Is there such a thing as too much climaxing? (In your manuscript, Jeez!)

image For those visiting for the first time because of the search term “climax,” welcome to Ned’s Nickel’s Worth on Writing! This weekly feature is when I share the writing wisdom gained from 15 years as a columnist by — much like a porn movie — quickly stripping things down to the bare essentials and offering techniques that hopefully lead to a lot of “oohing” and “awing.” It’s a weekly feature Publishers Digest has called, “Writing tips that will keep your manuscript out of the slush pile, especially if there’s return postage included…” and what porn star Ron Jeremy has touted as “Enormously engorging… Oops, I mean engaging.”

But enough accolades!

The climax.

For those who zoned out after discovering this is a post about writing, welcome back! For everyone else, especially those working on a manuscript, short story or article for publication, you already know the climax is that point in your piece that brings everything together in a way that leaves your reader feeling completely and utterly satisfied by someone who is, at least in literary terms, a giving lover skilled at pacing the climactic moment specifically to put the reader’s needs ahead of their own.

Needless to say, this can be challenging. And not just for male writers, many of whom have already skipped ahead looking for the next “climax” reference. Whether writing a mystery novel, erotica, a humorous magazine article or non-fiction blog post, a reader needs to feel a sense that they are working toward something — a big reveal, moment of enlightenment, resolution to a problem, punchline — in order to be fully engaged and eventually finish with that sense of satisfaction we strive for as husbands writers.

Does that mean there should only be one climactic moment in your story? Let me answer that question with another question:

Ladies, wouldn’t you rather have one big climax instead of a big climax AND multiple smaller climaxes?


*sound of shuffling feet as men wander back over after hearing the word “climax” three times in one sentence*

A skilled writer keeps a reader coming back for more by offering smaller, tantalizing moments of heightened suspense or satisfaction as a way of “seducing” a reader into submitting themselves to a novel, short story, magazine article or blog post. By offering these smaller climaxes, the writer is in a sense demonstrating their proficiency to satisfy while also setting the pace for an even bigger climactic moment. This is particularly true when it comes to writing humor, which depends on a series of well-timed jokes setting the pace for a climactic punchline.

It’s no surprise that humor columnists make the best lovers.

*slams door on crickets*

Also, keep in mind there’s no rule that says the big climax has to come at the very end of your story. In fact, giving your reader a little recovery time afterward and offering a few smaller, unexpected climactic moments in the final chapter or last few paragraphs can leave them with a lingering sense of satisfaction. Or the need for a cigarette if they are a smoker. That being said, nothing is more disappointing to a reader than when a story reaches it’s climax too quickly and before they are ready. So men be careful not to get so excited about sharing that experience that you’re the only one who knows what’s going on. Take your time and build up to it by utilizing technique to prime your reader for what’s to come. That way, your reader will feel like an active participant instead of an inflatable innocent bystander.

One of the most effective techniques for setting the stage for multiple climaxes is by starting in the middle of the action. This works with novels or chapters within a novel, but especially in short stories or magazine articles. By starting in the middle of the action you immediately open with a move that catches your reader’s attention and “wows” them into a sense of intrigue.

What happened up to this point?
What’s going to happen later?
Where’s my other sock?

Questions like these from your reader allow you to set the pace with multiple climactic revelations that will keep them tantalized until it’s time for The Big Moment you’ve both been waiting for.

And if I have to explain what that moment is, I really hope you’re one of my kids.

(Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, or Barnes & Noble.)

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Ned's Blog

I was a journalist, humor columnist, writer and editor at Siuslaw News for 23 years. The next chapter in my own writer’s journey is helping other writers prepare their manuscript for the road ahead. I'm married to the perfect woman, have four great kids, and a tenuous grip on my sanity...

41 thoughts on “Is there such a thing as too much climaxing? (In your manuscript, Jeez!)”

  1. So much for having a quickie and getting over with! But I do have to agree with the humor point of view and being better lovers. I know I’m funny and sexy…or so my cat has told me!

  2. This might be one of my favorite NWOW’s yet. Seriously!
    I was just sitting in my car in Omaha, NE trying to de-stress before heading into a big meeting and stumbled across this little piece. It’ll be one that I read again and again.

    First of all–loved the double entendres. THIS is why your writing is my favorite kind to read. Entertaining, fun and productive when it needs to be.
    Secondly, in the middle of all the action, my mind kept wandering and drifting to two questions:

    *how do you apply the climax concept in a non-fiction, multi-chapter book (like Humor at the Speed of Life)?
    *when did the ceiling paint start to peel?

    So, here’s why I have all the questions! I just committed to NaNoMo and have the skeleton of my book ready to go!

    Final question: er, is it okay if my hubs reads this and takes some lessons? I’ve been trying to knock his socks off for years!

    1. Michelle, if your mind began to wander in the middle of the action, I’m clearly doing something wrong. Not that it’s the first time that’s happened. Regardless, a non-fiction chapter book is the perfect place to initiate the literary climax, although doing so while sitting alone in your car isn’t a bad idea either.

      As for your husband, he’s definitely more than welcome to read this. You might even consider letting him notice see the ceiling fan this time? 😉

  3. I think I like climax with a few aftershocks at the end. John le Carre’s “A Most Wanted Man” left me a little shocked when it suddenly ended. I think I got what he was doing (probably), but I really had to think about it for a while. On the other hand, Stephen King’s “Under the Dome” still had to wrap up his MacGuffin after the story had essentially ended. It didn’t work so well in my opinion. The extra stuff didn’t really have anything to do with the characters. Maybe that’s the secret.

    1. I read somewhere that Stephen King doesn’t work with an outline. While he’s one of my favorite writers, sometimes his endings seem a bit empty or patched together. Maybe an outline would help him be more successful *cough cough*

  4. I’m not male (I checked) but it was the word climax that had me interested. I kept reading only because you kept saying the damn word. Which would I prefer, all. Remember, I’m female, thus am I ever 100% satisfied? Asks husband.

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