You may know the old tale, “The Mountain in Labour:”
A magnificent mountain began to rumble one day, and it made such a mighty noise that it was heard across the land, and people came from far and wide to witness the wonder that was bound to follow. Thousands gathered at the base of the mountain, and more than a few climbed up to the top, all aquiver at the thought of what might come next.
After days of anxious expectation, the mountain quieted and out popped a mouse.
And everybody went home, thinking, “That sucked.”
And the moral is: A promising beginning often ends in disappointment.
That is an okay tale, but if Aesop were a modern slave to the written word, he might have called his fable, “The Climax that went ‘meh’:”
A writer (who thought she was magnificent) wrote a novel full of interesting characters, high stakes, and clever turns of phrase. There was romance, drama, thrills and chills, plus some penetrating insight into the human condition.
The story began with star-crossed lovers blocked at every turn by a wicked villain who stalked them and dug up all the secrets of their past and threatened to ruin their lives forever. The tale rumbled on through lying and spying, stealing and cheating, bodily harm, a gruesome murder, a frame-up the cops believed and, oh my god, it was all so exciting! Who would die in the end? Who would go to jail? Whose secrets would be exposed? How would it unfold?!?!
At last came the final scene, in which there was a bit of a scuffle before the cops arrived and everything was hunky-dory.
The writer closed her file, thinking, “That sucked.”
And the moral is: It’s called a climax for a reason. Though your writing partner might try to make you feel better by saying, “oh no, it’s not that important, it’s nice just to read along, really, it was fine,” don’t believe it.
Anti-climactic means disappointing, and the worst place to be disappointed in a book is at the end. It’s like having a good meal in a wonderful restaurant but then waiting half an hour for the bill. It sucks.
If your book gets more and more exciting through the middle, with the tension building to thrilling levels, the ending has to be a doozy. Or at least pretty good. Better than the middle. Not a total let-down.
So I have some revisions to do. Again. Damn it.
(Mouse drawing by Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; pondering writer by unnamed artist under Creative Commons license at WikiHow’s “How to Become a Writer” page, which is unintentionally entertaining.)