Story Structure: How to Write the Climax [Novel Boot Camp #8]

Most writers are familiar with the basics of the novel’s climax – it is the final showdown, the moment the character succeeds or fails. In this video I discuss how to write a strong climax that ties together your novel and creates a satisfying ending for the reader.


Video Highlights

  • The climax is all about rewarding the reader for having stuck around on this journey with your protagonist.
  • The character arc should be completed in a final act of sacrifice, of overcoming a flaw, or of letting go of a false belief.
  • The skills, allies, and/or information gained throughout the novel should be put to use.
  • The protagonist should have a moment of facing down the antagonist entirely on his/her own, even if it is just a single moment within a larger battle.

Questions to Ask About Your Novel

1. Is there payoff for the reader during the climax?

Your climax should tie together what the character has learned throughout the novel. If the climax doesn’t require the protagonist to use any new skills, information, or allies, it’s likely to feel weak or unsatisfying. The reader should have the impression that the character couldn’t have succeeded at the climax earlier in the story because they didn’t have the skills, allies, or information to make it possible.

2. Does the protagonist complete his/her character arc?

The protagonist should demonstrate growth during the climax. This often takes the form of a personal sacrifice or even the loss of the initial goal/objective. The character might learn that what they initially wanted is bad or not beneficial and they may willingly give up their initial goal. They might also give up their goal as a byproduct of doing the right thing (such as saving a life or being honest). The strongest climaxes tie this sacrifice to a character arc that has its roots set down in the first quarter.

If you have any questions about writing the climax, please post it in the comments below.


Comment Question: Did you know how your novel was going to end when you started writing or did you figure it out as you went?

Workshop #1 critiques will be posted later today and every day this week. If you didn’t get a chance to submit last week, the submission form is still open!

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10 thoughts on “Story Structure: How to Write the Climax [Novel Boot Camp #8]

  1. Jutta says:

    Brilliant, as usual! Complex issues broken down into bits of simple advice that every writer can follow. (Keeping in mind that making it look so easy… is exactly what is so hard to do.)

  2. Brett Mumford says:

    In general, I knew how I wanted the novel to climax. The specifics have become more clear as the novel has grown. I ended up doing a massive rewrite on it about half way through that had major changes to the flow of the novel…and that resulted in a more logical and detailed climax I think. Though my climactic event is not meant to resolve the issue completely so much as introduce the possibility of a much larger issue.

    Your statements in this video do go a long way to helping to solidify my understanding of the flow of the book. I wouldn’t have thought in terms of 2% when thinking of the placement of the climactic events, but once you say it, it makes it a lot easier to visualize the pacing of the novel.

  3. Bjorn Schievers says:

    I always think plots, plots, plots. So even though some things have changed or moved within the story structure I knew exactly where and how the story would end. I have a rather detailed history of my world and a bunch of maps.

  4. Nicole L Ochoa says:

    I am in the process of tweaking my climactic moment. It’s a much harder thing to write than I thought it would be.

    On a side note, I went and watched Tarzan today and spent the whole time identifying plot points and analyzing the timing of the movie…will I ever be able to watch a moviemaker a normal person again? BTW, I loved it.

  5. Sophie-Leigh says:

    Thanks so much for all the videos, Ellen! I’m working on the plot of my novel and feel that I can make it tighter with your suggestions.

  6. Pam Portland (@TruckingWriter) says:

    With my previous two works, I knew exactly where the climax was leading the story. This time, not so much. I think if the girl gets the boy, it’s a dull ending, although it completely changes what the protagonist thought was her goal. I think if the girl reaches her goal, it’s a better ending. I’m under the impression, though, that there’s a third door and I’d like to see what’s inside it.

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