The Anti-Climatic Climax
In some ways, story writing is a bit like mountain climbing. It takes time and effort, and if you reach the peak, you get satisfied exhilaration with a great view.
In school, we’re taught a basic story writing structure – beginning, middle, climax, dénouement, ending – making a map of a story look somewhat like a lopsided mountain. The mountain peak should be at the climax, indicating the climax as the most exciting, dramatic, reader-gripping part of the story.
So what’s an anti-climatic climax?
The point in the story when a reader expects a climax but doesn’t recognize it for what it’s supposed to be. In writing, it’s okay to give the readers credit for having an imagination and let them figure things out. But if a reader doesn’t recognize the climax of the story, then consider that it may not be exciting, dramatic or reader-gripping enough.
Personally, I find the climax of the story the easiest part to imagine and the quickest to write. Often, the climax is what interests the writer the most. The climax is the goal a writer has in mind when beginning the story. If the reader can’t tell from reading that this point of the story is the story-telling mountain peak, then something is amiss.
How does a writer know if the reader sees the climax for what it is?
My advice would be to not worry about the climax so much when writing it. After you’re done the story, take a step back and read it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself if you find the climax exciting.
Have someone else read it. Writers are too close to their own stories. The story is in your head. You already know how it’s going to turn out. It’s difficult to know if the story’s keeping you on the edge of your seat if you made it up. Finding out a reader’s viewpoint is valuable research when it comes to editing the story. And how better to know a reader’s viewpoint than to have the opinion of an actual reader?
Compare your reader’s assessment of your story with your original story idea. Remember the goal you had in mind that was supposed to be your climax? Did you reach it? Did you start climbing Everest and fall midway up? Or are you standing on the top, looking over a vast landscape, dancing in the snow and the crisp mountain air?