And be sure to check out Amy's new release, A Matter of Heart!
Crafting a Satisfying Ending to Your Story, A Craft of Writing Post by Amy Fellner Dominy
ENDINGSAs summer winds down it seems like a good time to talk about endings.
Great endings make you sigh, tear-up or smile. They make you sad for the book to be over, and they make you want to flip the pages and go back to the beginning and start again. Great endings are, simply put, satisfying.
If only they were simple to write.
So, here are a few suggestions to help you craft a satisfying ending to your story.
ANSWER THE QUESTIONIn a way, a story is really just a series of questions you create in the reader’s mind.
What will happen next? What will she do? How will he get out of this? Where do they go from here?
Among all these questions there is usually one BIG question that keeps you reading. This is the Story Problem. When I studied playwriting, it was also called the Dramatic Question.
- Will Frodo destroy the ring?
- Will Katniss survive The Hunger Games?
- Will Wilbur the Pig avoid becoming bacon?
Now, think about your own story—what’s the story problem? What’s the Dramatic Question you’ve set up? Your most important job at the end of your book is to make sure you answer that question.
So, the first thing I recommend is that you identify your Dramatic Question and write it down. If you can’t come up with one, then start there. Make sure you’ve created a problem so important, with stakes so high, that your reader will need to turn pages to figure out what will happen. When I start a new book, I tape the story problem above my computer screen because it keeps me focused as I write.
In my newest book, A Matter of Heart, the Dramatic Question is whether Abby will swim in the State Championships—even knowing that she will likely die from a heart condition if she does. So this is the note I wrote for myself:
Will Abby swim? (If she does, will she die?)Each scene in my book (each scene in your book) should be in some way connected…and leading your characters closer to the answer of that dramatic question.
One other point to mention: The story problem is often an EXTERNAL conflict but you may also have an INTERNAL (emotional) conflict. Using Abby as an example again, her identity and sense of self-worth is wrapped up in her talent as a swimmer. So, for her the internal question to be answered is Will Abby recognize that she can be more than she’s been? Can she find another reason to live?
As the author, you want to resolve BOTH conflicts at the end.
SUBPLOTSSo, we’ve talked about your major STORY PROBLEM, but you’ve most likely got your readers wondering about a dozen other things. Will Aragorn become King? Does Katniss choose Peeta or Gale? What happens to Charlotte and her babies? So along with answering the BIG question, a satisfying ending requires that you also resolve your sub-plots—make sure you haven’t left any unanswered questions (unless you’re doing it deliberately.) I call it the Ramen Rule.
THE RAMEN RULEI once listened to a book where a lady brings a guy a hot meal. (Ramen noodles.) He’s touched by the gesture. A beautiful romantic moment blooms to life but do I care? No! Because I’m thinking about the ramen noodles and how they’re getting cold. In fact, the guy never eats his dinner! The author obviously forgot about the noodles—they were just a plot device. It’s a really small thing, but it’s a good example of how every detail matters. As the reader, I didn’t forget. So tie up loose ends.
BE TRUE TO YOUR CHARACTERSWhatever happens at the end of your book, happy or tragic, funny or heart-breaking, make sure it’s believable for your character. We want our characters to be smart, and capable. But are they? Is that the person you’ve created? Give your characters the space to be larger than life. To take things to extremes. To make horrible mistakes and huge miscalculations if that’s who they are. Or allow them to cower in fear if that’s who they are. Don’t give us the ending you want or the ending you think we want: give us the ending earned by your characters.
WHEN IT’S OVER, IT’S OVEROnce you’ve resolved the sub plots and answered the big question, then give the reader a brief moment of happiness or calm or a sense of completion. Then…THE END. Don’t drag it out or tack on a new problem. If you’re writing a series, you give that brief moment of calm and then drop a new shoe. (Pet peeve: Series books that end in mid-conflict. That’s not an ending to me. That’s a chapter break. Resolve the conflict. Then…create a new one for book 2.)
So, those are some tips for endings. But really, the one single most important thing I can tell you is to get there. Some way. Some how. Reach the ending because it’s a truly amazing feat to complete a book, flaws and all. And, only after you’ve finished, can you start revising.
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-- posted by Susan Sipal, @HP4Writers