Having a Climax

The Rolling Climaxes Dramatic Structure

A better approach may be to start with what I call the Odysseyan Structure: a structure involving a series of episodes each rising to a peak of approximately equal dramatic impact and yet forming a single story system.

The Odyssey is told in a series of inter-related, but chronologically non-sequential, episodes. Given that the core story is about Odysseus returning home to his patient wife, who has been hounded by suitors wishing to replace him, the story could have been told such that the massacre of the suitors forms a peak for the entire story. Instead that climax is delayed by the preparation for its occurrence; the careful depiction of the suitors as not all bad, but nevertheless deserving of divine retribution for abusing the laws of hospitality; and diffused by the various moments of joyous recognition of Odysseus. The suitors come across really as a bit of housecleaning for Odysseus compared to some of his earlier ordeals. Nevertheless, the cunning and imagination with which Odysseus has tackled earlier problems draws the audience on, wondering how he is going to resolve this one. The inherent interest in the character keeps the audience asking "what next?"

The Odysseyan Structure may not be broadly recognised in how-to-write books or critical essays, but many stories make use of it, e.g. current foreign films such as Heisei Gassen Tanuki Pompoko by Isao Takahata [Tak94] and Stefano Quantestorie by Maurizio Nichetti [Nic93], and a number of the older american films such as It's a Wonderful Life by Frank Capra [Cap43] and The African Queen by John Huston [Hus51]; "Smith of Wooton Major" by J.R.R. Tolkein [Tol69] and "The Deluge at Norderney" by Isak Dinesen [Din34] are a couple of short stories amongst many which are also Odysseyan in structure.

The point for digital storytelling is that each episode is short and compelling in its own right and yet whets the audience's apetite for more, thus providing scope for a more complex work without having to rely upon the build to a quintessential climax. The story interest moves from the depiction of a single sublime moment, to fascinating characters and/or the desire to understand the full scope of a situation or theme.