The Climax

At the end of every scene, every Act, and every movie, you need a climactic ending. This is how you can create one.

Every climax answers a simple question, “Who wins?” The climax at the end of your screenplay finally answers the question of whether the hero achieved his or her goal or not. The climax at the end of each Act or scene marks the end of one question but creates another question.

For example, at the end of “Saving Private Ryan,” we finally learn who the old man in the cemetery really is. He’s not the Tom Hanks character like we thought, but Private Ryan himself. The climax at the end of the screenplay wraps up everything in the story and that’s it.

The climaxes that appear in the rest of the screenplay answer one question but creates another one, which pulls us forward to wanting to know more. For example, at the end of Act II in “Saving Private Ryan,” Tom Hanks finally finds Private Ryan, but then discovers he refuses to leave because he wants to help his fellow soldiers defend the town from the Germans. That creates the question, “Now what?” This makes us want to continue watching to see what will happen next.

At the end of Act I in “Saving Private Ryan,” the American soldiers finally take over the beach and the War Department orders Tom Hanks to go in search of Private Ryan. The climax is finally taking over the beach, but this climax is soon followed by the quest to find Private Ryan.

Every climax, except for the last one, answers one question but poses a new one. Even in individual scenes, the climax answers one question but creates a new one. During one scene, the soldiers are fighting among themselves, so to defuse the situation, Tom Hanks tells everyone what they always wondered. That before he became a soldier, he was a teacher. That’s the climax that ends the potential fight scene, and leads the soldiers on to the next scene, which is to continue searching for Private Ryan.

In the 15 Minute Movie Method, every distinct 15-minute chunk of your story ends with a climax. The whole purpose of a climax is to answer one question and pose a new one, until you reach the end. In novels, that’s called a page-turner since it compels you to keep reading to find out what happens next. In movies, that’s called a cliff hanger since it compels you to keep watching just to see what happens next.

What many novices do is write a screenplay that wanders and drags. By inserting climaxes at the end of every 15 minute segment, you’ll have enough to keep an audience’s interest and pull them along to the next segment. Think of these 15 minute chunks as links in a chain. Linked together, they create a much longer piece that’s your ultimate story.

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