A great book with a bad climax is like a joke with no punch line: it leaves readers with a bad taste in their mouths and a reluctance to indulge you further. An average book with a fantastic climax, on the other hand, can turn even the most reluctant readers into die-hard fans.
Such is the power of the climax: they make or break books. They are, in some ways, the whole point of the book, as every torment you put your hero through, every obstacle they have overcome, every creative horror they’ve faced, leads up to that singular point. And the fulfillment of all that ink, sweat, and tears is left dependent on just one thing: your climax.
For such an important part of a story, I can think of no one more qualified to speak to it than New York Times best-selling author Troy Denning. Best known as the author of countless Star Wars books, such as the acclaimed Star by Star and Invincible--which in itself is the epic climax of a series--Troy Denning has written in such dark and imaginative worlds as Dark Sun, Planescape, and the Forgotten Realms. His mastery of tension and emotion has kept readers up late into the night for more than twenty years, and there’s a reason for such fierce loyalty: his writing is complex, suspenseful, and builds to a perfect climax, time after time.
1. What are the goals of a climactic scene, and what makes for a memorable climax?
The way to build a powerful literary climax is to build suspense. Suspense creates tension; the release of tension creates pleasure. That’s the key to memorable climaxes--and to holding reader interest.
That being said, I don’t think of climaxes as single scenes, but as major building blocks in a story’s structure. Climaxes are the high points in the story, where the protagonist’s efforts to solve his problem reach a crescendo, and where he learns something from his efforts that will change his approach to solving the problem the next time.