All of our stories, whether action-filled or emotion-driven, will reach a climax. The climax is, in simplest terms, the moment of greatest tension in a story.
Once the climax is over, the tension will break. I’m talking about a very specific tension, though. Not every source of tension in your story will be resolved—far from it. But let’s say your novel is about a secret. The protagonist has been living in fear that this secret will be revealed and has spent much of the novel lying and hiding and going to great lengths to ensure this secret is kept safe. Your climax is when the secret is exposed. Now, the secret itself is no longer a source of tension, but the various repercussions certainly are.
A good climax will feel inevitable. Whatever your character is enduring cannot be sustained. Whatever series of events that has been set in motion must reach a breaking point.
One thing I want to clarify here is the difference of inevitability and predictability. The predicable climax is often a lazy one, a failure of imagination. An inevitable one, on the other hand, is inexorably tied to your character and her world.
Identify your climax now.
If you are still discovering your story and haven’t conceptualized it yet, think about what has been set in motion, what outcome may grow to feel inevitable. If you have already written it, ask yourself if it’s a predictable climax or an inevitable one.
Consider that your climax is an extension of your novel’s main conflict, which is based on the alchemy of your character’s yearnings, flaws, and journey in combination with her place within her world.
If you have time, write or rewrite the climactic scene of your novel. Otherwise, make notes for yourself to come back to later.