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Four strategies for doubling down on your story’s emotional impact

If your story is a bowl of ice cream, then your story’s climax is the cherry on top.

You want your story to have a sucker punch ending. You want readers to stand up and cheer or cry or both. Here are four of my strategies for doubling down on my story’s emotional impact.

Define your Main Character’s (MC’s) breaking point, then push them further

Your character has a weakness. Not just any weakness, this one stands between their success and failure in your story’s climax. Let’s say their weakness is physical: they fell off their horse as a kid, now their mobility is challenged. But how far can they walk before they reach their limit?

Early in your story, show MC walking:

  • two blocks (no problem)

  • three blocks (irritating pain, but they’re otherwise okay)

  • four blocks (this is their upper limit. They’ll need to rest, and they’ll be in a world of pain tomorrow)

  • five blocks (this exceeds their limit. They collapse and need medical attention).

Great, now we know MC will collapse after walking five blocks. So in the climax, force them to run ten blocks as if their lives depend on it.

Force your Main Character to decide (all or nothing, baby!)

When entering your story’s climax, your main character has two options. Option 1 is to avoid conflict. This is the easy route. Life will never get better, but at least they’re not prodding a hornets’ nest. Option 2 is facing insurmountable odds. The risk is huge, but it’s the only way they’ll ever get what they want. (hint: they choose option 2). This determination in the face of all odds is inspiring.

The battle v/s the war (Implications of failure)

Remember, your climax should be an all or nothing situation. They’re not fighting another dime-a-dozen battle. This is a fight to win the war!

Author Mindset

Think of your story like this. Every story event, every try/fail cycle, every unexpected twist should be another building block in setting up your climax. Use these to show how badly MC wants to achieve their goal, how hard they must try, their irrational and relentless determination in the face of daunting odds, their refusal to stay down when they’re kicked in the teeth. Do this, and your climax will deliver a sucker punch ending that readers will remember.

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