.

    At the 5/8 point, another reveal of the antagonistic force, unmoved, still as threatening as ever.

    Second turn: End of the third quarter, AKA end of Act II. This is the big crisis or pivot point, the do-or-die. A worst-case scenario ensues, and the protag overcomes it using either the transformational life lessons or the bazookas he’s acquired along the way. In modern storytelling, this is called the climax.

    The last quarter is devoted to the unraveling of the conflict. No new information or characters are introduced; threads are tied up.

    So the structural “feel” is a bit different from Shakespeare to Bronte to Tolkien and so on into contemporary story. A large amount of today’s commercial fiction follows the pattern I’ve mentioned above. I’m told it has evolved from the relatively strict time constraints and scene patterns of Hollywood screenwriting. But the classic five-point idea still underlies it.

    Hope that helps somewhat.

    Reply
  19. This diagram for plot structure is part of the California Standards for English for public school (9th grade, to be exact.) When I’ve taught ninth grade English, I draw the diagram a little differently – I have a long, slow slope leading to the climax, and then a tiny back leg at the end for the denouement and conclusion.
    The climax is that moment when everything comes together and explodes. I like your ideas of it being the main character’s low point, and looking at the structure. However, it has more to do with plot than character.
    I like to think of a long story i.e. a novel or film as consisting of small sets of the diagram leading into each other, thus having multiple climaxes. For example, in a television series, the overall season follows the structure, as does each episode, and also each segment between commercial breaks.
    For example, looking at the conversation between Takayta and Nevillegirl, both of them are right about the climax of the Hunger Games. The change in rules is a climax of one act, while the threat of Peeta and Katniss’ suicide is the climax of the overall book.
    The “hero’s low point” follows more closely The Hero’s Journey as described by Joseph Cambell, and has more to do with mythological structure than a basic plot structure. Gustav Freytag’s model is very basic on purpose so it can fit into a myriad of plots.
    I apologize for the novel length of this post.

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  20. If you have to ask what a climax is, I’m afraid you’ll never know
    (couldn’t resist)

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  21. As many posters have said, the climax is the part where all the big things take place. It’s where your story’s conflict comes to a head, and is resolved, either by the hero winning or losing. Is your main conflict resolved? Then there’s your climax. Most stories are quite short post-climax, because the conflict is resolved and there isn’t much left to do. Perhaps there is a secondary conflict to resolve, or some loose ends to tie up. Once your conflict is resolved, the reader looks for the end of the story. The major questions of the story are already answered, after all.

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  22. is climax the situation after which the hero has to go, depart…having exhausted his role?

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  23. You got Freshly Pressed! Congrats my friend! You deserve it!

    Reply
  24. JK Rowling is the master of a good climax. I didn’t enjoy her last book A Casual Vacancy, but the climax was as compelling as her Potter books. She builds tension in a way that I am unable to put the book down. After the climax has reached the pinical, I sigh a breath of relief and am usually satisfied with the ending…usually :)

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  25. I am pretty sure the plural of climax is climaxi.

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    • I don’t think so– climaxes seems to work, while climaxi is wrong on all my spell-checks, Google searches, and dictionaries of various sorts.

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      • Ha, I am not sure why that seemed like such a funny comment to me last night (probably sleep deprivation) but now that I read it in the harsh light of day, climaxi really isn’t amusing at all. I have no real idea what was going on in my head at the time.

      • That’s fine– glad to know you were joking, though.

  26. Can I recommend Martha Alderson’s book The Plot Whisperer? She deals masterfully (and very interestingly) with the differences between the crisis peak and the actual climax of a story, what should be happening at each point, and at what actual place in the story each should occur. She has dissected dozens of books and graphed their action in order to show how many best-sellers or classics actually follow a heretofore unwritten pattern that includes many more peaks than just the classic “triangle graph” climax.

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  27. Reblogged this on Oyia Brown.

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  28. The way I understand it, the climax is that “moment you’ve been waiting for,” that part where all the tension has been leading up to, and the falling action is actually pretty short. For example, in Harry Potter, the climax is at the end of the last book, where Voldemort is defeated by Harry and the Battle of Hogwarts ends. There is little that happens after that. By the way, congratulations on getting Freshly Pressed! :)

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  29. Mr Carmichael thought this post was about something utterly different…..and from my POV great blog titles.

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  30. I think it has less to do with the content of the story, more to do with the pacing and rhythm of your sentences. Look at an Edward P Jones short story, for example. They have no plot, really, but somehow near the end of the story, you get that sense of rising pressure and then release. It’s because of some sort of sorcery he does with his sentences.

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  31. I think the biggest misunderstanding is the assumption that successful stories must conform to a specific structure or shape. The placement of climaxes varies in different genres. Suspense and adventure stories build farther toward the end before climaxing, but comedy often has a big climax somewhere in the middle, and dramedies can go up and down from climaxes of various sizes. Shakespeare generally puts climaxes near midpoint in the dramas and histories, and later in the comedies. It also depends on what you want to achieve with a story. Sometimes the entire intent, especially in short stories, is to beguile the reader with a mood that misleads or intoxicates. Sometimes you may intentionally avoid resolutions!

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    • Indeed. My point in wanting to learn about this diagram was not to write good stories, but to analyze them. I realize that some stories just refuse to be analyzed, but I figured I’d better learn what the popular structure is so I’m not fooled later on. Thanks for the help!

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  32. Sorry, Old School crusty writer here… if there is no plot, there is no story. If there is no story, then all you have is a pile of mood. A pile of mood is not a story, and generally not worth reading unless they are telling you something important. In which case, it’s not a story but an editorial, or an excessively lengthy essay.

    The trouble with the climax, is, I think, that a writer spends the rest of the entire book worrying about plot. The climax is when the plot breaks free and shatters, and suddenly, mood is everything. This totally contradicts the way one wrote the entire rest of the book to date. In the beginning, the rule was that mood was what keeps the story consistent and balanced (in the direction of building tension), but not to be, under any circumstances, overused.

    It’s like that point in real life where your mind is reeling to keep up with reality. Everything feels, in a sense, unreal, because things happen too fast to really process until it’s over. In my mind *that* is the definition of a climax. You (as your character(s)) experience a point, where the pace abruptly changes, and things happen too quickly, and you do things too quickly to really process them, because you have been pressed to your limit. This, as Sun Tzu used to say, is the true measure of a character.

    I have to admit, I don’t really believe in mapping things out. I try to mold my tension to mirror the way an accident happens in real life. I reflect on how I experience it, I assert that it is likely (with variations, of course) that this person would experience it in a way that is globally relatable to my own experience, or how I’ve heard others describe that pinnacle of terror or sudden life changer in their own lives. It may amuse you to note that I don’t generally write horror, but find the framework for dramatic tension to be useful.

    I try to stay away from over-thinking these sorts of problems, because I will create lots of pretty diagrams but no real progress in my story. At the end of it all, you want to conform to reality as a model for the experience of events, not someone’s theory. Theories can be useful for looking at how tension can best be expressed for different kinds of stories, but, in the end, it’s all just philosophy if it doesn’t feel real.

    I will also point out that a lot of writers resolve the tension too quickly, which can turn a memorable book into a faintly frustrating one. The frustration and disappointment stemming from the reader’s determination that the writer has no soul or any real connection to the story. He can tie things up, so he does. This overrides whatever admiration one might have had for him.

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    • Thank you so much! That definition of climax makes infinitely more sense. The climax is where everything is happening too fast to understand, and the falling action is where things start to slow down and we see how all the loose ends tie up. But I agree, sometimes the tension isn’t sustained for long enough and it makes a worse story.

      Thank you!

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      • It’s actually more than that. Yes, you want the tension sustained until the character is pushed beyond his limits, but you also want there to be enough time for the reader to recover from the climax. This way, the reader can become re-oriented to the “new normal” before closing the cover.

      • Yes. And that is the falling action and conclusion as well, yes?

    • “A pile of mood is not a story”

      Beautiful. Thank you for that. :)

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  33. One last thing… you are a fan of Beethoven. There you have a perfect picture of what a climax is– every movement in the 5th Symphony has one. If you want it more closely associated with a story, check out Hector Berlioz. Yes, he’s mostly known (sigh) for his opera, but opera is all about tension and has well demarcated climax points. However, _Symphony Fantastique_ is a bit less… contrived than your standard opera, yet you can _feel_ the plot in the music. As an added bonus, it’s all instrumental!

    There is a great climax point in the second to last movement, which focuses on a “witches’ sabbath”. :) I like Phil Norton with the London Symphony (EMI), and the free version you can find on line where everything is written in French, not the one subbed in English. You can find it (and many other wonderful things) through classicalcat.com

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  34. I think that things start evening out immediately before the hero succeeds and before the falling action, as it keeps you alive and aspired. What do you think?

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  35. In 451 the protagonist Montag murdering his captain Beatty is the climax. Everything before leads up to it and everything else afterwards is about the unfolding of that event. Falling action is short as it is the direct result of the climax, but is absolutely must ring true.

    Reply
  36. I learned the structure diagram the way you did. That said, when I write a novel or short story, the climax is usually nearest the end and is a much more intense “fight or flight” moment for my MC. In this last novel, the MC was involved in a physical altercation with the violent antagonist barely 4 chapters from the end of the novel. I view that as the climax of my novel. It’s the point where my character has to “put up or shut up”.

    Reply
  37. In a 90 minute/page movie, the climax comes on page 75! But if you are writing a novel, just write. Don’t let rules about structure hold you back. Dumas didn’t, as you noted. Monte Cristo was a rule-busting novel if I’ve ever read one. God knows Proust didn’t adhere to any specific structure. Unless you are writing a made-for-TV movie, throw everything out and spin the story like you’re telling it out loud to a sleepy child.

    Reply
    • AARGH! It’s not your fault, but I’ve heard that in a 90 minute movie, the low point is at page 75! And according to all this discussion, the low point is not the climax! Blargh. I’m sorry– perhaps I’m confusing things.

      But you’re completely right. Diagrams cannot be used to plot stories– only to analyze them, and Monte Cristo is one of those books that is so great that it can’t be analyzed.

      Reply
      • The low point is way before the climax. But it depends on the genre of the movie. In an action film, you fight the villian three times. At the low point, he beats you really badly (the second time you fight him — the first time was around page 30). That second fight is around page 50. Then you regroup and kick his ass on page 75 – 79. See how lame this all is? You must free yourself of this crap in order to write!!!! Unless you are writing Die Hard 5 (or is it 6?). Not to sound pouncy, but did you read Monte Cristo in French or English? I read it in French and think much was lost in translation. Never mind! That did sound awful…I really wish I could read Russian because I just KNOW those Russian novels would be way better in Russian. But funny alphabets are my downfall. Can’t do them.

      • I’m not trying to write anything with a formula, because I can’t! I’m trying to use this stuff to analyze, and the only reason I’m learning this diagram in the first place is that it’s required for my English class. I’d never write using a formula.

        Yes, I did read it in English because I’m not gifted in languages other than English and Latin. I still think it was a great story, though.

        Thank you!

      • I used to read Latin and I feel bad all the time that I can’t any more…If it’s for English class, just do whatever the teacher says the structure is. If I’d done more of that when I was younger, I would have gotten much better marks in school. :) I didn’t realize how fragile teachers’ egos were and how in need of massage.

      • Indeed. Feed them twice daily and they’re happy.

  38. I didn’t understand a word you said. Thanks for entertaining me while you did that.

    Reply
  39. Bernardo Sulzbach

     /  December 12, 2012

    The climax is itself.
    It is not the most normal thing to say – or to write – but I usually prefer what happens after the climax.
    The “fall”, the “climb-down” or whatever you want to call it, is like if it was a roller-coaster of rationality, used to write (or depict) neither the climax or a static description.
    It is when the adrenaline starts to stop and the amphetamine starts to appear. You “light up” to who was the criminal or you finally start fitting the pieces together (if the story has more than one climax). You can even start crying or make your belly hurt of laughter, it depends on what was the climax.
    It may also be when you start to love a character or to declare – sometimes subconsciously – your hate to one of the characters.
    I’d like to put the climax as what I expect and wait for and the post-climax as what I like the most.

    Reply
  40. The climax is where the plot leads, the pay off. It’s like a journey. For example, if you are walking from San Francisco to Key West Florida, along the way you are going to have some problems/conflicts: shoes wear out, you get blisters, you sprain an ankle, get robbed, food poisoning, thirst, etc.

    Once you reach your destination in Key West there is usually one more conflict to face, the climax, and surviving that conflict (or not surviving it) is the climax of the journey, the story.

    Without the conflicts leading to the climax, be they external or internal conflicts, the story would be dull.

    How the character or characters react, behave and think, during each conflict leading to the conclusion and/or climax helps develop the characters into believable people and as those characters travel from point A to point B we see, hear, touch and smell the settings.

    The journey could take place in one room while sitting on a toilet contemplating suicide or span the globe as a mountain climbing adventurer. The climax for the guy sitting on the toilet would be suicide or life. The journey would be the reasons he is considering suicide. For the mountain climber, the journey is the challenge to reach the top of Everest and the climax is reaching the top or dying before reaching it.

    In addition, how we describe each setting during the story also contributes to the development of the characters and the conflicts that culminate with the climax.

    Reply
  41. Congrats on being freshly pressed… u know I went through all ur comments… Awesome analysis on the CLIMAX … wow… I truly enjoyed reading your post and these follow up comments… I appreciate your honesty and your zest to learn man… wow. too good… keep it up… though every one has answered accurately one thing I would like to add … in many a movies the whole character of the Hero changes after the Climax … or the moment when the truth is disclosed is also the climax… as in Life of Pi … the character changes the meaning of all in seconds….
    In Aslan’s case when he appears that in itself is the Climax…Oh wat sigh of relief … as we know that he will win the battle and kill the White witch and the battle is the falling action… like in Gladiator … The last journey of Maximus … through the burnt village … the fields … to his family is the falling action… the Climax is over…
    Pins n needles is what the Climax is…
    And WoW is wat ur Post is… !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Reply
  42. docparadigm

     /  December 13, 2012

    There’s a lot here, so pardon me if I’m repeating what someone else has already stated. The climax, as I’ve always been taught, is the resolution of the main tension of the story. The White Witch is the main threat to Narnia and the children, so her defeat is the climax of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

    More complex stories can actually have several climactic points for each plot thread through them. Take the original Star Wars trilogy. The overall story was of the conflict between a father and son. Each individual film has its own climax (the destruction of the Death Star for A New Hope and Return of the Jedi, and the rescue and escape from Bespin). The overarching story is resolved when Vader kills the Emperor. The father is redeemed and reconciled with his son. The character moments you mentioned yourself are smaller achievements for the individuals, not the the story itself. The climax can just as easily be failure as success. (Han is frozen in carbonite and flown away by Boba Fett).

    Reply
  43. I’m stuffed with literary sustenance. You guys inadvertently gave me some if lots to think about, thanks!

    Reply
  44. The climax is the big fight. The falling actin is the result … Win or lose.
    Does this help?

    Reply
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