Top 10 ways to write an Anticlimax

An anticlimax is personally one of my most feared nightmares – it means you have to revise a major part of the novel, or at least put the climax on hold until you can figure out a way to make it bigger, better, more twisted and more shocking than anything you’ve thrown at the reader so far. Here’s my top 10 list of successfully writing an Anticlimax – found mostly through trial and error.

1. Never plan ahead. While writing your novel take care to never plan more than 2 chapters ahead – that way you get to make sure incongruous details pop up at the last minute, and ensure that your pacing is like that of jerky Chevy.

2. Introduce a new plotline at the last minute. There’s nothing more satisfying than knowing you’ve thrown your reader off the buildup to your climax. One of the best ways to do so is to have your protagonist killed, brought back to life, get a new love interest, before finishing off the antagonist/challenge poised. This works well especially if it’s way off course.

3. Have plenty of explosions. Place them strategically all over the novel, at various scenes in the build-up to the climax. Then have the smallest explosion ever at your climax, simply because you’ve run out of fuel. In other words: make sure your build-up is more exciting than your climax.

4. Make sure the final confrontation/culmination is very short. Half a chapter is good. No, wait – 50 words is better. In case of a mystery, use the following paragraph (exactly 50 words):

Detective walks up to killer. “You’re under arrest for the murder of Victim A, B and C. Put your hands in the air.”

Killer: “Gee. You’re one smart guy. Must’ve been all the forensic evidence I left lying around. When do I get out so you can catch me again?”

5. Drag your final confrontation to half the book. The idea here is to make bring the reader to the edge of his seat – and keep him there for as long as it takes to get him bored.

6. Kill off your antagonist before the climax. Alternatively, have the problem solve itself before your protagonist finds out (that there actually is a problem he’ll have to solve).

7. Kill off your protagonist before the climax. And then have a supporting character with no emotional connection with the reader solve the entire problem. What an amazing plot twist! you tell yourself.

8. Have everything miraculously fall into place during the climax. This works like a charm in romance novels – especially after you throw a thousand and one very interesting challenges in between the said couple. An anticlimatic scenario: Male Lead’s ex girlfriend (who is a wildly successful popstar) dies in carcrash at the same time Female Lead’s father falls down stairs while serving tea and has a new take on life (and no longer resents the relationship). They get together, Female Lead’s credit card debt suddenly disappears due to a glitch in the credit card company’s computer and Male Lead gets his job back because his boss suddenly realizes he can’t live without him, nevermind that Male Lead has punched aforementioned boss over Female Lead.

Cue for happy ending. (This is also a good place to announce a pregnancy – very exciting stuff, isn’t it?).

9. Change the tone of your novel during the climax. It works. Trust me. Note to Dan Brown: write like Jane Austen at the climax of your next book. Jane Austen: rewrite Pride and Prejudice to include an albino murderer who wants to kill Mr Darcy, just at the moment when Elizabeth and him finally get together. Ahh. What thrill!

10. Leave your novel/novella/post hanging …

One last note on writing an anticlimax: it has all got to do with pacing. But pacing your novel is something that has to be learnt, which brings me to Faulkner:

Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.

Write long, write badly, make mistakes. Then learn from them. The list above are some of mine. How about yours?

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Category: Learning To Write · Writing
  • Gloria Hildebrandt

    Rushing the writing. You know where the characters want to go, what they want to do, and then you rush the pace, destroying mood, tension, suspense, enjoyment. While some men may think I write with too little action, many women readers enjoy the slow journey I offer. Details, description, inner monologue, outer action, weather, ambience, all support a rich tapestry that I can weave when I take my time writing. I sometimes feel I’m riding a headstrong horse that I have to hold back with great effort. Racing to the finish means you’ve missed the wonder of the ride.

  • Eli James

    Not only missing the wonder of the ride – rushing also serves to smudge up details and it makes me forget the fundamentals of my novel – the way characters are supposed to react, the details in the background … so on so forth.

    Though I must say the closer I get to finishing a manuscript the more I want to hurry up and finish it. :P

  • hthth

    Haha. great post Eli. Number 7 made me laugh out loud.

  • Eli James

    Hehe, Hrafn. Thanks!

  • sarah

    I read number six wrong in my head, and laughed hysterically, and then got embarrassed about it, but then it just ended up being number seven.
    I crack myself up.

  • Eli James

    There’s really only one way to respond to your comment, Sarah.

    =) =) =)

  • sarah

    that’s pretty much true

  • NiSp

    i have been making my way through these archives and links to other articles, taking note of each bit of advice from all you ultra-wise personages. i started reading this article and took note of not planning ahead and creating new plotlines and setting off odd-sounding explosions.

    “hmm,” i said. “these illustrious sages should know what they’re talking about, even if what they say sounds a little strange. who am I to question?”

    by about point 5 i was ready to search elsewhere for advice. by the 6th point, i got the.. erm, point!

    what can i say? i’m still learning! haheh
    and taking notes…

  • E.D. Lindquist

    Be sure to have your god-like hero solve everything. I mean *everything*. You don’t want his silly friends to have an ounce of play in the climax. After all, they’ve only been around for comic relief this whole time.

  • Eli James

    Also preferable if aforementioned god-like hero is a teenage wizard or a sparkling vampirehunk. ;)