by Shreeya
(Natick, MA, USA)

Question: Ok, so I'm only 13 years old, and a first time writer. I'm currently planning out my book, with the plot outline, and ending and all that stuff. I just can't seem to get the climax. I know the climax is when the protagonist and antagonist face each other, and it's important to the story, but there are so many moments in my book that could be potential climaxes, it's hard to choose which one is the most climatic. It would be great if I could have some advice. Thanks!

Answer: Actually, the original definition of a climax is the point of highest tension or the major turning point of a story. (In ancient Greek, the word 'climax' referred to a ladder, so the climax of a story was like the top of a ladder, after which it was all downhill.)

I'll walk you through how this works, but I apologize ahead of time if it seems a little complicated. (You may want to draw a timeline for your story.)

Aristotle, the Greek scholar who first talked about story structure, identified three major turning points in a story...

* The inciting incident: the event that begins the story.

* The climax. In a tragedy, this is the point where everything starts to go wrong for the protagonist. In a story with a happy ending, this is where things start going right.

* The catastrophe or resolution. This is the event that determines once and for all whether the outcome will be tragic or happy. (Obviously, 'catastrophe' refers to tragic stories where the hero usually dies in the end.)

The problem is that, in many stories, the tension often feels higher at the resolution (near the end) than at what Aristotle called the climax, which usually occurs 2/3 of the way through. This created a lot of confusion because some people started calling the resolution the climax. What Aristotle called the climax became known as the crisis.

Dramatica (the best story model I know) actually describes five major turning points in a story (which it calls "drivers"). It's a four-act model, with a driver at the beginning and end of each act. Here's what they are (with the acts in between)...

Initial driver (inciting incident): the event that starts the story by creating a new goal, threat, or opportunity.


Second driver: an event that sends the protagonist in a new direction. You can think of this as the point where the protagonist starts on his quest.


Third driver: sometimes called "the point of no return." This event begins the build towards the crisis. It's when things get serious.


Fourth driver (crisis): this is the major turning point (Aristotle's 'climax') where the protagonist's fortunes change direction. If the hero was losing ground up to now, it's at this point that he takes control of the situation.


Fifth driver (catastrophe, resolution): this is the event that decisively determines the outcome. In many stories, this is the final confrontation in which the villain is defeated. Often now, this is now called the 'climax,' because the tension is highest. However, it depends on the story. In some stories, the villain may be defeated at the fourth driver but the fifth driver will be when the story problem is actually solved.

In addition, there can be many smaller turning points or events in each act. In fact, a good way to think of a story is as a series of events all linked by cause and effect. The drivers are simply the most noticeable changes in direction.

On top of all this, some major throughlines can have their own crisis. For instance, the main character often has a personal crisis where he/she decides whether or not to change his approach. If there's a romance going on, the relationship will usually experience a crisis in act three (followed by a miraculous save in act four).

These secondary crises can also be mistaken for the climax, depending on how much emphasis they are given.

Hope that's not too confusing.

Comments for Climax

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Sep 18, 2015
by: Shreeya

WOW, thank you!This actually helped a lot, and got me thinking. So the climax is actually that moment when the protagonist wins, and the antagonist loses (or the other way around), that moment when things change for the protagonist. Then, the falling action, or remaining Acts, are the result of this, and then the resolution. Am I correct? Again, thank you SO MUCH!!!

Sep 18, 2015
To Shreeya
by: Glen

Here's how I think of it in a heroic story...

The crisis is the moment when things are at their worst, so the hero is forced to switch to the winning path. This occurs 2/3 of the way through.

The climax is when the hero's ultimate victory occurs. It is near the end.

For example, in The Hunger Games, Katniss experiences her low point or crisis right after Rue's death. Then with the change in the rules, she realizes her hope lies in helping Peeta recover, because together they stand a chance. The climax is their near suicide which brings the ultimate victory.

In Star Wars: a New Hope, the crisis comes when the heroes face certain death in the garbage masher, and Luke figures out how to get them out (his first success as a hero). But the climax is when he fires the torpedos that destroy the Death Star, thus ending the threat.

The terms "falling action" or "unraveling" make more sense when applied to tragedies, because in a tragedy, everything after the crisis is downhill for the protagonist.

In story that ends in victory, what happens after the crisis feels more like a race to the finish line.

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