Thursday, 5 July 2012

How To Give Your Readers An Unforgettable Ending

A story is more than a sequence of events that lead to a crisis and result in a resolution—it is a journey that should invest us emotionally, so that by the time our hero faces the crisis we're hoping for a happy ending for him.

Earlier, I posted about great beginnings, building the action through the middle, and how to write a nail biting climax. Now I'd like to focus on making sure your conclusion resonates with the reader in a way that is both rewarding and incendiary.

There are a number of ways to finish a story, but depending on what kind of ending you'd like to write, you'll have to ask yourself these questions.

Will my hero succeed in achieving the story goal?

What do I want my hero to learn?

Do I want him to learn from his mistake or his success?

Whether you want a happy outcome or not, your ending will probably fall into one of the four categories.

1. Comedy. The protagonist achieves the story goal and his success results in a positive outcome.

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is able to find the true meaning of humanity and vows to change his ways, becoming a charitable person for the rest of his life.

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2. Tragedy. The protagonist fails to achieve the story goal, and his failure results in a negative outcome.

In The Crucible, John Procter is falsely accused of being a witch and is unable to convince the courts of his former lover's jealousy towards his wife. He is forced to falsely confess, but in the end he is unwilling to lie and is hung to die.

photo credit,

3. Tragi-comedy. The protagonist fails to achieve the goal, but his failure results in a positive outcome.

In The Golden Compass, Lyra is unable to save her best friend, but his death results in her discovery of a bridge between worlds.
photo credit,

4. Comi-tragedy. The protagonist achieves the goal, but his success results in a negative outcome.

In The Great Gatsby, Jay uses criminal means to acquire the riches and lifestyle he's sought after in hopes of impressing Daisy, only to lose her and eventually his life.

No matter which ending you create for your hero, make certain you conclude with the same style and voice you've established throughout the story. And remember, even though you may not have a happy ending, the central conflict must be resolved, and loose ends or significant questions should be answered.

I hope you found this helpful. You may want to check out Glen C. Strathy's site. He has excellent tips for plotting, and in particular, nailing your ending.

What are some of your memorable endings? 


Jane Lebak said...

I recently compiled a list of things I needed to accomplish in the end of my string quartet novel in order to make sure the ending was satisfying. There were three absolute necessities and seven or eight points that really should be answered (eg, smaller matters like what happened to the stray cat the MC had been feeding.)

Thanks for covering the various iterations. Nailing the ending gives the reader a payoff for having read through the previous 85,000 words.

Mere Joyce said...

Jane, you are so correct! I can't tell you how many times I've been disappointed by the ending of a book. And it's, ya know, the ending, so you never get another chance to smooth over those bad feelings! Nailing the ending is crucial, and a good ending is like a big "Thank you!" to your readers.

(and now, of course, I need to look into these movies, because some of them I haven't seen!)

PK HREZO said...

Great tips! Thanks for sharing! And nice to meet you. :)

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