I'm writing an action/adventure in the same genre as Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider. I've reached the climax, where the heroes have saved their friend from death at the last moment, and the cave/tomb is about to collapse around them. Now, I have a dilemma.

I currently have a scene after this where they escape. The midboss from before is back for one last fight, and they battle above a rickety old bridge, with a literal cliff hanger before the heroes escape to the surface. But that feels like I've put something mediocre after a stunning climax.

Alternatively, I can brush the escape aside and cut to them making it out just before the rocks fall, and pivot right into the resolution; or I can do something in the middle, where the escape is exciting but they don't fight a villain.

How do I know when to stop the action? The story isn't done, but the remainder can't compete with the climax. It almost feels like a required dangling bit of story, which feels unpleasant. How much falling action can I have before it starts to drag on?

Or, put another way, would the reader feel cheated if the scene cuts to the heroes escaping the dangerous underground with the friend they've saved?

EDIT: I know I can have story follow the climax for the purposes of tying off loose ends, mending relationships, etc. What I want to know is if there's room for action after an action-y climax: in this example, whether it would be underwhelming to show an escape from the underground temple after defeating the big boss.

  • 2
    Can you add some other interesting levels to that post-climax fight. E.g. wrap up some loose ends, complete a subplot or character arc? So that the climax is the climax of the main plot, but this second fight is sort of the climax of the sidekick or such?
    – user5645
    Sep 15, 2016 at 5:26
  • 1
    I agree with what @what (hah!) says (wrapping up loose ends or subplot)...think the last part of LOTR, Sauron is destroyed but they have some small battle in The Shire (or the killing of Grima Wormtongue)
    – user96551
    Sep 15, 2016 at 18:30
  • @user96551 I don't remember reading that part, but I've heard that LOTR wasn't particularly well-written. Is that smaller battle worth having, in your opinion?
    – whiterook6
    Sep 15, 2016 at 19:00
  • @what Would the second climax for the smaller plot line detract from the impact or quality of the main climax? Should the smaller climax happen first?
    – whiterook6
    Sep 15, 2016 at 19:01
  • @whiterook6: here is the wiki link to it : en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Scouring_of_the_Shire and lotr.wikia.com/wiki/Battle_of_Bywater ...as for my opinion...I'm drafting a reply on your question...
    – user96551
    Sep 16, 2016 at 17:00

4 Answers 4


The denouement, or resolution, has many story-related purposes, many of which Wikipedia nicely summarises, but it also has a reader-related purpose: that of gently guiding the reader out of the story and back into the real world.

Many of us fanboys and fangirls are very familiar with a kind of postpartum depression that overcomes us when a great book (or tv series) ends. I'm not listing movies here, because a movie does not last long enough for its protagonists become a familiar and habitual part of our lives. The reading of a novel (and the viewing of a tv series) on the other hand can take many days or weeks (or even years), during which we have half lived in the story's world, and half integrated the story's characters into our own. And then suddenly the narrative ends, and the character are wrenched out of our lives, and we out of theirs, and if you are at all like me then you will have shed many tears over that traumatic experience.

So what the denouement does for us is let the characters, instead of being brutally run over and unexpectedly wrenched from our lives by the speeding car of a climax, lie in bed for a few weeks, allowing us to say our goodbyes and come to terms with the natural end of the narrative.

So if you write someting that is at all intriguing, then do your readers the favor of having some few minor things happen after the big bang and let the story slowly peter out.

Of course not all stories need a denouement. They are most fitting after a long epic. Some stories have to suddenly break off to work.

If you cannot decide now, just write the story with the second climax. Then let it rest a while to distance yourself and read it again later with fresh eyes.

I had a scene in the first draft of a novel that felt both wrong and right. It had the emotional quality that I wanted, but really didn't make much sense on the level of story logic. But I couldn't bring myself to delete that scene, so I just wrote it in and left it there. Coming back to rewrite the story after a couple of months working on other things, my infatuation had cooled off enought that I could see how wrong that scene was and rewrote it. I didn't delete it completely, but changed it to something that made sense and felt right.

Writing is a lot of experimentation. You don't have to polish that section for your current draft, just write it roughly and see how it turns out. Maybe after getting it out of your system you are free to see how you could change it to something that feels good.

And trust your gut: if you doubt, then it's probably a bad idea. Good ideas feel right.

  • I'm already going to have a denouement; I'm wondering if another action scene that is less impressive than the climax can fit in the denouement or not. Other things to tie off include how the characters react to some of the bad decisions made; what happened to so-and-so and the others; etc.
    – whiterook6
    Sep 15, 2016 at 18:58
  • @whiterook6 See my edit.
    – user5645
    Sep 15, 2016 at 19:36

Ok...So here's my two cents...If I were to honestly give an opinion...as an avid reader...I would not mind the additional scene after the scintillating climax if...and this is a big if...it helps me gain closure with the character(s), tying up the loose ends...be it good or bad. If, however, you are only adding the scene because it is glitzy then I would advise against it.

For e.g. as I stated in the comments above, the whole "Scouring of the Shire" arc from LOTR felt very boring and I barely got through...it however helped me see how the war affected the other far off areas and how the minor characters (both good and bad) finally gained closure. So it worked out...kind of

So...the question you need to ask yourself is - What are you trying to achieve with the scene ? Are you trying to show the fate of the mid boss ? or are you trying to show the escape as exciting ? or something else...

You can always work out options for your scenario - for e.g. if you are trying to show the fate of the mid boss, you can have him crop up in the middle of the final fight and end him there by hero (or even the villain)...if you want to show an exciting escape, you can drop the mid-boss and have the heroes attempt a new daring exit because the entryway has collapsed behind them...there is no dearth of alternatives...so first work out what you want to convey with the scene and then work towards that.

Remember, If you are not enjoying the scene...there is no chance that your readers will either.

  • I think your final statement is very key: if I'm not enjoying it, the readers won't either.
    – whiterook6
    Sep 19, 2016 at 3:46

The climax of the action of a story is not necessarily (or even usually) the climax of the moral arc of the story. The climax of the action is the crucible in which the hero is tested and purified. What remains after the crucible and purification is very often the reconciliation: the mending of relationship and the restoration of broken bonds.

This can too easily be dismissed as tying up loose ends, but its role in the story is far more important than this. It is the necessary completion of the story arc. It completes the moral arc of the story. If there is not necessary and satisfying work to be done after the peak of action, this may be a clue that there is something missing the the story arc, that the story brings the hero to a peak of action without bringing them to a peak of moral crisis. If what follows the peak of action is boring, this may mean that all you have is action, and that is not enough for story.

  • Certainly there are relationships to fix, and loose ends to tie up. No issue there. And there doesn't need to be an exciting escape. The only problem is that without the exit, if the heroes are suddenly outside after a scene break, then them being lost and in danger wasn't actually all that bad. So I don't know what to do.
    – whiterook6
    Sep 19, 2016 at 3:50

You need enough post climax action to resolve the major outstanding issues, and "close the loops." The climax only tells you that the story will end well (or not). You don't want to leave the reader "hanging" regarding other matters. You want to outline how your characters live happily ever after (or not).

In my writings, I typically have the climax at the end of the second-to-last chapter, or the beginning of the last, so that there is a chapter (more or less) of "post climax."

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