Are All the Pieces in Place for Your Story’s Climax?

The trick to providing readers with a satisfying story Climax is making certain all the pieces are already there.

Stories are like puzzles—giant 5,000-piece puzzles you spread all over your table and spend a year putting together. By the time you only have a handful of pieces left—by the time your story’s Climax is coming into view—the vast majority of your puzzle should be assembled so that readers have all the necessary pieces to see the big picture.

As a reader, nothing is worse than reaching the end of a story, chewing your nails, wondering how the author is going to make all these pieces fit together—only to feel tricked because the author pulled out a brand spanking new piece you’ve never even heard of before.

The best books use foreshadowing to ensure readers have all the pieces going into the Climax. One of those books is Suzanne Collins’s popular The Hunger Games. (If you happen to be the last person on the planet who hasn’t read this book, be warned, spoilers ahead!)

Collins’s Climax involves pulling her main characters out of a certain-death situation, in which they’re being forced to kill each other in a futuristic gladiatorial game. She does a beautiful job of backing the characters up to a wall and seeming to leave them no way out. She could have utilized any number of tricks to save her characters and give readers the happy ending they wanted. But most of these tricks would have been a cheat.

Fortunately, she was savvy enough to know that she could only utilize the tools the story provided her: in this instance, poisonous berries with which the characters could threaten suicide and manipulate their captors. Readers may not have seen this use of the berries coming, but because Collins had already utilized the berries in a previous scene and foreshadowed their lethal potential, the twist in the Climax was a natural outflow of the plot.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you appropriately foreshadowed the solution to your Climax? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. In my opinion, Suzanne Collins had just the right amount of foreshadowing in The Hunger Games. When I read the ending I actually said, “Ooooooh!” because it was a brilliant plan but it didn’t come out of left field–it made sense.

    Foreshadowing is tricky–if you do too much, you give the ending (or whatever twist) away, but if you do too little, your readers will feel cheated because the solution will have seemingly come out of nowhere.

  2. There is nothing more frustrating to me as a reader then getting to the end of the story and going… “What!?!” It can ruin the whole book for me. I talked about this on my blog a few days ago. Love this post by the way!

    Another note on foreshadowing. Books that have really good foreshadowing are a lot of fun to reread. I like going back over and spotting all the little tidbits that lead up to the end. Unfortunately – I am not as good at foreshadowing as I would like to be 🙂

  3. @Ava: Foreshadowing *is* tricky, which is why it’s so impressive to find a book like The Hunger Games that pulls it off so flawlessly.

    @Krista: Big fat “yes!” to the notion of re-readability. I love being able to revisit a story and grin over the clues I didn’t fit together the first time around.

  4. Love the post. Well written foreshadowing can make a book more exciting, but I find it difficult to get it exactly right. I have practiced and rewritten and think I am learning. Reading books like The Hunger Games show all of us what can be accomplished if done correctly. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  5. One of the best ways an author can learn is by the osmotic effect of reading good books. That’s one of the reasons I use the video series as an opportunity to explore what authors do that make their books work – or not.

  6. I must be the last person on the planet who hasn’t read this book, but I’ll add it to my list. I’m always looking for good teaching tools.

  7. I was *almost* the lost person. But I figured I better get it read before the movie comes out next spring.

  8. “One of the best ways an author can learn is by the osmotic effect of reading good books.”

    I don’t necessarily disagree with that, and yet personally I advocate a more explicit method: imitate. In fact, I very strongly advocate it.

    Krista: there are no such things as readers: there are only rereaders.

    Said Nabokov.

  9. I agree – to a point. Imitation can easily be taken too far. How many young authors have gone through a stage in which they tried to sound like Hemingway – and failed? (*raises hand*) Imitation is great, so long as it fosters the author’s growth into his *own* voice.

  10. I love the subtleties of an intricate plot where you can foreshadow a twist without the reader being fully aware of what that actually means for the plot. The one thing I’ve come to notice is that if it’s too subtle most will miss it and wonder where the elements actually came from previously. It’s a delicate balancing act.

  11. I loved the way Collins ended The Hunger Games (although it wasn’t really an ending, merely another jumping off point.) I felt like it was realistic and the berries never gave me pause. It was very logical as a plot choice.

    Also, I’ve just come over here to tell you that I’ve awarded you the One Lovely Blog Award! Congratulations! You deserve it! Details are right over here.

  12. @PW: Writing in general is very much about balance. One piece too much on one side of the scale, and the whole story can be thrown askew.

    @Bailey: Thank you so much! You have just officially made my day. 🙂

  13. First time here, love your blog! Excellent presentation of a key question: foreshadowing is indeed essential to make a book a page-turner…to the last page!

    I’m sorry I haven’t read this book so I can’t tell – but the general ideas, I wholly support them! A plot is indeed a puzzle and when you bring together all the pieces at the end, it is SO satisfying!

  14. Glad you stopped by! It’s nice to “meet” you.

  15. Great point, as always! Even when you want to do a “surprise” ending like that one, you can’t be TOO surprising, or it feels contrived. Great reminder~ :o) <3

  16. I *love* twists at the end of a story. But if an author completely pulls the rug out from under my feet, I’m more likely to be mad at him than impressed. The trick is to fool the reader completely while still leaving all the clues in plain sight.

  17. I really need to give my ending more thought. I hate books that pull something out of a hat at the end. Suzanne Collins really is a master! Also, I love your blog. I just found it and now I’m going to follow you forever.

  18. Thanks for stopping by! The necessity of tying up all the loose ends in the finale is one of the main reasons I’m such a proponent of outlining. If you know how you’re story is supposed to end before you start writing it, it’s much easier to sow in the early foreshadowing.

  19. I stopped reading because I am that last person who hasn’t read The Hunger Games. Lol. However, I read enough to know, I fully agree. I hate when books, or even movies, come out with this…out-of-nowhere trick, as you called it, that allows for the whole story to easily come together. It’s not fair when the reader never had a chance to be part of the resolution.

  20. I was *almost* that last person. Glad I finally made time to read it though. One of the reasons the “pull-it-out-of-nowhere” trick doesn’t work is that it’s an instant suspension of disbelief killer. Readers have to be able to trust that the author will always work within the rules of the story.

  21. I had to get up and look at one of my favorite books, “I Know This Much Is True,” by Wally Lamb. the last line said, “This much, at least, I have figured out. I know this much is true.”

    Ending lines are worth the time! You don’t want your reader to end with, “What??? That’s it??” I hate books that end that way! A good ending line can leave a reader so satisfied– and a bad, oh so restless.

  22. Foreshadowing is very hard to do. I’ve only been able to pull it off once. And that was after going through several drafts…

  23. @Nicole: Satisfied readers are a good thing. Restless readers mean the author is soon to be out of a job!

    @Gideon: Outlines make foreshadowing far easier. I need to do a post on foreshadowing one of these weeks.

  24. I’m working on outlining for my next book.. it sure makes things a lot easier.

  25. Glad you’re finding outlining helpful. It can make all the difference in the writing process.

  26. I Know This Much Is True is one of the only books so far that has touched me on a very deep level emotionally: The narrator’s suffering is described so perfectly that even with my limited life experience, I could relate strongly. It’s daunting in terms of length, but I powered through it half a week, mainly due to the sheer mental impact of the book–I was impossible to distract while reading it and thought about it whenever I wasn’t. It’ll make you think as hard as it makes you want to cry.

  27. I love those long books that are fast reads. They’re usually the most powerful of stories.

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