Writing the Climax & Resolution

Anonymous asked: “Lately I noticed that I’ve been having trouble with the scenes leading up to a climatic moment. They just don’t feel climatic enough. Do you have any tips?”

I want to preface this by saying this is not going to be an end-all-be-all on endings or anything remotely like that. It is a few thoughts here and now specifically for this question. Now, let’s get to it. 

What I’ve realized is that a lot of new writers think that the climax is actually the moment where everything get’s resolved but that’s not in my experience true. It’s right before that. It’s the moment where the central conflict that has been driving the story has to be faced head on. It’s the moment where the character makes the decision that will make or break the end – yeah, it’s not just an event, it’s a decision. Usually it’s an action. 

So, a lot of the time when I get this question, the answer is often that the scene didn’t involve any decision on the part of the protagonist. The most memorable endings in my opinion are the ones that require great decisions on the protagonist. 

Like in Casablanca (1942), the ending – it’s not about whether Ilsa chooses Rick or her husband Victor. It’s not her choice. It’s Rick’s. He’s the protagonist. It’s about whether he’ll choose to run away with Ilsa or decide that she should remain with her husband. The ending is about his choice. Not hers. 

I brought up The Hunger Games the other day, but Katniss is a girl of great action. Spoiler alert, I’m talking about the ending. She makes so many choices throughout the series, but at the end of The Hunger Games, the rules have changed yet again and no longer allow for two winners of the games. So she and Peeta are there, told that only one of them is going to walk out of this competition alive. Katniss’s conflict is simple. She wants to walk out of the games alive, but she doesn’t want to compromise her morals to do it. 

Katniss’s decision is to publicly declare that the Hunger Games will have two winners – or none, suggesting that she and Peeta will both commit suicide by poison instead of committing murder – a bold move if I do say so myself. They actually both take poisoned berries, as Katniss planned, showing that they’re going to make good on this promise and in the nick of time are rescued and declared winners. This was a suspenseful scene. Katniss gave the game officials an ultimatum and stuck to her word. 

It’s about facing the central conflict and allowing the character to make a decision about how to handle it so they can finally move past it. 

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