Both readers and authors know how important the beginning of a book is: if it doesn’t grab you right away, there are other things you could be spending your time doing. Conversely, the ending is the last impression that you leave the reader with, so obviously that’s also vital.
But what about the climax? This is a very important piece of the writing puzzle, as it sets up the ending. If I’ve done it right, everything that has happened in the novel is moving toward a collision and/or a resolution—and this occurs in the climax. If there are multiple storylines, they all come to a head around the same time. If it is a matter of a plot point that has reached its pinnacle and must be resolved by the ending, then all the events that have been leading up to this impending resolution have likewise built to this point.
In retrospect (after finishing the book), the reader should be able to see that the climax—and ending—were inevitable, even if the inevitability was not evident while they were reading. A lot of my readers go back and re-read my novels three, four, five times. I was shocked to hear this, but it showed me that my climaxes and endings stood up to the scrutiny of multiple reads, even when the reader knew what was coming.
In essence, I consider climaxes to be a prelude to the ending and the ending to be a resolution of the climax. Essentially, I see the climax as the beginning of the end of the book, although that is not always the case.
I’m usually very conscious of when the climax is about to begin, and typically it runs anywhere from 40 to 60 pages, depending on the nature of the story. If it’s an action-based thriller, it will tend to be on the longer side, while a suspense-based thriller may conclude in a fewer number of pages—maybe 30 to 50. The action ramps up, the conflicts come to a head, and twists are revealed.
I think of the climax as a trek up a mountain: you and a number of others are camping out in the foothills in different tents. But you’re going to make the journey to the top together. That trek up to the peak is the climax—including the hazards, obstacles, and conflicts you encounter along the way—as well as the resulting resolutions you find as you near the end of the journey.
The climax to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, my new OPSIG Team Black novel that is best summarized as “a special forces mission to the Moon,“ is about 50 pages and leads right into a four page ending. That’s not always possible to do, but it’s definitely my goal—because it’s always desirable to hit the end running and get out quickly, leaving the reader still enjoying the high of an exciting and satisfying climax.