Friday, April 8, 2016

How Do You End Your Story? Where to End, How to Decide, What to Make Sure You Include

Andrea, one of my online students, send me a great question this week:  "I haven't quite decided how my story is going to end," she wrote.  "I have been mulling this very question for months, and I cannot come up with an answer. It's really perplexing and I think it's keeping me from moving forward."

She also mentioned being worried about covering too much time in her novel (one whole year).  Funny thing, these two questions are related.  If you solve one, you can solve the other.

Creating a Satisfying Ending
For this week's writing exercise, here's an article that really helped me know how to write a satisfying ending for my stories.  It's from The Atlantic, and it's about how John Cheever taught this writer the secret to endings.

And if you get inspired to work on your own ending (your book's ending!), here's my personal checklist:

1.  Do all the major plot threads wrap up in some way--even if they are not happy resolutions, will the reader feel like the author didn't leave anything hanging?

2.  Does the ending chapter loop back to the beginning?  Often, skillful writers will make their last chapter echo back to the first chapter with repeat of location, people, or the major conflict being discussed.

3.  Is there anything started in the last chapter (a significant event)?  This is usually not a great idea, unless you're writing a sequel.

4. Has the narrator or main character changed in some way?  Is there something they didn't get that they really wanted--which is quite human--and they need to accept that?

5.  Is there too much "Hallmark channel" feel about the ending?  How could you twist or alter it in some way, to tone down the overly sweet feel?  (Ignore this advice if you're writing a fairytale or a Harlequin romance.  They usually end very sweetly.)  

How Much Time to Cover
Decide where to end based on questions 1 and 4.   If you work with a storyboard and a chart about how your character grows or changes, you should be able to see what question each thread asks as the story begins. 

The event thread (shown on a storyboard) will present a problem at the beginning.  The story's plot will try to address it--perhaps solve it, perhaps come to a different resolution.  When that happens, your event arc is complete.

The narrative arc, or how the character grows and changes, also presents something at the beginning.  The character usually has a need, a fear, a longing, something she or he must do or have or become.  When they reach a point of resolving that--or accepting who they are, even without that--the narrative arc is complete.

This is how you decide how much time to cover.  And how to choose your ending spot.

It sounds pretty simple, even formulaic.  I get relief from it.  All I have to do is ask myself two questions:  did the event I started with come to any resolution, and did the character grow and change and come to any acceptance. 

Back away from your story this week and try it.  It might help you move forward in surprising ways.  And even finish your book!

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