What are the best ways to do verbal climaxes, and what are some good examples thereof? I want to write a story where the climax is a conversation between two characters to uncover the truth, or a detective’s denouement, or a courtroom cross-examination ending in the witness slipping up; but how can I do that while retaining the tension and drama of a fight scene or epic battle?


– Anomander

Hi Anomander,

Social conflicts actually work much like other types of conflict such as sword fights. In narration, it’s not seeing someone slash at someone else with a sword that’s exciting; it’s knowing that someone could die at any moment. A battle is usually more exciting yet because the stakes are higher. An entire kingdom could fall and the dark lord could triumph based on the outcome of that battle.

Any other type of conflict is just as exciting if you give it the same ingredients to the same degree: urgency, consequences that matter (stakes), and odds stacked against the protagonist. So if a villain opens a big portal to a hell dimension, and every second more chunks of the world are being pulled through that portal, and the only way the protagonist can save the world is to talk to the villain and somehow convince them to close it again, that’s going to be as exciting as a battle.

A courtroom conversation probably won’t feel quite as epic as a battle because usually just one person’s life or freedom is at stake. But if you get your audience to care about that person, it certainly can be exciting enough for the climax of that story. Many stories never raise the stakes as high as a typical battle.

During the dialogue, you just want to make your protagonist struggle until they have their breakthrough. That maintains the tension up until the turning point.

There are tons of effective social conflicts out there. An example off the top of my head is the movie ParaNorman. That has a very interesting social conflict at the climax, though magic is used to add more difficulty and danger for the protagonist. The Good Place also has lots of important social conflicts. If you want to look at something darker, the Game of Thrones TV show has plenty of riveting ones, though they aren’t usually used for climaxes from what I remember.

Happy writing!

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