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Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 14: The Climax

Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 14: The Climax

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Published by K.M. Weiland
In character arcs, as in plot, the Climax is the dot on the end of the exclamation point.
In character arcs, as in plot, the Climax is the dot on the end of the exclamation point.

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Published by: K.M. Weiland on May 18, 2014
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In character arcs, as in plot, the Climax is the dot on the end of the exclamationpoint. The Climax is the reason for the story. This is where the author revealswhat the journey the character just endured was really all about—and, in apositive change arc, why that journey has turned out to be worth all theheartaches and trauma.Most important to our discussion, the Climax is where your character proves thathe really is a changed person. Your readers have witnessed his evolution.They’ve seen him get shaken up when he was kicked out of his Normal World.They watched his desperate reactions as he tried to regain his footing in theFirst Half of the Second Act. They saw his revelation at the Midpoint, and hissubsequent transition away from his Lie and toward the Truth. They saw him acton the Truth at the Third Plot Point—and pay the price for doing so.Now, approximately halfway through the Third Act, the conflict has revved to thepoint where a confrontation must happen between the protagonist and theantagonist. If the protagonist is to have any chance of winning that conflict, hemust prove he is able to stick with the Truth for the long haul. If he can’t gatherall the lessons he’s learned throughout the story and hang onto them now, whenthe pressure is greatest, then all will be lost forever.As you consider what has to happen in your character’s arc in the Climax, keep inmind the following structural guidelines for your plot as well:* The Climax is a scene or series of scenes that forces the protagonist to facethe main conflict in a decisive confrontation.* The Climax brings the primary conflict to a resolution in a way that fulfills thebook’s every promise, while still surprising readers in pleasant ways, becausenot every bit of what happens is what they could have predicted.* The Climax begins near the 90% mark in your story and ends right before thefinal scene or two.* The Climax will sometimes be divided into two climaxes (the first of which isknown as a “faux climax”), depending on how complex the conflict is and howmany antagonists the protagonist must confront.
Creating Stunning Character Arcs, Pt. 13: The Climax
The Climax
We closed out our discussion of the Third Act by mentioning the renewed attackupon your character’s new paradigm (i.e., his embrace of the Truth). Althoughthat renewed attack can take place entirely before the Climax (as it does in
 when St. John tries to prevent Jane from returning to Thornfield), moreoften than not, this psychological attack will continue right into the Climaxitself. In
The Writer’s Journey 
, Christopher Vogler explains:The psychological meaning of such counterattacks is that neuroses,flaws, habits, desires, or addictions we have challenged may retreatfor a time, but can rebound in a last-ditch defense or desperateattack before being vanquished forever.
Timing the Final Rejection of the Lie Your Character BelievesRejecting the Lie in the Climax
Depending on the nature of your story, and particularly how closely the exteriorconflict with the antagonist is related to the character’s internal conflict, thecharacter may not throw off this assault until the Climactic Moment itself. Theantagonist may batter the protagonist with the Lie, hammering at the newlyhealed skin that’s formed over this old wound. This is the protagonist’s weakpoint, and the antagonist knows it.Placing the renewed attack and the final rejection of the Lie and embrace of theTruth in your Climax allows you to harmonize your exterior and interior conflicts.It also ups the stakes and the tension. Readers sit on the edges of their seats,chewing their nails, because they know full well that if the character can’tcomplete his arc right now, the antagonist will destroy him.However, harmonizing the two conflicts also has its downfalls. Because theClimax is such a busy section of your story, you won’t always have the time andspace to logically complete your character’s arc at the same time as he’s battlingthe antagonist. A saber duel to the death isn’t usually conducive to involvedexistential decisions.
Rejecting the Lie Before the Climax
Depending on your story’s pacing, you may decide your best choice is to haveyour character face and defeat his Lie for this final time before he charges intothe Climax. At this moment, your character will reject the last remnants of doubtabout the Lie and step forward to claim the Truth. He is, at last, completelycentered—and, as a result, completely empowered to face the antagonist. He istransformed.
The Climax begins as the character acts upon his new Truth, finally and fully. Bythis point, the character should be finished with all lengthy internal pondering.The uncertainty that remains now is more about the ramifications of his newTruth (will it let him defeat the antagonist? or will it get him killed in theprocess?) than his own inner choices.Whatever you decide, keep in mind Jordan McCollum’s advice in
Character Arcs
:One of the biggest things to watch out for with this type of ending ismaking sure that the character learns her lesson very close to thisclimax. If these events occur too far apart, the causal link betweenlearning the lesson and the ultimate success at the climax isweakened. If it’s possible to make the final choice in learning thelesson coincide with the climax instead, that helps to prevent thetiming problem.
The Climactic Moment
The Climactic Moment is the climax within the Climax. It’s the single momentthat resolves the story’s overall conflict. In identifying your Climactic Moment,look for (or create) the one scene readers have been waiting for from thebeginning of the story. The bad guy dies. The hero proposes. The girl gets the job she’s been after.The conflict ends because the protagonist has finally conclusively destroyed theantagonistic force. The obstacle between him and his plot goal disappears. Thisdoes not, however, mean that the character necessarily gets the Thing HeWants. Positive change arc stories are primarily about the character finding theThing He Needs.As such, by the time he reaches his plot goal, the goal itself may havecompletely transformed, so that he no longer desires the Thing He Wants. (InClarence Brown’s
National Velvet 
, Mi Taylor has gained self-respect and nolonger wants to steal from the Browns or trade off his father’s name.)Or he may still desire the Thing He Wants, but he rejects it, knowing he can’tpossess both it and the Thing He Needs. (In Sam Raimi’s
, PeterParker rejects the opportunity for a relationship with Mary Jane, because heknows it’s the only way to protect her.)Or his reasons for wanting it may have changed, giving him mixed feelings abouthis victory. (In Jon Turteltaub’s
The Kid 
, Russ Duritz finally gets rid of hisyounger self, only to find that he misses him.)

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