Writing Tip – Climaxes with Multiple Peaks

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In last week’s tip, I discussed how to make your readers ready for a climactic event, often called the ultimate conflict. Sometimes you might want to take your readers on a roller coaster ride by making them think the climactic event was “the big one.” Then you can make an even bigger one.

Once the protagonist has suffered through a horrible dilemma, you can add another that is even worse – from the frying pan into the fire. Quite often it is good to allow the villain to win the first one so that it is clear that failure is possible in the ultimate peak.

If the first peak dilemma resulted in success, the protagonist needs a new goal that surpasses the one achieved by the success. A rest period following the first peak is a good time for the protagonist to realize the necessity of the new goal. This creates the motivation to surmount the next obstacle, which will be the greatest one of all.

If the first peak results in failure for the protagonist, the choice the character makes at the “impossible dilemma” point can bring about some sort of success for someone, even if the protagonist loses something valuable in the process.

In the second peak, the protagonist has a new choice to make in which the negative consequences of either option are worse than the consequences of the choices in the first climax. In other words, ramp up the tension even higher than you did before in a way that readers likely thought was impossible. Also, show how the protagonist is suffering while desperately trying to solve this new impossible dilemma. The more the character suffers, the better the climax.

(***Reapers spoiler alert***)

Alex stabbed a finger at Sing. “Kill her, Phoenix! Be done with this wanton wench. My guard at the prisoners’ residence building deceived you. Theresa deceived you. You are obviously too easily led by the nose. And now letting Sing live will serve only to prove your starry-eyed naïveté once again, and your unprecedented gullibility will mean the deaths of many children who just want a chance to leave this hellhole and go home in peace!”

Sing cried out, her words punctuated by gurgling gasps. “Do what … you think is right … I asked you to … to trust me … but either way you decide … I’ll still love you. … I will always love you.”

“More lies!” Alex shouted. “She has proven you can’t believe a word she says. Kill her now and be done with it.”

My entire body quaked. “I … I can’t.”

Alex waved a hand at the prisoners. Theresa walked behind a woman and shot her with the sonic gun. The telltale pop jolted my brain. She twitched on the ground for a moment, then lay motionless. Like a vulture, Peter descended on her body and covered her with his cloak.

A little girl screamed, “Mommy!” Two men leaped to their feet, but when a guard grabbed the girl and set a gun to her head, the men dropped to their knees again.

My arm shook harder. I could barely keep the gun in place. A barrage of images blazed in my mind—Sing and Kwame and Alex and Shanghai—all spinning in a wild vortex. Finally, Mex’s image blended into the turmoil. With desperate pulls, he struggled to free himself from the life-sucking vacuum, the death penalty so callously executed by the will of one of the Council’s minions, a sentence delivered because of evidence planted on him, planted by a son and his mother who had conspired to bring about this end at this moment. If I killed Sing, they would have their victory. If I killed Sing, Alex would win. If I killed Sing, my heart would shrivel up and die.

“You’ve run out of time, Phoenix.” Alex’s tone was cold and cruel. “Kill her now, or a child is next. You know I won’t hesitate.”

If you have any questions or comments, please post them.

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3 replies

  1. Hi there. This is a great article on climax peaks. Do you mind if I feature it on my blog, A Writer’s Path (6,100 followers)? I have on guest posts 1-2 times a week. I would likely leave off the book quote, though, fair warning. I would, of course, give you credit by name and provide a link for my followers to check out your blog. Before even considering, I wanted to ask you first.

    -Ryan
    http://www.ryanlanz.com

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