Read Time: 5 minutes

The climax of your novel or film should provide audiences with both emotional and intellectual satisfaction.

If it serves as a bridge in a series, it needs to make your fans beg for the next installment.

Either way, your goal is delivering a memorable final act.

Get it right, and you’ll inspire five-star reviews, positive buzz, and increased sales across readers and viewers. But miss the mark, and you risk criticism or, worse, indifference.

This article will guide you in producing the climax your audience deserves.

Climax Clarity

Just about any dictionary defines a climax as the turning point of a story where all the conflict, drama, and rising action finally meet.

The word “climax” originates from the Greek word klîmax, meaning “staircase” or “ladder.”

But these definitions don’t pinpoint exactly when a climax should occur in your plotline, a detail often overlooked.

Your climax is both the make-or-break moment in your story and the final payoff for your audience. It’s also the moment they decide whether they’ll follow you into your next narrative.

Ever finish a story and immediately seek out everything else by its creator? Perhaps it was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or The Dark Knight by the Nolan brothers.

Remarkable stories owe their impact to well-crafted climaxes.

Collins and the Nolans earned so much goodwill from theirs that audiences continue to consume their work years later. They honored their audiences with turning points that fully resolved the drama and conflicts established earlier.

That’s your goal when crafting a climax.

Here’s how:

Climax Application

Let’s dissect a climax’s core elements and pinpoint its optimal placement in your narrative.

Aim for the 90% mark.

Here’s some good news: You’re already equipped to write an effective climax. This isn’t mere positive reinforcement—it’s recognizing your experience with the three-act structure.

Think of your climax as the third and final plot milestone, or the ultimate pinch point.

Quick refresher: Pinch points act as narrative milestone markers, strategically placed to highlight your antagonist’s true colors and stakes at hand. While not hard and fast rules, these typically occur around the 38% and 62% marks in your plot, serving as guideposts.

These pinch points do three things:

  1. Showcase the force opposing your protagonist.
  2. Challenge and fuel your protagonist’s drive toward their goal.
  3. Engage your audience through high-stakes conflict, be it emotional or physical.

Your climax, then, should aim for that 90% sweet spot.

Use it as the final and brightest spark, rounding out the overarching tension established by the earlier pinch points. This is where you stage the ultimate showdown between protagonist and antagonist, and yes, only one can emerge victorious.

The key is balance.

A climax delivered too early deflates the tension, but too late, and you risk overwhelming your audience.

The 90% mark sets the stage for a satisfying resolution and leaves room for post-climax effects.

That’s where you get to address the aftermath, because your audience will want to know what comes next.

Pinch Point & Climax Analysis

Let’s take a look at the aforementioned bestselling novel and blockbuster film to see how those master storytellers did it.

The Hunger Games, novel by Suzanne Collins

  • Protagonist: Katniss Everdeen
  • Antagonist: The 74th Hunger Games run by President Snow of The Capitol

1st Pinch (39%):

  • Katniss enters the Cornucopia, faces the other 23 tributes and finally meets the horror of the 74th Hunger Games.
  • She witnesses the first deaths of the Games, and experiences paralyzing fear despite watching no one die that she’s personally invested in.

2nd Pinch (62%):

  • Katniss again faces the terror of the Games as she arrives just in time to watch a tribute kill Rue.
  • Rue was a new ally that Katniss became attached to, and an eerie reminder of her sister Primrose.
  • Katniss shoots an arrow into the tribute who murdered Rue, representing her first official, intentional kill.

Climax (91%):

  • Katniss and Peeta overcome and kill the deadliest tribute (Cato) and wolf-like mutants.
  • Except The Capitol revokes their previous announcement of two winners, compelling Katniss to choose to either kill the person she cares about most in the Games (Peeta) or die herself.
  • Katniss and Peeta decide they’ll both eat toxic berries which forces the Capitol to end the Games with two winners.

Post-Climax (92-100%):

  • Katniss learns her suicide-attempt rebellion upset the The Capitol.
  • Katniss must continue to convince the world that she and Peeta are in love, except Peeta is truly in love with Katniss.

The Dark Knight, screenplay by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan

  • Protagonist: Batman
  • Antagonist: The Joker

1st Pinch (36%):

  • Batman fights The Joker at Harvey Dent’s fundraiser where The Joker threatens Rachel Dawes.
  • The Joker throws Rachel out a window, threatening the life of Batman’s true love and desired future.

2nd Pinch (62%):

  • Batman faces The Joker in the police interrogation room where The Joker reveals he’s captured Batman’s only two hopes in the world (Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent).
  • The Joker forces Batman to choose one to go save, jeopardizing the life of his personal love (Rachel Dawes, his desired future) and professional hope (Harvey Dent, Gotham’s White Knight)

Climax (92% of story):

  • Batman defeats The Joker in hand-to-hand combat after subduing a building full of good and bad guys.
  • Except The Joker reveals that despite his capture, he’ll still be victorious because he pushed Harvey Dent over the edge, threatening the hope, life, and soul of Gotham itself.

Post-Climax (93-100%):

  • Batman deals with The Joker’s revelation as Harvey Dent attempts to kill him and Lieutenant Gordon (Dent already killed five people).
  • Batman stops Dent and decides to accept responsibility for everything Dent did, all to prevent Gotham from imploding, thus earning the title of “The Dark Knight.”

Climax Lucidity

Your audience craves a rewarding apex. You can use the three-act structure to give them what they deserve.

But you must first recognize your climax is the turning point where your audience becomes either a one-night stand or lifelong fan.

Next, craft a climactic battle between your protagonist and antagonist, resolving the tension built during the earlier pinch points.

Finally, position your climax near the 90% mark, leaving room for the aftermath resolution.

Using AI to Craft Your Climax:

Now that we’ve explored the nuances of an epic finale, let’s play with AI.

Use this ChatGPT prompt to shape your climax.

ChatGPT Prompt:

edit text in bold between [brackets] 

You’re a seasoned screenwriter tasked with creating a game-changing climax and two surprising pinch points for my [Insert Your Genre Here] story. The main players are:

-Hero: [Name, Story Goal & Brief Details]

-Villain: [Name, Story Goal & Brief Details]

Focus on these elements:

-Epiphany: What big “aha moment” does the hero experience at the climax?

-Point of No Return: What irreversible decision is made that changes everything?

-Surprise Twists: How can the pinch points catch the audience off guard?

-Emotional Impact: Make sure the key moments stick with the audience.

-Thematic Alignment: Ensure these moments fit with the overall story and characters.

Go Beyond the Norm by:

-Heightening tension through “aha moments” and irreversible choices.

-Challenging traditional story beats with surprising twists.

-Crafting a climax and pinch points that resonate and align with the overall story.

That’s it for this Saturday.

If you’re finding value in TSS, consider sharing it with a fellow storyteller.

See ya next week!

— Dave