Posted On April 20, 2016 by Print This Post

Writing Climax Scenes by Rayne Hall

RU Contributor Rayne Hall returns to discuss elements you should consider when penning your climax scene.

The main character has just overcome the trials of the Black Moment and the plot races to its conclusion. Now the MC has to face the greatest challenge – perhaps a confrontation with the antagonist – and the tension is so high that the reader perches on the edge of her seat, unable to tear herself away from the story’s action.

This is the big scene the reader has been waiting for, so make sure it meets her expectations – or better still, exceeds them.

Study the climax scenes of bestselling novels in your genre, and use them as inspiration for the structure, content and style of yours.

Here are some tips how to power up your climax scene to keep your reader enthralled.

  • Give it time and space. Don’t rush the climax scene or skip over details. Develop it as a full scene, perhaps the longest scene in the book.
  • Choose an unusual location, preferably one which is weird or dangerous – or both. How about a steep rock face in the mountains, a rope bridge across a ravine, the rooftop of a skyscraper, a derelict amusement park, a raft racing towards a cataract?
  • What lessons has the MC learnt? During the course of the novel, he has grown, overcome bad habits, gained control over his weakness and reconsidered his values. The climax tests this. Has he truly left his old self behind, will he act according to his recently acquired insight, and will his new values stand firm in the face of the challenge?
  • During the climax scene, the MC should come across as honourable, resourceful and brave.
  • Arrange it so the protagonist (main character) and the antagonist (opponent, villain) face each other in a final showdown. If your first draft doesn’t have a protagonist/antagonist showdown at the climax, consider changing the plot to bring one about; readers will love you for it.
  • Emphasise how much is at stake – the MC’s survival, her marriage, her happiness, the life of a child, the safety of her nation, the rescue of an endangered species or world peace. More than one thing can be at stake.
  • Stake the odds against the main character – for example, the opponent is better prepared, and has superior equipment while the MC is unarmed, exhausted, unprepared, perhaps even injured.
  • Throw some surprises into the plot: the arrival of a character who shouldn’t be there, support from an unlikely source, and unexpected obstacles which make the challenge for the MC even tougher.
  • Include a moment of self-doubt when the MC wonders if she is doing the right thing or if she has the courage to follow through on her decision. She may even waver in her resolution and be tempted to return to her old ways. This ‘moment’ adds emotional depth and tension, but should probably be no longer than a paragraph.
  • Does the MC have a special skill? Perhaps he’s a trained acrobat, a champion horse rider, an inscrutable poker player or an ace violinist? Is he good at charming people, or can he remember numbers like no one else? Whatever his special skill, let him use it in the climax scene.
  • Aim to arouse intense emotions in the reader – not just one feeling, but several. The mix of emotions depends on the genre and your individual story. For example, terror is a perfect emotion for the climax of a horror novel, but it would not be desirable in a romance. Excitement is always a good choice when combined with others. Think about the emotions you want your readers to feel during this scene, and then set about arousing them.
  • Make the climax scene as exciting as you can, perhaps even scary. How scary depends on the genre. In a thriller or horror novel, scare your readers to the utmost. But even in a romance, chicklit novel or comedy, it’s worth adding an element of danger to increase the excitement. Perhaps the characters meet in a terrifying location or engage in a perilous activity. If your MC has a phobia, force her to face her fear during the climax. If she has a phobia of heights, make her scale a cliff to rescue the child. If she’s terrified of being underground, locate the climax scene in a deep cave. The reader will feel her fear.

What will happen during your novel’s climax? If you want to share ideas, brainstorm possibilities or ask questions, leave a comment.

***

WritingFightScenes RayneHall Cover 2014-01-07WRITING FIGHT SCENES

“Do you struggle with fight scenes? Has your editor told you the novel is brilliant – except for this part?

Learn step-by-step how to create fictional fights that leave the reader breathless with excitement.
The book gives you:

* A six-part structure to use as blueprint for your scene.
* Tricks how to combine fighting with dialogue
* Information about swords, daggers and other weapons, and suggestions how to write about them

It helps you to decide:

* What’s the best weapon for your character
* Where the scene takes place
* Which senses to use, how and when
* How much violence your fight needs

It shows you, step by step:

* How to write battles, riots, brawls and duels
* How our character can get out of trouble with self-defence techniques
* How to make the reader root for your hero
* Techniques for creating a sense of realism
* How to adapt your writing style to the fast pace of the action
* How to stir the readers’ emotion

***

Bio: Rayne Hall has published more than fifty books in several languages under several pen names with several publishers in several genres, mostly fantasy, horror and non-fiction. She is the author of the bestselling Writer’s Craft series (Writing Fight Scenes, Writing Scary Scenes, Writing About Villains, Writing About Magic and more) and editor of the Ten Tales short story anthologies.

She is a trained publishing manager, holds a masters degree in Creative Writing, and has worked in the publishing industry for over thirty years.

Having lived in Germany, China, Mongolia and Nepal, she has now settled in a small dilapidated town of former Victorian on the Sulu Fight Scenessouth coast of England where she enjoys reading, gardening and long walks along the seashore. She shares her home with a black cat adopted from the cat shelter. Sulu likes to lie on the desk and snuggle into Rayne’s arms when she’s writing.

To learn more about Rayne, visit her website or follow her on Twitter where she posts advice for writers, funny cartoons and cute pictures of her cat.

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28 Responses to “Writing Climax Scenes by Rayne Hall”

  1. Great info! I found myself measuring my latest book by these guidelines. Happy to say it measures up. 🙂 Thank you, Rayne.

    Posted by Kayelle Allen | April 20, 2016, 6:40 am
  2. Good advice! This is pretty much the exact outline I use when plotting climaxes. 🙂

    Posted by Kessie | April 20, 2016, 7:47 am
    • Hi Kessie,
      That’s interesting. Do you plot your climaxes systematically, with a checklist similar to the one I’ve given here? That saves so much rewriting time. I used to just write the climax scenes, and later I had to rewrite the whole final third of the novels because the climaxes did not do the story justice. It was a long and painful learning curve for me.
      Rayne

      Posted by Rayne Hall | April 20, 2016, 2:59 pm
  3. I’m definitely bookmarking this post, and I’ll probably buy the book, too. I know I need help in this area!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | April 20, 2016, 11:45 am
  4. I enjoy reading your posts and look forward to them since I learn so much. Thanks for sharing. This’ll be bookmarked for sure!

    Posted by Mercy | April 20, 2016, 5:02 pm
    • Hi Mercy,
      I’m glad you find you learn from my posts. This year, I’m presenting a series of posts about different types of scenes. I’m thinking of ‘Scary Scenes’ next, and perhaps later Black Moment Scenes, Argument Scenes, Escape Scenes… Are there any specific types of scenes you’d like me to write about?
      Rayne

      Posted by Rayne Hall | April 21, 2016, 2:18 pm
  5. Rayne, you stated that the MC should be portrayed as “honourable, resourceful and brave”.

    My current WiP is a dark drama, and the MC end is not a positive one. I don’t think all stories end happily.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | April 21, 2016, 7:28 am
  6. How can one write a really good climax in a romance novel? Because, when I’m writing mine I always have in the back of my mind a great ending to everything. And the when it comes time to write it, I feel that it’s really watered down and missing all the excitement.

    Posted by Christine Antosca | August 23, 2016, 2:09 pm
    • Hi Christine,

      The problem may be that you’re skipping the climax, and go straight to the ending.

      To add a climax – I suggest 3/4 into the novel – look at all the conflicts you’ve created, and let them escalate at the same time. Inner conflicts, outer conflicts, etc.

      What has kept the couple apart so far? Intensify it. Make it appear like the main character is really losing the love interest character for good.

      Then pile on everything bad you can think – maybe the love interest is getting engaged to another woman. Maybe that other woman is the heroine’s best friend who only seemed loyal.

      Place that climax part in a dangerous location, and your readers will get plenty of excitement.

      Have fun!

      Rayne

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | August 25, 2016, 2:54 am
  7. Dear Rayne

    I’m not really convinced that fear factor during climax is good for every genre 🙂
    I understand that you do not mean “scare to death” fear factor, but even then, I think it’s possible to create expected good ending without scaring the reader.
    For example, surprise factor will work better in some genres, don’t you think?
    Sometimes reader even likes the lack of unexpected. I know people who like to say “I knew it” at the end of the last page 🙂

    Posted by Lilit Galatea | August 23, 2016, 4:02 pm
    • Hi Lilit,

      The fear factor during the climax can take many forms. For example, the main character (and the reader) may fear that she’s about to lose her true love for good.

      Bear in mind the difference between ‘climax’ and ‘ending’. The climax comes before the ending. In the climax, you want the reader to sit on the edge of her seat, biting her nails with suspense. In the ending, you want the reader to relax and heave a sigh of satisfaction.

      I agree, surprise is good, and the climax is a great place to deliver the surprise.

      Surprise is good even in genres where readers like a predictable ending, such as romance. Then you can satisfy the reader with a predictable ending, but first you surprise her with something unexpected during the climax.

      Rayne

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | August 25, 2016, 2:58 am
  8. I think Glynis raised a valid point. What if the main character’s a dick and a half? Admittedly I don’t voluntarily read books like that. Except once. (The Bonfire of the Vanities. Hated it. Hated it so so much. Only got through it by fantasizing an eldritch abomination crawling out of the book and murdering the author, his publishers, his friends, his family, and his dog.)

    I guess I can see why, overall, you’d want your MC to be honourable, resourceful and brave. One of the three, anyway.

    Posted by Aimee Mandala | August 24, 2016, 3:46 pm
    • Hi Aimee,

      You’re the CEO of your fiction, I’m only the consultant. 🙂

      If you want to write about a main character who’s a dick and a half, then do so, and modify my suggestions so they work for your character and your story.

      Bear in mind though, what you don’t enjoy reading you probably wouldn’t enjoy writing, and your readers probably wouldn’t enjoy it either.

      Rayne

      Posted by Rayne Hall (@RayneHall) | August 25, 2016, 3:01 am
  9. Like a lot of people, I do sometimes get confused between the climax and the ending. The climax is where the MC faces her greatest challenge. And hopefully comes out victorious. The main conflict gets resolved.
    So that means the ending is the part where the lose ends are tied up and the new status quo established for the MC?
    How long should the ending be after the climax? Should the climax be in the final chapter or the penultimate chapter?

    Posted by aditya thakur | August 29, 2016, 2:24 am
  10. Now there’s something I haven’t thought about. That part about giving the main character a special skill, something that is uniquely his, that’s writers’ gold. As the story progresses, I think it could even be a good way to introduce the MC without explicitly stating his or her presence. Rayne you have just given me an idea 🙂

    Posted by Shenae Richards | September 1, 2016, 8:47 pm
  11. I would just like to say thank you so much for this post! It has helped me to better my own short stories and create more interest and suspense.

    Posted by ashlee | September 3, 2016, 6:26 am
  12. My favorite climax scene is the one in which K., the main character in the Kafka’s “Castle” tries to confront the Klamm in the court of the inn. Of course, the suspense comes from the narrative so far – K. is desperate to receive some answers. At the end of the scene he did not get any answers – Klamm avoided him – but he received a very important insight about himself.

    I like your suggestions very much, Rayne, but I feel it would be more useful for me if you provide examples with each suggestion. “Stake the odds against the main character – for example, the opponent is better prepared, and has superior equipment while the MC is unarmed, exhausted, unprepared, perhaps even injured.” Like in the final battle scene of the movie “Gladiator.” The emperor stabbed the general-turned-slave Maximus. But he also does it in a way, that makes the wound invisible to the spectators.

    Posted by Nikola Yordanov | July 31, 2017, 3:17 am
  13. I wrote my novel’s climax scene following my intuition. It was an impulse I just followed. But’ I find your guide really helpful. What do you think is the most important thing when writing a climax scene, Rayne?

    Posted by Ralitsa | August 1, 2017, 4:39 am
  14. Rayne,

    These are great pointers, and I can honestly say I learned a lot from reading this. I have always written bouts of free-verse poetry, streams of consciousness, blog posts, and in-depth research articles, so this is all new to me! It is getting me excited to experiment with different styles of writing and pay more attention to these factors in order to capture the readers’ attention more effectively. Did you learn all of these things through formal education? Or primarily through your many years of writing? Thank you for sharing this!

    Posted by Dylan Hunter | August 4, 2017, 8:00 pm
  15. This will definitely come in handy when writing my future climax scenes! I’ve never used a systematic list like this to refer to, but I know it will be convenient. Thanks so much Rayne!

    Posted by Shelby Dowden | August 6, 2017, 1:12 pm
  16. Rayne
    Thank you for these great tips. I have always loved the tension and the element of surprise present in climax scenes. Any tips for twisting a scary scene into a climax scene?

    Posted by Victoria | August 8, 2017, 12:18 pm
  17. Obviously it is very important to have an opposition to the MC that will drive him/her forward, but is it paramount to be a showdown with the antagonist? Is it possible to be a situation where the MC needs to overcome his/her greatest fear or to face an impossible truth? Or are these situations meant to propel the MC to the final showdown?
    Also, if we are planning a sequel to our book, can we afford the climax scene to be anticlimactic? For example the MC suffering defeat, which reveals to him/her a more profound challenge or meaning?

    Posted by Vesso | August 9, 2017, 6:29 am
  18. This is so helpful, thanks Rayne! I think that the hero-villain part is really important. I have read books in which the main character does not have an opposition in the face of a villain and I disliked that. It is great you mentioned it!

    Posted by Mark Johnson | August 9, 2017, 12:16 pm

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] * At the end of the Black Moment, either as part of the same scene or in a separate scene, something happens that convinces her that she must make one more attempt. She rallies her last ounce of strength and courage, re-commits to the cause, and gets ready to try once more. (This final attempt, in which she risks everything, will be the book’s climax. For tips on writing the climax scene, see this blog post.) […]

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