A good climax can leave you breathless. The best climaxes can make you weep just thinking about them. And without a climax, the most epic story is just unsatisfying. But despite all the hype, a climax is simply the release of the tension you have built up throughout the novel—one perfectly logical step at a time—by way of literary foreplay.
In a short story, this means each detail is used to add to the suspense. In a novel, on the other hand, suspense is built through a series of tension-building scenes and turning points that tease the reader with the possibility of release. All this builds up, in your traditional fantasy, to an epic clash between good and evil, like the classic battle between the White Witch and Aslan at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.
Of course, climatic battles are only the beginning where literary climaxes are concerned. But no matter what form your climax takes, when done properly, it’s the snowflake that starts the avalanche, releasing all the tension that built up over the course of the novel in a thrilling, pulse-pounding scene... just as when done poorly, it’s a fizzled disappointment that can ruin the whole experience of the book. There’s nothing like practice to perfect your climaxes, but here are few tricks that should help you keep your climaxes tense, exciting, and ultimately satisfying.
1. Employ Foreplay
The chilling short story “The Lottery” is one of the best examples of literary foreplay I’ve ever read. Each detail builds the mood, mystery, and suspense: the stones the boys collect, the whispers of the girls, the carnival atmosphere, the crumbling black box no one replaces for tradition’s sake, and the ceremony most have forgotten—which leads to the climax no one can forget. The foreshadowing is so deft that even after we know who has been chosen, we do not know what it signifies—we merely know it is important—until the end. A climax like that leaves readers thinking about a story for years to come.