Anticlimactic Climax? (With reference to The Hunger Games)

by Lux

Hi, I've finally reached the climax of my novel. Your website has helped me a lot.


I've got this thing in my mind where the climax of the novel has to be amazing and perfect. However, I'm worried that my novel's climax is actually anticlimactic!

I've read novels before where the climax was just very bland, unoriginal and predictable. These books I'm referring to have imperfect characters that need to achieve a goal, a build up of tension, suspense and a flashy ending full of action. In fact, they 'should' make great climaxes theoretically.

But...I just finish reading those books not caring about the characters, even throughout the climax.

What makes a climax anticlimactic?
What makes a climax 'forced'?

Because I realize I don't understand the mechanics behind an ineffective climax, I'm worried my own novel has fallen victim to anticlimax.

Thank you.

Response: If you find you don't care about the characters, especially the main character, it may be that the main character's throughline has been poorly developed.

The main character should be someone the reader can empathize with, someone with an inner struggle that the reader can relate to. We care about him/her because we've felt similar conflicts within ourselves. It should also be the kind of dilemma the reader can see as genuinely perplexing. If the right decision is obvious, the reader will just think the main character is an idiot for not making it (as people often do with no less a character than Hamlet).

It's also important that, as the story reaches the climax, the reader has no idea what will happen - what decision the main character will make, if it will be the right decision, etc. An anticlimactic climax is basically one that is predictable. If the reader is pretty certain the prince will slay the dragon and get the princess - because everything seems to be going his way anyway and he has no serious inner conflict - then there's no tension in that crucial moment.

Keep in mind that the real tension is usually not the external conflict, but the inner conflict.

For example, I recently saw the film of The Hunger Games. It doesn't have the best of climaxes, but it could have been much worse.

In that story, we have the external conflict between the kids in which we know that Katniss must eventually deal with Cato and Peeta. Of course the tension builds (via an optionlock) in which the other kids are killed one by one. However, if that had been the only source of tension, the climax would have been easy to predict (and therefore dull).

What makes the climax more interesting and less predictable is Katniss's relationship with Peeta. Again, if it had been a simple love story, the audience could easily predict what choice she would make at the climax. But the relationship is deliberately left unclear. We know Katniss has a boyfriend at home. We don't know whether she actually cares for Peeta or whether it's just something she fakes for the camera, in order to survive. We also don't know if Peeta really loves Katniss or if it is a game he is playing for the same reason. (He has been duplicitous before.)

Will one or both of them kill themselves or the other? It's the not-knowing that makes the climax interesting. You want the readers to be able to see a strong case for the climax going one of two ways (either Katniss or Peeta could die) - and then give them a third possibility they didn't expect but that makes even more sense.

A forced climax is basically one where the writer forces the climax to fit the requirements of the genre or the story form in a way that seems out of step with how the characters' relationships have evolved (or not evolved) over the course of the story. It's as though the writer realized in act three that he needed a happy ending (because all action stories have happy endings, right?), so he takes a left-turn and makes one happen.

That's just lazy writing - a refusal to revise the first part of the book to fit the outcome, or a refusal to break the mold and give the story the outcome that makes sense.

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