“If the decision at the climax doesn’t involve any emotional stakes for the character, it diffuses the tension of the scene and makes for a rather anticlimactic climax.” -- Camy Tang in Troubleshooting a Weak Climax in a Novel.This is true for any length fiction. If there’s nothing at stake for the protagonist, there’s little for me—as a reader—to care about.
I read a very well written short story this week that held my attention until the end when the main character died. The author did a good job of building the tension and raising the stakes. I rooted for the character to overcome his problem, was invested in him winning the battle, and felt let down when he didn’t. I wondered if the author simply ran out of ideas and took the easy way out. Whatever it was, I felt cheated out of a good story.
I suppose there are stories where the main character dies at the end (I can’t think of one at the moment) and that ending is satisfying, but it takes a special writer to pull it off in a way that the reader realizes the ending is the only possible one given what has happened to that point in the story. So it’s more than the emotional stakes for the protagonist that are important to me as a writer. I have to consider the emotional involvement of the reader also and write a story that satisfies everyone’s needs.