So your character was falsely arrested, thrown in jail, and just as they're about to be executed for a crime they didn't commit the warden comes in and slaps them on the back and says, "Just kidding! This whole thing's been a big misunderstanding. You're free to go!"
...then your character goes on their merry way and the end.
If you're wondering if something's missing, you're right. Where's the action? The suspense? The big reveal that the character's long-lost father is really the warden and he's afraid of his son/daughter taking over the family business that is the mafia and so must have them executed by the justice-driven eyes of the law (which really isn't that justified since the mafia owns the law)?
I have a golden rule about writing: don't cheat your readers. They've already invested their time in taking a look at your novel or short story, so why let them down and make them feel like their emotions were totally wasted?
The climax of your story is the top of the mountain, the moment that your characters have been working toward the entire rest of the book. There's no real formula for when, exactly, this moment should take place, but in many cases it's at the end of the novel (due to the fact that the events following it are more of a cool-down, sort of for the character but also for the reader because odds are you nearly gave them a heart attack).
This is the moment when Luke finds out Darth Vader's his father. When Harry Potter faces Voldemort (every time). When Dorothy melts the Wicked Witch of the West. It's the grand finale, the moment the good battles the bad (in some form or another) and you know that only one of them is making it out alive.
Of course, all of these examples are for the more action-y of plot lines (which, admittedly, I'm more well-versed in), but let me say: there is a climax in every genre. Romance, action, sci-fi...you name it. In PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER I'd say it's the moment when Charlie remembers his traumatic childhood. In IF I STAY, it's the moment that Mia decides whether she stays or leaves.
The climax is the moment everything changes (again). Where the inciting incident is the point of no return, the climax is where the bridge falls the moment you step off; when you look behind you there's just a wide black chasm. The only way to continue, is forward.
Like I already mentioned: don't cheat the reader by taking them to the end of the line and leaving them flat. It's like the taboo of having your character die, then wake up and say, "And it was only a dream..."
Yeah, don't do that.
So ask yourself: what's the game-changer? What's the moment your characters have been working toward, and what kind of big-reveal is there going to be? Emotionally and mentally, how is it going to affect your characters? Typically, there's a cost. So ask yourself: what will your characters pay?
When thinking about the climax (I call it the moment when "shit gets real"), it's also important to think about your character's motivations. More often than not, the climax is going to play directly into what your main character's been working toward for the entire novel (think about it: if Dorothy wanted to get home, she had to kill the Wicked Witch first, right?). Here's where I repeat: don't cheat your readers. On the same line: don't cheat your characters, either.everybody deserves some kind of closure, even if the "big reveal" leaves some questions answered and even more hanging open-ended.
Basically (and excuse my language): both your readers and your characters have dealt with enough of your shit. Give them something, even if it means taking things away at the same time.
Okay...I think I've just talked in circles. So I think I'm done, here. Maybe? *rereads*
If you get anything out of this, it should be this: don't cheat your readers. It's just not nice, or fun.
When everything changes (again). Character motivation, the climax of their story, and moving forward. (Click to Tweet)
Don't cheat your characters, or your readers. @Rae_Slater talks the climax of your novel and why it matters. (Click to Tweet)