Tuesday, October 19, 2010

How to craft a solid ending

We spend a lot of time learning how to craft beginnings of novels. Beginnings are hooks that sell the story and draw the reader in. Next we learn about crafting overall plot and character arc-creating goals, motivation and conflict. We learn about the Hero's Journey, The first act, second act third act, the W plot, the 15 beats necessary in a story. We work hard on word count and getting the draft done. Trust me by page 350 I'm all about getting the darn thing done.
So how much time do we spend crafting the ending? What do we know about endings?
When I first started writing in my teens, there were no endings. Only stories that went on and on. I mean life goes on, right? So did my stories. (Yes, yes, I can hear you pointing out the movie, "The Never Ending Story. " Wasn't there a sequel to that? How can you have a sequel if the first one never ends? I digress.)
I got to the point in my writing -because I write by the seat of my pants-that I had to visualize the beginning and then the ending out of necessity. If I wanted to finish, I had to know the end. Still my editorial director said to me on my third book, "You have trouble with endings, don't you?"
Hmmm. No, I didn't think so. I thought I fixed that. But clearly she thought so-therefore problem was not solved. Then how do you create a solid ending?
The answer is simple. Take as much time to think through the ending as you do the beginning. Here's how:
1) Pull five of your favorite books off the shelf and read the endings. What about them is satisfactory? Do they end with a bang? Do they wrap up all the clues? Do they set up the next book? How can you use the tricks of your favorite novels in your work?
2) Go back to what you know about the Hero's Journey- in the end, the hero must return to the ordinary world with his new found gifts (emotional and/or physical changes) and relate to this world as a changed person. Think about Harry Potter. He returns to his dreaded Aunt's and Uncle's ordinary home, but no longer lives in the cupboard under the stairs.
3) Blake Snyder's beat sheet says endings should be the opposite of the beginning to show that change has occurred. Relate 2 and 3 to how your favorite novels end. Can you see how it was done?
What if the above tips still don't help? Brainstorm with your closest friends and most importantly practice, practice practice. Sometimes a lousy first ending is caused by weak plotting. sometimes you have to go back and strengthen things in the book to get the ending you need. Do it. It's worth it. Readers like closure. They like endings that pull on heart strings, or send creepy feelings down their back. They want to know that you made the end as satisfying as the beginning and worth the hours spent reading the book. Some even read endings before they buy the book. Remember-deadline or not- an ending is a terrible thing to waste. Do the work and readers will keep coming back for more.


Jennifer Shirk said...

Great tips, Nancy! Thx!

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jennifer,

Thanks for stopping by~ Cheers!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Nan, thought provoking. I've not really analyzed endings. So far mine seem to work fine, but I tend to have endings that create an emotional feeling and closure.

I need to go back and read some of the articles of yours I've missed. Like the 15 beats? Hmm.

Linda Kage said...

My sister is an infamous end-reader-first. It drives me crazy. But it does help me realize endings really are important.

I never know what to do at the end of my stories, so thank you so much for the great advice.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia, the 15 beats is awesome! It's from Blake Snyder's Save the Cat goes to the Movies. I'm buying the book.


Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Linda,

As I mentioned, I prefer beginnings myself. :) These tips helped me.