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I'm writing a series, and I have two protagonists. Both are PoV characters, and both offer different viewpoints on the main conflict (an ongoing war). One is a respected general, has frequent contact with the leader of the army, and heads many campaigns. The other is a healer (the genre is fantasy-ish), is protected from the majority of combat, and spends most of the novel in a castle.

While these two characters are tied together by a single goal, they each have different plots, and those two plots have different and separate climaxes. Because of who and where they are, I cannot combine the climaxes. They might take place at the same time, but they are hundreds of miles apart.

How do I handle multiple climaxes like this? I understand how the novel has to lead up to the climax, and how the climax is followed by a short resolution, followed by the end of the book. I'm worried that if I put one climax after the other, one or both will be messed up in terms of how the reader sees them.

Is this a valid concern? Is there a way to write multiple climaxes, or should I stay away from it at all costs?

Note: I've thought of the 'switching PoV' method, where I switch back and forth between each climax. My problem with this method is that the climaxes are totally different, and I feel that doing this will only serve to separate the reader from both.

Second Note: Another possible way to deal with this is, since it is a series, to simply have only one climax per book. This of course means that one plot will not be resolved with every book, which seems to me would cause a bit of a problem.

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You mention having one climax in one book and only foreshadowing a second climax, awaiting a second book.

Thinking there will be a second book before the first is published is unfortunately flawed. Even if you are self-publishing, there's no guarantee anyone will read the first book. Also, you may find your second plotline unsatisfactory in retrospect but stuck with it. Or you may simply want to move your writing career in a different direction.

The exception to this is writing a single story broken up into segments, with each book only getting one climax, but this climax doesn't answer the "main question." The ill-fated Star Wars Episodes 1-3 would be an example. George Lucas outlined all three stories before getting down to business with Episode 1. (Unfortunately, nobody told him "George, this sucks," but it was still the right way to do it.)

Your option of side-by-side climaxes has some problems but is the most common way writers go about this. Sometimes they are connected by a spell such as Harry Potter's scrying, but I always found this contrived. Other times, writers successfully cut from one set of characters to the other to build drama and keep the pages turning.

However, if these two climaxes aren't intertwined, say, to win the war, then the reader is almost cheated out of the resolution phase. It's like, "So what just happened?"

I have two options to consider: a "third force" that connects the two characters, or lessening the role of one of your protagonists.

The "third force" is a psychology term that comes from a communication problem between two people being resolved by a third party. Without the third party, the two individuals have a blind spot inhibiting either person from achieving their goal. This is roughly equivalent to Gandalf's character - who doesn't have his own PoV, but he is necessary for the mutual success towards the main goal. Inserting a character like this into your story would take a lot of work, but I personally find it to be far more rewarding than scrying.

Decreasing the importance of one character is hard as a writer because you've grown close to both. We haven't. Consider the stories of Hercules or Perseus. Zeus is given a PoV in most stories, but the main plot is about the demigod. Zeus's relationship with his wife and the other gods is given secondary status. Zeus's conflict creates additional drama as now the demigod has to deal with Hera in addition to his worldly woes.

Granted, either of my options takes a "back to the drawing board" approach requiring a lot of effort. In the end, a side-by-side climax, assuming they both add to the main goal, may work out just fine.

Good writing!

  • I just had a thought and wanted to run it by you: You mentioned 'lessening one of the roles'. What if each novel had one climax, but they alternated. So novel one, plot one would get a climax. In novel two, plot two would get a climax, and so on. And instead of demoting the character in the other plot, simply have a mini-climax - a point where the problem isn't solved, but it is solved for now. That leaves the reader with a feeling that there is more to come, but completion has been temporarily achieved. Then it's on to the main climax. What are your thoughts? – Thomas Myron Sep 2 '17 at 21:22
  • It's not perfect, but I think it balances the best of both worlds adequately well. – Thomas Myron Sep 2 '17 at 21:22
  • I agree. However, you have to have a REAL GOOD plan for working on the second book and not abandoning the project. – Stu W Sep 2 '17 at 21:33
  • I'm confused about your 'third force' option. How does a third character affect the climaxes? If they still occur in different places, don't you still have the same problem, regardless of if there is a connecting character or not? Or am I missing something? – Thomas Myron Sep 8 '17 at 2:13
  • The "third force" character creates a more personal connection between the reader and your protagonists. We get to know your characters by how they treat others. The more commonalities your protagonists have, the more we care about their mutual success. It sets up your side-by-side climaxes, and if nothing else, allows for the addition of another variable that your readers will be interested in. The role of the "sidekick" can't be undervalued. – Stu W Sep 8 '17 at 20:57
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I think your concern is valid. Climax is usually a build up of the emotional investment until it piques. Having 2 might minimize the second climax and would seem weird to have 2 since we are mostly used to 1 climax stories involving all parties.

I don't know if this is 2 climaxes or not but I would think the ending of Lord of the Rings has multiple climaxes.

We have the story of Frodo and the story of Aragorn and the rest of the gang. The climax of Aragorn and his gang revolves around their objective to launch an attack on Mordor. This ultimately leads to the life and death climax/cliff hanger of being surrounded by tens of thousands of orcs.

Frodo's climax is a journey that leads him to Mount Doom to destroy the ring once and for all. This ultimately leads him to a climax of good vs evil and personal desires.

While they are in 2 different locations, different plots, different paths, different climaxes, but the same goal (to destroy the ring), they both had their climaxes result of cause and effect of each other.

Due to the attack on Mordor, Frodo was ultimately able to destroy the ring. Due to the ring being destroyed, Aragorn and company was able to be saved from the hordes of orcs that surrounded them.

The goal was ultimately achieved and resolved both of their conflicts differently but intertwined.

I don't know much about your story and you did hint at saying you were not able to combine them, but I hope this example might give you a different angle about combining climaxes while being separate.

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    +1. I love the multiple climaxes of LOTR, and think they are so satisfying as a reader because each one of them had been building in parallel for so long AND because they are deeply interrelated. In a way, you can consider them all one climax seen from different locations. I don't feel they lessened each other. – DoctorWhom Sep 1 '17 at 22:26
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    LOTR does not have multiple climaxes. It had a grand climax and a series of echoes. The echoes are important. They shape our understanding of the grand climax. LOTR is a treatise on temptation, and the ability to resist temptation. Some of the echos occur far earlier in the book: Bilbo's reluctance to give up the ring, Bombadils immunity to its temptation, Boromir's fall. The theme of temptation echos all through the work from Frodo's great failure on Mt. Doom and the ring's undoing through the corruption of Gollum: evil undone by its own contradictions. – user16226 Sep 2 '17 at 3:36
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A good book should form a thematic and, ultimately, moral whole. Multiple characters may reach their moment of crisis, but there will generally be one central climax that plays the major notes of the theme and multiple supporting climaxes that work in harmony or counterpoint to support the major note.

A simple unity of action is not needed or even desirable. A short story has a simple unity of action. The characteristic of a novel is that it has a unity of theme expressed through a diversity of action. A novel is orchestral. It is a composite of many moments, many highlights, but all leading and framing the great moment of climax that is not simply the culmination of one character's storyline, but the grand summation of the overall theme that runs through all the threads of the novel.

A novel requires that diversity of action to deserve the name (and justify the length) but it also requires the unity of theme and moral focus to qualify it as a complete and unified work.

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There are two possible narrative "situations" that I can think of:

  1. The two heroes each have their own individual problems to overcome and therefore must fight their own distinctly separate battles that have nothing to do with each other.

  2. The two heroes have to overcome two parts or aspects of the same power in separate places.

In the first situation, I would narrate the two climaxes separately, one after another. What you need to do here is to give each climax enough space. There is a switching cost for your readers, so instead of switching back and forth between the climaxes from scene to scene or chapter to chapter, I would separate them into two multi-chapter parts or "books". Each of these parts begins with the build-up to the climax and ends with the battle's immediate aftermath. That is, each climax is complete in its narration, as it is in the fictional reality.

If the two climaxes are parallel, that is, if what happens in one climactic battle influences what happens in the other, then narrate them in that way, that is, work them into each other closely. How you do that – whether scene by scene or within the same sentence – is a question of your personal style that you have to answer for yourself.

In short:

Your story should tell you how to narrate it.

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