At the climax of a story, the main character typically overcomes the problem that he spent much of the tale attempting to resolve. For example, if the story was about a treasure hunter obtaining a priceless, ancient artifact, then he would do so in the story’s penultimate scene. Following that achievement, the story essentially is over with only some loose ends to tie up.
Of course, the main character need not succeed.
In the climax, your main character also might fail. For example, the treasure hunter could realize the item he obtains actually is not the priceless, ancient artifact he sought. In a more literary work, the main character’s internal flaws (say his inability to lie, which seems to the reader like a virtue) likely doesn’t allow him to succeed, which is the moral of the story for readers (One must be dishonest to achieve the goal the main character sought.).
Another alternative to succeeding is that the character might simply abandon his efforts to overcome the central problem. The treasure hunter could decide after several deaths and the loss of a close friendship that the cost of obtaining the artifact is too high and not worth it. Or in the case of our literary work, he might determine a possession that can be obtained only through dishonesty simply is not worth having.
In most stories, the main character succeeds, so have him fail or abandon his goal only after you’ve put a lot of thought into it. Most readers want the main character to succeed, and not ending the story that way can lead to great dissatisfaction.
My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.