In the second story I'm working on (I'm working on three right now--yeah, I know smart, right?), I finally worked out how to make the story build to the climax instead of kind of--I don't know--plateau to it.
I had to think about the 'promise of the premise' and what someone reading my story would expect from it by the title, blurb, cover, synopsis, etc. My job is not to deliver exactly what they want, but to give them an experience that satisfies some part of what they are looking for.
I mean, my story will be labeled by genre, for one. I have to meet those expectations. If my books says 'Western' but I set it at the North Pole, then people are going to be furrowing eyebrows and getting confused. And there's no need for that. People seek out certain stories hoping for certain experiences, and I don't want to fool them--deliberately or not.
Therefore, I thought carefully about the experience and message and story I'll be promising to the audience. Will everything that I promised ultimately be delivered? Am I promising things I have no intentions of giving them? Am I continually building toward that promise to keep their expectations going up? Is what I'm giving them better than what they expected?
That last question is the one I'm always striving for. I'm not always going to give a reader what he or she wants because sometimes the reader wants the safe, boring choice. I just have to be sure to show how, in all its glory, the choice I've presented is the best one for the story.
Boy, do I fail at doing that.