31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep: Day 18 – How Do I Write a Gripping Climax?

What better way to celebrate Day 18 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep” than to learn about writing gripping climaxes? So hold on to your subplots and rising action, because today we’re going off with a bang! If you don’t feel like you’re prepared to handle the epicness of today’s topic, that probably means you haven’t read the other seventeen posts in this series. If that’s the case, you can catch up here, or you can check out the corresponding YouTube videos here.

As usual, we’ll start with what a climax is, for those of you who aren’t privy to writing lingo such as this. A climax is the point in your story where everything you’ve been building up to finally comes to a head. This is the explosion we talked about in yesterday’s post. The big BOOM! Basically, it should be the most exciting point in your novel. Let me give you some examples:

A romance novel: After the main couple break up, something happens that forces them to be in the same room, creating the final make or break point for their relationship. Will they get back together, or will they stay broken up? Their choice is the climax.

A fantasy novel: The protagonist comes up against the villain in a final, gripping battle. The odds seem to be in the villain’s favor. Will the protagonist win the fight? The answer is the climax.

A mystery novel: The detective finally has all of the clues, and she’s just pieced them together to figure out who the murderer is. She goes and confronts the murderer, but the murderer has the jump on her. Will she be the murderer’s next victim? The answer is the climax.

As far as what would make a climax gripping, the answer is in the examples I just gave you. It really all depends on the genre and plot of your novel. If you took the romance example and made it the climax of a fantasy novel—so long as it isn’t erotica or romance with fantasy elements, where the main plot of the novel is the relationship—the climax wouldn’t be gripping at all, since that probably isn’t what the reader cares about. This also means that taking the fantasy example and making it the climax of a romance novel wouldn’t work either, not because that climax isn’t interesting, per se, but because, again, that probably isn’t what the reader cares about.

Personally, the climax is the part of the novel I struggle with the most. In fact, in the first draft of The Forbidden Prophecy, which is my soon-to-be debut novel, the climax fell flatter than a pancake. The problem was that my novel was fantasy, yet I hardly utilized any of the magical elements I’d introduced throughout the whole novel. I’d built up the reader’s expectations for some epic magical action scenes, and then I failed to deliver. That, I think, is the best bit of advice I can give you about writing a gripping climax. Whatever you promise you’re going to give the reader, you have to deliver on it.

So, for example, if you’re writing a sci-fi novel and promise your readers an epic space battle full of lazers and spaceships, that’d better be what you give them come climax time. And by saying that you “promised” the reader something, I don’t mean that you physically told them what you were planning to do in your novel. The promise is in the buildup to the climax. It’s in the things you imply through dialogue and gesture and the world that you’ve built. So if you’re not prepared to deliver on a certain type of climax, don’t promise your reader that you’re going to give them that type of climax.

“But how do I deliver on the type of climax I’ve promised my reader?” you ask. “I want my climax to be epic, but I just don’t know how to follow through.” That was the problem I ran into, too. I didn’t want to water down the promises I made to the reader, I wanted to deliver. In the end, one of my solutions was to make the climax as sensory as possible. When you utilize all of the senses, it makes a moment so much more intense. I especially upped my main character’s anxiety levels, which made the climax feel like the make or break moment it really was. For your novel, you may emphasize different senses. If you’re writing a romance novel, maybe you’ll make touch more intense, so that you can describe warm bodies and soft skin. If you’re writing a mystery novel, maybe you’ll make sight more important, so that your protagonist is able to take in the details of their surroundings enough to aid them in their daring escape from the murderer.

My other solution was to introduce more elements of danger in the moments leading up to the climax, since part of the problem was the buildup. The novel had been working toward my climax at a pretty good pace for the most part, but right before the climax it sort of dropped off. It felt like nothing was at stake, like my characters really weren’t risking anything, which was the exact opposite of what I wanted. You need to make sure that it feels like there’s something at stake if your main character doesn’t achieve their goal. It doesn’t have to be life or death, but it should at least be intense.

Also, like I mentioned yesterday, the main plot and subplots should work together to lead up to the climax, making it feel like the culmination of everything that had happened up until that point. For example, let’s look at the climax of the novel Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead (SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t read this book and don’t want to be spoiled, skip to the next paragraph). Richelle Mead actually implemented two climaxes into her novel: The rescue of Lissa from Victor Dashkov, and the fight with Natalie. In both cases, she used her subplots to her advantage, making the main climaxes feel even more impactful because they were accompanied by smaller climaxes. The rescue climax was accompanied by the climax of the mean girl arc with Mia, the climax of the romantic arc between Lissa and Christian, as well as the climax of the friendship arc both between Rose and Lissa and also between Rose and Christian. The final fight climax was accompanied by the climax of the romantic arc between Rose and Dimitri. In both cases, the climaxes felt like rapid fire, which worked to keep the reader’s adrenaline levels high.

As far as how you’ll know that you’ve written a gripping climax… Well, you’ll know. Take time away from your book–a week, at least–and when you come back, if you feel like there’s just something off about your climax, you’ll know it isn’t gripping. If that’s the case, check to make sure that you’re delivering on your promises to the reader, that it feels like there’s something at stake if your main character doesn’t achieve their goal, and that your subplots are working together with your main plot to make your climax as epic as it can be.

That’s all I’ve got for you today! Hopefully you have a better understanding of how you can write a gripping climax and blow the socks off of your readers. Make sure you check back in tomorrow for Day 19 of “31 Days of NaNoWriMo Prep”, because we’ll be learning about breaking your novel into chapters!

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