Climax Premise Resolution And How Not To Get It All Confused

The ending of a story is often described in terms of "climax" and "resolution" as if they were two separate entities. But the boundaries of the climax and those of the resolution are impossible to determine in most cases. The climax might be thought of as a point, a moment, the precise instant the reader perceives that the core conflict is settled. That precise moment might be when Godzilla is killed, when the heroine says yes to the marriage proposal, when the winning point is scored, when the battle is won, when the condemned man dies. Although the climactic moment is the point at which the core conflict is settled, it does not prove the premise. The premise is proved by the climax-resolution as an entity.

Let's say you've decided to write a story and want to prove the premise "ruthless ambition brings glory and fame." This premise, as Egri says all good premises should do, suggests three things: character, conflict, and conclusion. The ruthless ambition is, of course, a trait of one ofthe characters, the protagonist. You decide on a name, "Martin Crenshaw." If he is going to achieve wealth and fame, Martin Crenshaw must have an arena in which he can seek them. Say it's politics. Martin is going to run for senator. Now, if he is ruthless, he will do whatever he has to do to become a senator. Will he lie? Sure. Will he cheat? You bet he will. Will he murder? Well, maybe he'll stop short of that.

The target of your novel, the climax, will come when the issue of Martin's becoming a senator is settled. Since your premise is that ruthless ambition leads to glory and fame, you know from the start he is going to make it. Along the way he will stuff ballot boxes, buy off special interests, smear his primary opponents, spy on editorial writers, and so on. His family relationships will be strained to the breaking point. His mother may disown him.

Pressures will mount as election day draws near. Now comes election night and we're counting the ballots. Martin wins! In the resolution we see him basking in his fame with wealth just around the corner, reconciling with his family and opponents, and pledging to be the best senator the state has ever seen. Your premise is proved by the climax (the moment he wins) and the resolution which follows (the reconciliations).

Don't like that story? You say you'd prefer that ruthless ambition lead to something else? Disaster? Death? Degradation? Okay. Let's see how that would work. Our new premise would be (like Macbeth) "ruthless ambition leads to death."

Martin is ruthless. He wants to be a senator. He lies, cheats, bribes, and so on. His wife leaves him. His mother disowns him. His children become communists. He is not swayed from his goal. Nothing can stop Martin. On the night before the election his pollster shows that the race is a dead heat. He can't stand the idea that he might lose. He is driven to the brink of insanity, gets a gun, and takes a shot at his opponent from ambush the morning of the election. A pen in the opponent's pocket deflects the bullet and he is only scratched. The publicity over the miraculous event excites the voters, who elect Martin's opponent in a landslide. Martin falls into despondency, gets drunk, and mumbles something to the wrong person about being the guy who shot at his opponent. He is exposed as the attempted assassin and, facing disgrace and prison, kills himself. The target we have been shooting for, the climactic moment, is in this case not the election but the suicide. This is where the ruthless ambition has led.

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