How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: TA-DA! Climax and Resolution


Welcome to Part Twenty-Seven of this popular series. This week, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher brings your story to a grand finale in Act 3, the Climax and Resolution, and helps you make sure everything correlates properly with what happened in Act 1.
How to write fiction without the fuss

Reviewing Act 3 – Climax and Resolution

 “Act 3 begins with the unexpected and ends with the long-anticipated.”

Ridley Pearson

The two sections that make up Act 3 of your story, as we identified them in the initial plot structure, are Climax and Resolution. The Climax should be full of unexpected events; and the Resolution should have been, even if subconsciously, long-anticipated by the reader.

To conclude your tale in a way that is still keeping the reader on the edge of their seat after the roller coaster action of Act 2, you need to maintain the element of surprise; at the same time, to fulfil your contract with the reader, you have to keep the ‘promise’ you made to them in Act 1. In general, this will mean that your hero(es) succeed in their quest, even if it is not exactly the one they set out with initially.

Achieving the Climax

To achieve the third act Climax, your protagonist(s) must make a final, right decision and be acting out of the new knowledge and personal values that they have developed since the midpoint reversal of Act 2. It is called the Climax because this must be the scene, or series of scenes, in which the tensions of the main plot reach their most intense point, and the key questions are finally answered. It may be that you allow the reader to recognise what these answers are before the main characters catch on.

The Climax should be, literally or metaphorically, the final confrontation between the hero and the villain. Often it comes down to just these two characters: the generals of opposing armies; the lover and her/his rival; the sleuth and the criminal; the superhero and the nemesis. In some stories this might be because in the final reversal of Act 2, the protagonist(s) lose their mentor, companion or team members. In this final clash, one or more of the main characters’ lives should in some sense hang in the balance.

Moving to Resolution

The Climax will also feature your subplots, as they feed into the final outcomes, though you can leave some loose ends to be tied down in the final Resolution. This very last section gives the readers the satisfying experience of following your trail to its denouement; the ending they have anticipated from the start, but without knowing how it was going to come about.

Some stories, of course, have tragic endings, where the hero might learn a lesson, gain knowledge or develop understanding, yet, at the last, fails the quest, or even dies. Nonetheless, the way you bring this about should also keep your initial promise with the reader, even if in a less obvious way.


small__66765975One problem you might find with your third act is that if you have created strong dynamic characters who have grown and developed during the story, they may have taken the plot into territory beyond your original plans. In this case, you will need to ensure it still ties back into a satisfactory resolution. If you can’t force your characters to behave as you first envisaged, you will have to carefully rework parts of Act 3.

Another challenge that Act 3 can present is that your story either peters out, or you can’t pull all the strands together in a satisfactory way. The reasons for either of these can be that you haven’t fully answered the dramatic problems, or questions, that you set up in Act 1. This is what I mean by not fulfilling your contract with the reader, and what will leave them feeling unsatisfied.

“If you have a problem with the third act, the real problem is in the first act.”

Billy Wilder

To make sure you have got the ending to your story right, go back and look at Act 1 to check what expectations you have set up for your reader; then review what happens in Act 3 and ensure you have fulfilled and reflected back each one.

Act 1/Act 3 checklist:

Act 1: you opened with dramatic incident which grabbed the readers’ attention.
Act 3: a similarly dramatic event explains, balances and closes the earlier one.

Act 1: You introduced the protagonist(s) and most of the central characters.
Act 3: You resolve the issues of all the central characters and close all their individual stories.

Act 1: The protagonists are in a comfort zone which they leave quickly and spend Act 2 in increasing discomfort.
Act 3: The hero(es) have moved into a new, and better, comfort zone, whether physical, emotional or intellectual.

Act 1: The main characters displayed engaging, and probably likeable, characteristics – soon to be challenged by events.
Act 3: If they have grown and developed through Act 2, now is the point where they regroup and display their new, positive attributes to the reader.

Act 1: The central problem or issue to be resolved (the Quest) was established.
Act 3: The Quest is achieved; the problem is definitely resolved; all questions answered.

Act 1: Your subplots were initiated – either directly or by foreshadowing.
Act 3: The subplots are woven into the central plotline; all loose ends are tied in, in a way that balances their introduction.

Act 1: You established the setting of your story – including the era, country, society and ethos.
Act 3: If the setting has changed or developed, you have established the new environment in as much detail as the original.

Act 1: You introduced the “villain” or nemesis of the protagonist.
Act 3: The antagonist’s plot arc is complete; the reader feels satisfied that s/he has received his or her just deserts.

Act 1: You embedded your theme within the opening chapters of the story.
Act 3: You are confident your theme has been carried through the action of Act 2 and, in Act 3, your ending makes a strong point about that theme.

I suggested that you ask one or more trusted readers look at Act 1 before you continued writing, and gave you feedback. As you review Act 3, check that the comments and suggestions with which you agreed have been incorporated. Now your story is complete, it is time to go back to your beta readers and ask them to review it through to the end.

However, you may choose to leave this until after you have edited your manuscript – which is what we will be looking at next week.

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

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