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Term Definition

In a narrative work, the plot usually develops in such a way that it intensifies over time as characters' actions and emotions build upon each other. The climax is the point at which this intensity reaches a maximum level. One can also speak of technically non-narrative works having a climax. For example, it would be appropriate to say that Beethoven's 9th Symphony reaches a climax in the "Ode to Joy" chorus. 

Climax defined

In literature, the climax is a literary element which refers to the turning point of a written work, most often a narrative. Climax is also used to describe the apex of tension or drama in a plot, and can also refer to the climax of a film or a play. Prior to the climax, the plot or action builds to the climactic point of the drama, wherein the most important part of the plot or main character motivation is revealed. Following the climax, the drama or action falls gradually resulting in the final scene or resolution of the literary work, film, or play.

Examples of climaxes

The pattern of a story breaks the plot into the following basic parts:

1) exposition (beginning),
(2) rising action,
(3) climax (middle or high point),
(4) falling action, and
(5) resolution (ending).

As an example, consider the story of The Three Little Pigs by Joseph Jacobs consists of the exposition, where the audience meets the three little pigs and watches them build their houses out of various materials. Then the rising action begins as the wolf arrives and blows the first two houses down and eats their owners. The climax occurs when the wolf is unable to bring down the third house – made of bricks – and the resolution or denouement follows quickly as the last little pig lives happily ever after and the wolf admits defeat.

Imagine how different the story would be if the events happened in a different order. The story wouldn’t make sense, or the audience would know the conclusion of the story before it began. The placement of the climax is the key to holding the audience’s attention and focusing it on the main point.

Ubiquity in writing

Every plot, whether in a film, play, literary work, fictional work, poem, or spoken word piece, contains a climax. If there were no climax, the reader would not be propelled toward the ending of the work, and therefore would stop reading early on. Every story uses a basic pattern which includes the climax. The denouement, or conclusion follows the climax, during which the conflict of the plot is resolved. Climax used as a plot device brings the various parts and characters within a story or play together, often resulting in an “aha” moment for the audience. It is during the climax that the audience becomes aware of the meanings behind most machinations of the play. The climax connects characters and events in a way that should surprise the audience in most cases, and then during the denouement, all the loose ends and unexplained portions of the plot are detailed and resolved. Climax can also serve as the vehicle for an author or speaker to deliver the main point of writing or a speech. The word “climax” is derived from the Greek klîmax, meaning “ladder.” Some common synonyms of climax are summit, acme, apex, and zenith.

Climax can also be a rhetorical device used to arrange a series of sentences, clauses, or phrases in order of increasing intensity.

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