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Friday, March 11, 2011

How do I form a good ending for my novel?

As I brought a recent work-in-progress to closure, I gave some extra thought to what makes a good ending. I’m a plotter and plan the basic action of the ending before I begin writing, but there is always an element I cannot grasp until the characters take shape, grow, and interact with each other. The emotional atmosphere of the ending is what I cannot perceive until well into the book. As I reach near the midpoint, I start running through this checklist to help me craft an ending that captures the correct nuances.
  •  Tie up all the loose ends.
I make a list of all the issues which need to be resolved in the main plot and subplots. The core questions posed to the main characters at the opening must be answered, coming full circle. Don’t slam on the brakes immediately after the momentum of action is at its height. Take time to address them all or the ending will feel rushed and the reader left unsatisfied.
  • Resolve dilemmas with the most important last.
This builds tension to that final moment, withholding what the reader most wants to know. I purposely bring closure to subplots first, ranking them least important to most, before I address resolution of main conflicts.
  • Converge all major internal and external conflicts together.
Once the subplot conflicts are out of the way, orchestrating a big firework show at the end to resolve the big issues makes a powerful and memorable ending. Have you ever read a novel and a month later couldn’t remember its ending? Sadly, I have and felt cheated.
  • Leave the reader in suspense right up to the final moments.
I like endings with a twist, an unexpected element a reader cannot guess until the very last couple of sentences.
  • If the book is part of a series, what needs to remain dangling that will make the reader yearn for the next volume?
This is tricky, since it cannot be one of the core questions posed to the main characters in the beginning of the book. Those must be resolved in this volume for the reader to feel satisfied. At this point, the main characters are allowed a breath, without immediate danger on their heels. They are at a point where there is time for them to rest and dwell upon discoveries made along their journeys, bits of information which can build into a new set of problems later.
  • The final note of resolution and release needs to have a touch of lyricism.
We use care to select our words and sentences to hook the reader in the opening. A well-crafted ending leaves a lingering impression, to satisfy and draw the reader back for more of our writings.
What elements are most essential in your ending? Do you clearly know your ending early in your writing process, or pose several when you reach the climax?



Pat McDermott said...

Great list, Marsha, clear and comprehensive. I've never thought about "how to craft an ending" in these terms, but I tend to follow this process and almost always know my ending and what the last line will be. It's getting there that trips me up :-)

Marsha A. Moore said...

With this WIP I realized I had a specific process and went about writing it down, as a personal reminder. Seemed good, so thought I'd share. Thanks, Pat!

Pat Dale said...

Interesting topic, Marsha. I am a pantzer but I've learned that some plotting has to be done. Rather than setting up charts and notes, I rely on my brain to keep all those details in check. Right now, I'm polishing a mystery novel that gave me a chance to do something a bit different by way of its ending. It is the first of a series of mysteries and I wanted to keep my male and female protagonists throughout the series. The woman is heavily into the climax scene and suffers a possibly life-ending blow at the end. Of course, she'll recover but it gave me a chance to plan her return and the necessary charactrer arc changes for book two. Good luck with your upcoming releases.
Pat Dale

Anonymous said...

Marsha - you sewed the ending up in a nice little package here. Nice article. I haven't really thought about the ending process, but you've laid it out quite nicely...I'm going to use your list as a reference - thanks for sharing.

Marsha A. Moore said...

I needed this list for myself and hoped others would find it useful too. Glad I could help!

Janice said...

I'm a panster, but I keep an eye on the word count and have an idea how I want it to end.

The WIP I'm currently working on is taking three or so chapters for the climax.

Other than that I let the character dictate what happens.


J Q Rose said...

The last point--•The final note of resolution and release needs to have a touch of lyricism--made an impression on me. It is so true how we try to hook the reader at the beginning, so we really need to figure out how to satisfy the reader at the end with lyricism. Excellent!

Sophie Pembroke said...

Such a useful list! Reading through, I realised that I do tend to do all of these things - but not until the revision. How helpful to actually deal with these issues in the first draft!

Look out, WIP. I have plans.

Marsha A. Moore said...

@JQ--glad that point resonated with you!

Thanks, Sophie. It's good to know I helped.:-)