- Date: circa 1550
- 1 : a figure of speech in which a series of phrases or sentences is arranged in ascending order of rhetorical forcefulness
- 2 a : the highest point : culmination <the climax of a distinguished career>
- b : the point of highest dramatic tension or a major turning point in the action (as of a play)
- c : orgasm
- d : menopause
- 3 : a relatively stable ecological stage or community especially of plants that is achieved through successful adaptation to an environment; especially : the final stage in ecological succession
In a prose work of fiction, the climax often resembles that of the classical comedy, occurring near the end of the text or performance, after the rising action and before the falling action. It is the moment of greatest danger for the protagonist(s) and usually consists of a seemingly inevitable prospect of failure, followed by a hard-to-anticipate recovery.
A climax includes three elements. The most important element is that the protagonist experiences a change. The main character discovers something about himself or herself, and another unknown character. The last element is revealing the theme itself.
While the novel, short story, poetry and drama are the focus of much literary analysis, late 20th century literary criticism also recognizes the important similarities, including the climax, of new genres like the feature film.
Arguably, the punch line of a joke is a good analogue of the climax of other forms of fictional narrative, though the absence of any falling action is an essential variation probably reflecting the nature of humor.
In many non-fictional narrative genres, even though the author lacks the same freedom to control the action and "plot", selection of subject matter, degree of detail, and emphasis permit an author to create similar structures.
Although it's not necessarily true, a climax is known in most modern culture for being the final fight between the hero and villain. While this is true in most cases, the climax may be more of an epiphany the conflicted main character experiences, especially if the story doesn't have a villain in the first place (e.g. A Beautiful Mind). Also in most modern culture, especially films and video games, the final battle between a hero and villain will take place in a hazardous environment which already has a likely fatal occurrence without them trying to kill each other in the first place. A good example of this is Casino Royale where the protagonist James Bond is fighting several thugs in an all-out brawl which is hazardous enough with each other but to add dramatic effect the building is structurally collapsing and sinking into the Grand Canal. Another example is Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith which takes place on a disabled pylon over a river of molten lava. This is used for dramatic effect more than anything else.
An anti-climax is where something which would appear to be difficult to solve in a plot is solved through something trivial. For example, destroying a heavily guarded facility would require advanced technology, teamwork and weaponry for a climax, but in an anti-climax, it may just consist of pushing a red button which says "Emergency Self-Destruct", or even more so, simply filling out an eviction notice and destroying the building. Another example could involve the protagonist faced with insurmountable odds and ultimately being killed without accomplishing their goal.
Colloquially, the term anti-climax is used to describe something that appears to building to a high-point (most often a good quality conclusion), but which proves to be disappointing. For example, if a joke has a surprisingly poor punch line, it can be referred to as an anti-climax.
The term anti-climax is also used when the falling action portion of a story is criticized for lasting too long and diminishes the impact of the climax. For example, in the novel The Lord of the Rings, the scene at Mount Doom is considered the climax of the saga. However, the story still continues for several more chapters, which is longer than the usual for falling action.