(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.