STORY ESSENTIALS #7: The Climax
This series reveals what I consider to be the ESSENTIAL components of any great story. These are the principles you must master if you want to impact people’s lives – and increase your revenue – whether you’re creating a film, TV episode, novel, non-fiction or instructional book, speech, webinar, blog or sales pitch.
Let’s talk about sports….
I know, this is supposed to be about storytelling, but bear with me – even if you have no interest in sports at all – because this will make a big difference in your own scripts or novels or speeches or webinars.
Last weekend I was watching golf, specifically the annual Travelers Championship, a tournament that has been around for years and always includes some of the top players in the game.
During a lull in the play (you may be thinking that golf is nothing but a big lull, but I don’t care – it’s my favorite sport), there was a segment where CBS had asked viewers to choose their single favorite moment from past broadcasts of this same tournament. Among the four finalists, one had the all-time low score (58) for 18 holes, another had the 9-hole record, and one shot 7 birdies in a row.
But far and away the favorite choice (60% of the 2535 votes) was in 2017, when Jordan Spieth, in a sudden death playoff, had hit his ball into a deep greenside bunker, and at that point seemed destined to lose. But he took his stance, stared at the hole, stared back at his ball, and then blasted it out of the sand.
The ball arced over the edge of the bunker, landed on the green, got closer and closer to the target as it rolled toward the hole, and then finally dropped into the cup. And in that moment Jordan Spieth won the tournament.
The crowd leapt to its feet with a huge roar, Jordan hurled his club in the air, then ran to his caddy and almost knocked him over with a huge chest bump to celebrate his amazing victory. It truly was an exciting event.
But since watching that scene unfold, I’ve been thinking about why almost 2/3 of the thousands of people who responded to the survey chose that particular event.
Certainly it was an amazing shot, but even more unbelievable shots are hit every day in every televised golf tournament.
And some of the reason has to be that Jordan Spieth is a very successful golfer with a huge number of fans. But the same can be said about at least a dozen other top golfers, including some who were finalists in this same survey.
So why was this one selected?
The answer is pretty simple. With this single shot, Jordan won the tournament. Everything this hero had struggled and strived for was resolved the instant he sunk that shot.
It was the CLIMAX of this story.
The other candidates had outstanding achievements, but none of them culminated in a single amazing shot that gave them their victory. That is what made Jordan Spieth’s achievement so emotional and unforgettable.
So it is with your own stories. You must provide your audiences and readers with a climax – a peak emotional moment that ends your hero’s quest and resolves their visible goal once and for all.
Just as with sports broadcasts, in almost all successful movies, romance novels, business stories, sales pitches and speeches, the climax scenes are moments of victory.
If we’ve been watching, listening to or reading your story, we have empathized with your hero since he was first introduced. We have become invested in the outcome of the journey he’s on, and in the goal he desperately wants to achieve.
Now we want to see your hero cross the finish line. We want to celebrate his victory – with cheers, or tears, or deep feelings of success and fulfillment.
If your story lacks a clear, visible climax, you’ve robbed us of that peak emotional experience we’ve been hoping for and anticipating.
Even in stories where a hero fails to achieve the ultimate goal, we still want to see that story resolved. We need to see the impact that climax has on your hero, so we can take away some greater understanding of what it means to be human, and how we might live better.
Once you’ve established the climax of your story, you can add to its impact in several ways:
- Be certain that your HERO is the character who wins the competition, conquers the villain or achieves success, and not some other character stepping in to rescue your hero or save the day.
- Let the climactic moment be witnessed by other characters in your story. They will then mirror and inflate the emotion your audience is feeling. Think of how the crowd going wild, as they watched Jordan’s ball drop into the cup, made that moment a so memorable.
The same contagious emotion is felt in the movie NOTTING HILL, when the auditorium full of people cheer and applaud Willam (Hugh Grant) after he declares his love for Anna (Julia Roberts), and she accepts.
Or consider the added emotion when the entire courtroom witnesses Lt. Caffey (Tom Cruise) getting Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicolson) to admit he ordered the code red in A FEW GOOD MEN.
- Never immediately cut away from that big moment at the climax of your story. Give your audiences or readers time to experience and absorb the emotion you have elicited so powerfully.
But more than all of these techniques, the most important consideration when creating the climax of your story is this: you must define the climax when you begin writing (or at least rewriting) your story.
The climax is the resolution of your hero’s outer motivation, the visible goal she’s been pursuing since the beginning of Act 2 (if your writing a screenplay or novel), or the beginning of the Pursuit (Step 3 if you’re following my 6-Step Success Story process for speakers and business leaders). And you have to envision what that climax will be in order to clearly establish your hero’s goal in the minds of your readers and audiences.
Don’t give away the ending by revealing whether your hero wins or loses until the climax arrives. And you don’t have to know every detail of that climactic scene when you begin developing your story. But the destination your hero is struggling to reach must be clear enough for you to build your story around it.
Then, when you finally present your story to your potential fans and followers, you must give the climax a clear resolution, with real emotional impact. This is what they’ve been waiting to see for your entire story. And this is the moment they won’t forget.
Links to Michael’s previous articles in this series: