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climax (narrative)



In a narrative (within an essay, short story, novel, or play), the turning point in the action (also known as the crisis) and/or the highest point of interest or excitement. Adjective: climactic.

In its simplest form, the classical structure of a narrative can be described as rising action, climax, falling action--known in journalism as BME (beginning, middle, end).

See also:


From the Greek, "ladder"

Examples and Observations:

  • "Anecdotes are really miniature stories with all the appurtenances of same. They must lay the groundwork so the reader can follow the action. They must introduce characters with clear objectives, then show the characters striving toward those objectives. They usually have conflict. They move toward a climax, then usually have a denouement, just like a short story. And they have to be structured; the raw material from which they're built is seldom in final form when you get it. Warning: 'Structuring' does not mean changing facts, it means perhaps rearranging their order, cutting nonessentials, emphasizing the quotes or actions that drive home the point."
    (André Fontaine and William A. Glavin, The Art of Writing Nonfiction, 2nd ed. Syracuse Univ. Press, 1991)

  • Climaxes in Nonfiction
    "My nature essays have . . . been fairly conventional to date. Every essay has some sort of 'hook' to catch the reader's attention in the opening . . .; consists of a beginning, middle, and end; includes significant amounts of natural history information; moves toward some discernible climax, which can take the form of a revelation, an image, a rhetorical question, or some other closing device . . .; and strives at all times to keep the personal presence of the narrator in the foreground."
    (John A. Murray, Writing About Nature: A Creative Guide, revised ed. Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1995)

    "The essay, unlike the article, is inconclusive. It plays with ideas, juxtaposing them, trying them out, discarding some ideas on the way, following others to their logical conclusion. In the celebrated climax of his essay on cannibalism, Montaigne forces himself to admit that had he himself grown up among cannibals, he would in all likelihood have become a cannibal himself."
    (Thomas H. Eriksen, Engaging Anthropology: The Case for a Public Presence. Berg Publishers, 2006)

  • Charlie Chaplin on Comic Climaxes
    "Besides [Douglas] Fairbanks' pool one day, the playwright Charles MacArthur, who had lately been lured from Broadway to write a screenplay, was bemoaning the fact that he was finding it difficul to write visual jokes.

    "'What's the problem?' asked [Charlie] Chaplin.

    "'How, for example, could I make a fat lady, walking down Fifth Avenue, slip on a banana peel and still get a laugh? It’s been done a million times,' said MacArthur. 'What's the best way to get the laugh? Do I show first the banana peel, then the fat lady approaching; then she slips? Or do I show the fat lady first, then the banana peel, and then she slips?'

    "'Neither,' said Chaplin without a moment's hesitation. 'You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps over the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.'”
    (David Niven, Bring on the Empty Horses. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1975)
Pronunciation: KLI-max
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