Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Climax: Why Is It So Hard?*

*Insert joke here

I just deleted a whole three paragraphs of this post. You know why? Because it was just foreplay. And while foreplay is nice and all, this post is about The Climax. So let's get down to business, shall we?

The question is this: What makes a good, satisfying climax (in a book)?

Well, since this is a one-way conversation until you all comment and share your opinions, I can only speak to my own preferences and opinions.

For me, I think I like for there to be simultaneous physical and emotional climaxes.

(One could, if one were so inclined, make a joke here about women and men and what they want from their corporeal climaxes. But this is a classy blog and also this post has nothing to do with those sort of climaxes, so this One, at least, will refrain from said joke.)

I think Fantasy lends itself well to this parallelism. There is often a journey across a physical landscape as well as a journey into adulthood or to a new realization, responsibility, relationship, or change of heart.

I like when the emotional and physical landscapes reflect each other. I think it's because it gives me the sense that there is a purpose to things, an order and meaning that may or may not exist in real life.

How about I make a list of what I DON'T like in my climaxes:

1. I don't like when the action is off stage
2. I don't like when the climax depends solely on a mental or emotional change with no action
3. I don't like when the climax has action that fails to also resolve or at least bring to a head (God, the puns are writing themselves!) the emotional issues in the story
4. I don't like when the climax revolves around characters or issues that I didn't think were central to the story

An example of a recent book's climax that I liked was A.S. Byatt's POSSESSION. It could have been guilty of #2 on my list since it's a mostly scholarly book however Byatt cleverly sets the climax during a massive (and, as it happens, real) storm as well as during a grave robbing. This gives the climax a sense of excitement while also bringing all the characters together--thus providing a lot of emotional resolution or at least bringing things to a head.

Can you guys think of some other climaxes that worked for you? Or some that didn't? And, I'm curious, do any of you have complaints/ pet peeves you'd add to my list?

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