When young people read a good story, they seldom stop to ask themselves why they like it. Obviously, the truth of the matter is that the story concluded with an arresting climax; for climax or the “turn” or twist in the story is one of the satisfying rewards of the writer who by it has lent interest and beauty to his story.
Every story, even if it is out to explore fairy land, is a definite journey. It must have a plot. And a plot may be created in a variety of ways; but whatever the pattern, the various incidents in the story must lead somewhere, to a definite objective; otherwise it is an old wives’ tale, shapeless, leading nowhere.
Now where does the climax come in the plot? It comes in from this observation that everything in life, in gaseous, liquid or solid from, is circumscribed and determined by the Trinitarian formula of “three in one”. For by this Trinitarian formula is meant that everything in life has a beginning, middle, and an end.
This beginning, middle course and end rule the whole of life, and everything in it. It certainly rules the story. It is in the story that this beginning, middle course and end have their respective elements sharply etched. We are now interested in the “end” phase of the trinity because we are thinking about the “climax” part of the story.
We shall not quarrel with the critic who demands that the climax is not technically the “end” of the story. Whatever that might be, the real end of the story is its climax, the high-water mark of all the interest and emotion it has to offer the reader. What follows after it is less interesting and merely a matter of rounding off some of the sharp edges of the story.
Hence, the climax is not only a part of the plot. It is an essential part of the plot. For without it, we have a tale, a narrative or what you will; but we have not a real story. In fact, we may lay it down as a law: No climax, no story! For the story in modern times is a work of art, all of a piece. The whole point of the plot, with its attendant elements of incidents, crises and suspense, is precisely meant to focus all interest and emotion on the white-hot, crucial point of the climax.
Crisis and climax are concomitant elements in the story; but to speak of a story without a climax (or without crises, for that matter), is like speaking of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. A story without a climax in its plot is not merely a truncated story; it is no story at all.
It is true that in the character story, for example, there is no urgent need of a strong, clear-cut climax; because the characters will, so to speak, write themselves; though this would occur more in the novel than in the short story. Or the story may be one of adventure or largely descriptive of some particular place; hence it may have less of dialogue or conversation.
Whatever the kind of story, there must come a moment when we have the highest point of interest presented to the reader. That is its climax. And it must be short and sharp, and to the point. Brevity is the soul of the climax.