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Author: Subject: [07/28/12] Pep Talk #4: A Good Ending
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[*] posted on 7-28-2012 at 09:42 PM
[07/28/12] Pep Talk #4: A Good Ending

We are now approaching the end of July, and I imagine a lot of you are getting closer to the ending of your story. I wanted to spend a moment talking about endings, as it is one of the most important aspects of a story.

So you've got the beginning right; an opening that captures the reader's interest and raises questions. You've written the middle, raising the stakes as the story progresses and leading up to that final confrontation. Now what?

If your readers like the beginning of your book they will read to the end, but if the ending is a let down then don't expect them to pick up another book you've written. So in that sense, the ending is one of the most important things.

There are many ways to end the story, and much of this depends on what your story is about. It's pointless having a high speed car chase at the end if your whole story is a slow burning romance for example. And if your audience is children, it's probably best not to kill off every good guy in the book and have the bad guy win. So instead, I am going to list a few things of what to avoid, and some common mistakes people make.

1. Don't rush it.
It's tempting to rush the ending. Whether it's your excitement to get it all out, or you're just bored of your story and want to get it done, it is quite common for people to rush those last two chapters. It is well worth spending a day or two working on your ending, having a 'cooling off' time where you don't look at it, then coming back to it.

Some novels, the ending will be abrupt, there will be little need to tie up loose ends and it will seem quicker than others. Other books dwell on the ending and build it up slowly. Either approach is fine as long as it sits with the tone of the story. Just remember that while an ending can seem abrupt if done correctly, it still shouldn't seem rushed. There is a difference.

2. Put everything into the mix.
Again, this will depend on the type of story you are writing, but put everything in at this moment so it is a real struggle for our character to win. If the book is about a police officer catching a criminal, make the criminal abduct the police officer's daughter. If it's a romance, make the boy and the girl split up so badly it looks like there is no hope of getting back together. If it is an adventure, make the bad guy nearly win. Build up the stakes too. What does the main character stand to lose? It should be the thing he has wanted throughout the whole story, and maybe even more.

There should be a moment when all seems lost; when the villain looks like they will win. My teacher used to say to me that if, while I am writing, I think to myself 'how on earth is my main character going to get out of this?' then that is good because my audience will also be thinking that.

3. No Deus ex Machina
The Greek master, Horace, wrote over 2000 years ago that writers should not use Deus ex Machina (literally translated as God in the Machine) to get your character out of a sticky situation. It is still as true now as it was then. You cannot introduce a new character or give your character a new ability right at the end of your story to get them out of a sticky situation.

Of course, there are ways around this. If your character is stuck on the top of a tower and you want a large bird to come and rescue them, and it is a fantasy world and they are a wizard, you can establish earlier in the book that they can talk to animals (don't use this, as it's from Lord of the Rings). If your character is stuck in a room and suddenly they know how to pick a lock, have it established earlier in your story that they can pick locks.

Basically, the reader wants to be surprised by the ending, but they also feel cheated if they feel they weren't given all the information. If you wonder how the character is going to get out of the pit of snakes before he gets bitten, and then suddenly he gets a whip out and uses it to climb out of the pit, that's fine as long as we know he had the whip with him in the first place, and we as readers will laugh and say 'oh yeah, I forgot he had that.' But if suddenly he has the whip we will think 'well that's convenient. But when did he get that?'

4. What has the Character learned?
Your main character should have grown, developed, and learned something by the end. If they are a treasure hunter and all they want is treasure, do they give up said treasure at the end to save someone's life, thereby learning that human life is more important that any treasure? Are they a workaholic who learns, maybe tragically too late, that family is more important than work? It's like saying there has to be a moral at the end, but without making it sound too contrived.

5. Sum up but lose the sappy.
Naturally you have to tie up loose ends, although not all loose ends need a tie (do we really care what happened to Jimbo's hat in chapter 4) but there are some that really do need sorting out (did Jimbo's brother ever find his way out of the woods?)

There is a danger, though, that the last couple of chapters consist of the character watching the sunset while they discuss all they have learned. Even established writers can do this (The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown) so don't worry if you made this mistake. Just be aware that it is boring, and is likely to leave your readers with a sickly taste in their mouths.

6. 'But my book is a Series'
Doesn't matter. Harry Potter is a series, but it still has an ending to each book. Lord of the Rings is a trilogy, but the ending of each book still feels like a natural break. There are some questions you can leave unanswered, especially if they are questions set up for the entire series. But each book in the series should have its own theme, and the questions set up in those books should have a conclusion. The reader wants to feel satisfied that the book they have just read is complete. By all means put in a cliff hanger, but answer that books questions first.

Well, this is it for me. If you have any questions or want any more advice on writing, please feel free to email me at rebekahhumphreybullen@hotmail.com I am always happy to help.

Yours truly,


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