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What is a Climax and Why is it the Highlight of a Story?

Renuka Savant May 13, 2019
A climax, be it in a novel, drama, movie, or even a joke, always stands out as the highlight of the narrative. In this Penlighten post, we'll be gaining a better understanding of the concept of climax in literature, and looking at some standout examples as well.

Did You Know?

The word 'climax' has its etymological origins in the Greek language. The word literally means 'staircase' in Greek, but as a literary device, it refers to the highest point of action/tension in the narrative.
The climax of a narrative is always its most standout feature. In a linear narrative, the story builds up to the highest point of action, from where on it subdues into a culmination. Most stories that unfold as a novel, a movie, or even on stage have a set pattern to it, known as the plot.
The plot is further divided into sections in order to make the story more appealing. Understanding these sections would give you a clear understanding of the structure of the narrative, which includes the climax.

Parts of a Plot in a Linear Narrative

A linear narrative following a pyramidal pattern comprises roughly 5 sections:

● Beginning
● Rising action
● Climax
● Falling action
● Resolution
The beginning of any story includes the introduction, where the reader is acquainted with the main characters. Various scenarios may be played out to help the reader gain a better understanding of the characters.

Rising action refers to the story picking up pace. This section sees the tension build up as a result of a conflict(s).
In the climax, the tempo reaches an all-time high―this stage is also referred to as the turning point of the story. It is safe to say that the climax is the highlight of the story, and involves scenes that are filled with action, emotions, and drama. This is the point where the story comes to a head or reaches a temporary impasse of sorts.
The falling action part sees a decline in pace after the high octane action of the climax. This is the part where the tension begins to dissolve, and the conflict heads towards a solution.
The resolution is the culmination of the story. This is the part where the action dies down, and all the loose ends in the story are tied up―beautifully by a talented writer, and haphazardly by a not-so-talented one.

Examples of Climax

In Cinema

As an instance, we'll take a look at the 1953 classic, Roman Holiday, starring Audrey Hepburn (Princess Ann) and Gregory Peck (Joe Bradley).
The beginning of the movie has the customary introduction of our lead characters―Princess Ann, the poor little, rich girl who despises the gilded prison that is her royal life; and Joe Bradley, the smooth-talking American reporter.
As the movie begins to pick up pace (rising action), we see how these characters, each for their own benefit, decide to spend a day together exploring the beautiful city of Rome. The Princess, desperate to be obscure for a while and live life on the wild side, embarks on a mini adventure with this American reporter.
Joe Bradley, on the other hand, believes to have captured the story of a lifetime, having got the opportunity to spend a day with the Princess, getting an inside scoop on her life.
As the movie builds up to the climax, we see how Joe Bradley falls for the graceful, yet goofy Princess Ann, and she seems to reciprocate his feelings. He decides to give up the story and the huge cash incentive from his publisher, choosing instead to cherish them as memories spent with a remarkable woman.
The climax sees a lot of emotions, interspersed with drama, as the Princess returns to her country's consulate―will she confess her love for Bradley and forgo her duties and responsibilities as a royal? Will Bradley take the initiative to convince Ann, allowing their romance to bloom?
Towards the end, (falling action), we see the two lead characters making a rather realistic choice of forgoing their chance at love, with the Princess speaking to reporters in Rome, sending a disguised message to Bradley, thanking him for the wonderful time they spent together.
He, in return, passes their photographs clicked secretly by him to the Princess, as if to tell her that the time they spent together will always remain as a memory.

The resolution sees both characters getting on with their lives; she resumes her royal tour of Europe, whereas he gets on with his life as a reporter.

In Literature

In most cases, we tend to make an assumption that the climax of a story usually occurs towards the end. However, this is not applicable in all cases.
A climax, by definition, is the highest point of action in a series of dramatic events that make up a story; it may occur in the middle or towards the end of the narrative. William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, a tragic romance, can be used to shed light on this aspect.
The play sees its climax in Act III, when the feud between the Capulets and Montagues gathers a fervent pitch. Juliet's cousin, Tybalt comes looking for Romeo with the purpose of exacting revenge, but ends up fighting with his friend, Mercutio and killing him.
Romeo, incensed by his friend's murder at the hands of Tybalt, slays him in no time. This incident sets off a chain reaction, with the animosity between the two families intensifying, finally culminating in the death of the two star-crossed lovers.
The climax of a story is rightfully referred to as its highlight. Therefore, we always see authors going that extra mile to make it that much more gripping.