Have You Invited Enough Characters to Your Climax

Have You Invited Enough Characters to Your Story’s Climax?

This week’s video talks about which characters need to be present in your story’s climax and how to get them there.

Video Transcript:

Your book’s climax is its big party, and, believe me, it doesn’t pay to be too stingy with the invites. You’re going to want to see as many of your important characters as possible converging for the big showdown, whatever its manifestation. The climax is where you’re going to be tying off all the loose plot threads and creating satisfying endings for all of your characters’ storylines. This means that any and all pertinent characters need to be positioned to make an appearance at your climactic party.

This is something that most modern movies do extremely well. Take a look at just about any big action extravaganza, and you’ll see the tension and the excitement rise as all the important cast members start racing toward the climactic setting. The Avengers is a great and obvious example. On the more classical end of the spectrum, Thomas Hardy’s Return of the Native is another good role model: he brings together his disparate cast of five main characters, along with a good handful of minor characters, in a way that ramps up his climax’s tragic urgency.

However, none of this is to say that your climax has to be packed with characters. If your climax requires the presence of just two characters, then don’t by any means feel you have to add people just for the sake of adding them. That said, it is usually going to be a good idea to gather as much of your cast as possible, as least for the pre-climax scenes. Readers need to sense that all the necessary pieces are accounted for and that as many of the plotlines as possible have been tied off, prior to the climactic moment itself. Once you’ve done that, you then can often pull your protagonist and your antagonist away from the crowd for a private one-on-one that gets to benefit from the urgency of a large cast’s convergence, while still focusing on the conflict that really matters.

Tell me your opinion: How many characters will need to be present in your story’s climax?

Have You Invited Enough Characters to Your Climax

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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. It’s an interesting idea, and one of grace and balance, perhaps.

    I suspect that if a writer examines their story’s arcs, they might gain some insight into who belongs in the climax. Then ask: who needs to be there? Who will add to the emotion? Who will just bog it down? For myself, the more I examine and refine the character arcs, the more people are showing up for the big party.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Excellent questions to ask. The interesting part is that, in asking them, we will often solidify our characters’ reasons for being in the story in the first place – and sometimes end up realizing they don’t have a good reason to be there.

  2. Cool timing! I’m coming up on my (first) novel’s climax and I’m glad to see that I’m on the right track. In writing the story, I have to be honest, my experience with movies has influenced my action scenes a great deal. To see you mention that modern movies do this well reaffirms my fledgling ideas! I’d love to write a real nail-biter and give others the same experience I enjoy so much.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Speaking generally, movies can’t help but influence novelists these days. We live in a tremendously visual age, and most of us are mimicking film making techniques in ours stories, sometimes without even realizing it.

  3. Climaxes. Tricky things, making sure you have enough tension throughout the whole thing and still enough to show at the pinnacle.
    I think I’ll either need one big fat lump of a book or two separate ones for my current story. My problem is making the climax in the first one compelling enough to make the readers read the second. The second is where some major loose ends are tied up, and I want to make sure the first book is good enough to get them there. I have a big nasty family reunion in the last one of an antagonist you see for the first time and my whole cast of characters, save one who died.
    Thanks for this post! Something for me to think about today 🙂

  4. Classical detective stories do this well – the rounding up of all the characters and the big reveal.

    Most of my WIPs have big showdowns with all the important characters present – with both the main plot and the sub-plots being resolved followed by one or two chapters with a more intimate reflective encounters. So I’m glad I’m on the right track.

    Thanks again for a great post.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Classic detective stories aren’t always good models to follow. Usually, if we dig a little deeper, we can drum up a little more suspense and less contrivance.

      • Good point though a good Agatha Christie can be quite suspenseful while modern blockbusters have their own set of stylistic contrivances which can get old at times (I mean how many times can you smash up New York).

        I guess I was thinking of the bringing of the cast of characters together for the climax which you mention in your post. Something that I realised I hadn’t thought about before yet had actually done in my WIPs which is why I appreciated your post. (And I perhaps I should add, I write fantasy not detective novels – so it’s not a model I’m following.)

        • K.M. Weiland says

          True. Every genre has its cliches and contrivances – and we can learn from all of them, no matter our own genres.

  5. K.M.–
    About endings: I love stories that seem over–but aren’t. Movies lead the way for illustrating what I mean. In “Alien,” you think Ripley (Sigorney Weaver’s character) has escaped the space ship before it explodes–and she has. Then comes the shocking second climax: the monster is onboard the escape module with her. In “Terminator,” Arnold S’s machine character must be done, right? Uh oh, not so. I do something a little like this in my mystery, The Anything Goes Girl–but in a subdued way. It occurs after the climax. My main character Brenda Contay is recuperating from surgery. She’s going through all the mail that’s accumulated since the climactic scene that put her in the hospital. She comes across a mailer with no return address–and knows, heart beating out of control, who it’s from.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Faux climaxes can be a ton of fun. They push characters to *really* grow. They think they’ve done all they can do and that the battle is won. But, nope, they still have to dig down to rock bottom to defeat the antagonistic force.

  6. I love writing climaxes. When I get going, that’s when I write the most in a sitting as I’m rolling into the climax as well as in the denoument.

    In my last WIP, I had a lot of periphery characters in my climax, but the core number was five. I expect my next WIP will have a similar number. I honestly can’t think of a story I’ve written with less than three people.

  7. not sure what POV stands for?

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Point of view. It refers to the character through whose viewpoint is the story is being filtered. In other words, the narrating character.

  8. Kay Anderson says

    Nice video post! 🙂 I am myself and just about to reach the big climax in my story. Since it’s a drama, I have quite a bit characters, but they all place a small part in the overall story. There is one main plot and two subplots in the story. Hopefully, it won’t confuse anyone. I try not to by giving a little amount at a time until the whole puzzle is put together.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Choreographing endings can get tricky when there are a ton of characters. I’m never afraid to rewrite mine several times if necessary.

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