We’re all familiar with the term climax in reference to the point of a story where the action has reached its peak, the conflict is at its tensest, and the rest of the plot is a movement towards the resolution.

But did you know that climax also is a figure of speech that you can use in your storytelling?

Climax

Photo by Feliciano Guimarães

Climax Is a Figure of Speech

Climax is a figure of speech that orders phrases or words in increasing importance. The word climax actually comes from the Greek klimax, which means “staircase” or “ladder”, so it’s fairly logical that the ordering within a climax is from least to most important.

If you could read ancient Greek, you would see the world klimax in 1 Corinthians 13, that famous passage from the Bible that you hear at 85% of all weddings, “There are three things that will endure: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest (i.e. klimax) of these is love.”

Other examples of climaxes include the American Declaration of Independence, when Jefferson makes reference to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Anticlimaxes Creates Comedic Effect

On the other side of climax is anticlimax, which is when a list of words, phrases, or clauses is ordered in reverse importance.

This can be used for comedic effect, when a character or group of characters are in a moment of crisis, and the final item in the list of crisis points is significantly less serious than the other two. In an episode of How I Met Your Mother, Robin tells Ted that he goes after the wrong women, including a woman who tried to ruin his career, was married when he met her, and wore stupid hats.

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events series uses this figure of speech often as well.

Using climax and anticlimax can add an air of importance or humor to your writing. You can combine climax and anticlimax with the Rule of Three to enhance the humor or solemnity, depending on the route that your writing plans to take.

PRACTICE

You’ve got a few characters making Halloween plans.

Spend fifteen minutes and write a dialogue between these characters discussing these plans, using climaxes and anticlimaxes as often as possible. When you’ve finished, post your practice in the comments and leave feedback for your fellow practitioners.

Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman
Liz Bureman has a more-than-healthy interest in proper grammatical structure, accurate spelling, and the underappreciated semicolon. When she's not diagramming sentences and reading blogs about how terribly written the Twilight series is, she edits for the Write Practice, causes trouble in Denver, and plays guitar very slowly and poorly. You can follow her on Twitter (@epbure), where she tweets more about music of the mid-90s than writing.