I. What is Climax?
Climax is the highest point of tension or drama in a narratives’ plot. Often, climax is also when the main problem of the story is faced and solved by the main character or protagonist. The phrase climax is derived from the Greek word klimax meaning “ladder.” Reading a story is like climbing a ladder, with the climax at the top. The basic elements of plot are as follows:
- Exposition: Characters and setting are established and the conflict, or problem, is introduced.
- Rising action: The conflict begins to affect the characters, complicating their lives.
- Climax: The conflict is faced during the main, most dramatic event of the story.
- Falling action: The story begins to slow down, showing results of the climax.
- Resolution: The story is tied up and concluded.
II. Examples of Climax
For a few examples, consider the short stories below.
A story about a mother and daughter:
- Conflict: A character and her mother are upset with each other. The main character believes she must be an artist, whereas her mother does not support her career and would rather have her be an accountant.
- Climax: The character and her mother have a large argument in which they both state their feelings. At the end of the argument, they agree to love one another despite their disagreements.
A story about a Boy and His Dog:
- Conflict: A boy is playing with his rambunctious dog Sadie when she pulls loose from her collar and runs away. Now, the boy must find Sadie before she runs too far away to be found.
- Climax: After looking for Sadie for a while, the boy hears barking from around the house. There, he finds his lost dog and the two happily meet again.
A story about a boy’s crush:
- Conflict: Sam has had a crush on Mary for months, but he does not know how to tell her how he feels.
- Climax: At the school dance, Sam makes his feelings for Mary known by asking her to dance.
As can be seen from these short story examples, climax is the most exciting point of the plot when the conflict is finally faced.
III. The Importance of Using Climax
Climax is the high point of a story. Without climax, a story lacks excitement or an overarching meaning. Climax is considered an absolutely necessary element of plot. Beyond basic stories, climax is an essential element of many poems, movies, television shows, advertisements, and songs.
IV. Examples of Climax in Literature
Because climax is an essential aspect of plot, the examples of climax in literature are endless! Here are a few examples:
Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
In the first stanza shown above, Frost’s narrator faces a conflict: should he take one road, or the other? By the last stanza, he has made his decision. At the climax of the poem, he reveals he has taken the road “less traveled by”:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
The climax of the poem is when the narrator makes a decision to bravely take the road that is less popular but ultimately more promising, for it “has made all the difference.”
In the novel Life of Pi, Yann Martel tells the story of a boy who named Pi loses his entire family in a shipwreck and must survive on a lifeboat with wild animals, including a Bengal tiger. Pi struggles, but in the process, realizes the power of the will to live:
I grew weary of my situation, as pointless as the weather. But life would not leave me.
The climax of the story comes when his boat at last lands in Mexico and he is rescued:
I struggled to shore and fell upon the sand. I looked about. … This beach, so soft, firm and vast, was like the cheek of God, and somewhere two eyes were glittering with pleasure and a mouth was smiling at having me there.
Pi’s physical struggle has ended, and he has gained personal and spiritual strength, having survived the ordeal.
V. Examples of Climax in Pop Culture
Like books, movies and TV shows also must have climactic scenes. Here are a few examples:
One famous scene is in The King’s Speech. After struggling with a stutter for much of his life and working with a teacher to get rid of it at last, King George VI must address millions of citizens in a radio address. During the address, George faces his stutter and overcomes it, speaking with confidence and without aid by the end of the speech. As is shown in this scene, climactic scenes are often accompanied with dramatic music which marks that the climax is occurring. In this scene, the music becomes more dramatic, strong, and loud just as the king becomes more confident:
For another climactic movie scene, see the ending of The Shawshank Redemption. Red and Andy have struggled through prison life but have finally both been freed after Andy’s escape and Red’s release. Red finds a letter left for him by his friend Andy, who has escaped, and the two meet again in Mexico:
Once again, music plays alongside the climactic moment. The problem was a lack of freedom and a sense of helplessness in jail, and at last, both men are free and full of hope.
VI. Related Terms
The climax is marked by the protagonist facing the conflict and prevailing. Oftentimes, this makes for a dramatic and compelling scene. The anticlimax, on the other hand, allows the protagonist to overcome the conflict, but through seemingly trivial means. Whereas climax often requires change, effort, and drama, the anticlimax lacks all three and anticlimactically ends the story.
Here’s the first example:
- Conflict: The protagonist must deactivate a bomb in order to save an entire city.
- Climax: The protagonist successfully deactivates the bomb last-minute with intelligence, critical thinking, and bravery.
- Anticlimax: The protagonist fails to deactivate the bomb, but luckily, it was a poorly made bomb and fails to go off.
Here’s a second example
- Conflict: The good guys are about to face the bad guys in a huge battle.
- Climax: After an hours-long face-off, the good guys win the battle and the bad guys back off.
- Anticlimax: The bad guys cancel the battle, as their leader has a bad case of the flu.
As is shown in these examples, both climax and anticlimax rid the protagonist of the problem. Climax, though, is more exciting and challenging, whereas anticlimax is trivial and often disappointing.
It may be argued that any composition must have a climax in order to be interesting or compelling. A story without a climax lacks emotion and change, which are the very things we yearn for in art. Climax is an essential element of plot in stories, poems, plays, and numerous other forms.