Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 25 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about story endings.
The ending is the final impression your reader has of your story, so you have to write it well. Your ending will begin with the crisis, which is where your character makes a decision that inevitably propels them toward the climax. The climax is the final confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist (or whatever is the source of the conflict). The protagonist will either win or lose. This is followed by the denouement, or falling action, which is the resolution. This is where loose ends are tied up, and you show the characters dealing with the consequences of the conflict. This can be a happy period of rest if the protagonist wins, or it can be a period of despair if the protagonist fails. Then you end with your finale, or final image.
Let’s start by discussing the climax. When you’re getting close to the climax, you want to make your antagonist seem undefeatable. Give your protagonist a disadvantage that increases their chances of losing. Make your reader think failure is more likely than success. This keeps them in suspense. If you want to include a plot twist or increase the effect of your climax, now is a great time to implement a twist; but you don’t have to if your story doesn’t call for it (Maass, Moreci 2016). Your climax will be most powerful if all of your conflicts converge at once. The climax should affect the story itself as well as the protagonist. It should have an emotional effect on your reader (Maass).
If your protagonist wins despite the odds being stacked up against them, you need to pull it off effectively. Don’t use cop-outs like the magic reset button, it-was-all-a-dream, deus ex machinas, etc. Your reader will feel cheated if all the emotions they felt during the story were unwarranted and wasted. The events of the story should have an impact on the ending. If you use any of these methods, your reader probably won’t feel satisfied; and you want your reader to feel satisfied. Again, the ending is their last impression of your story. You want to leave them with a positive impression.
During your resolution, you need to resolve all of the conflicts, whether they’re from the main plot or a subplot(s). They don’t all need to resolve at once; but by the time your reader gets to the last page, they should be resolved. The only exception is with a series where the conflict isn’t resolved until a future book. Readers will feel unsatisfied if they’re left hanging because a plot or subplot isn’t resolved (Moreci 2019).
Your denouement is a time for your reader to breathe. This is when you answer any last questions that need to be answered, wrap up those aforementioned subplots, and finalize your character resolutions. While you don’t want to skip this part, you also don’t want to go too crazy with it. Like with most things, balance is key. If you skip this part, your ending will feel rushed. If you drag it out too long, your ending will feel too long—I’m looking at you, Tolkien.
Your finale can take on several different forms. Some examples are a return to the status quo, a new beginning, a cliffhanger, or an epilogue. A return to the status quo is where the protagonist returns to their normal life. They’re changed because of the story, but they’re back in the same normal you introduced in the beginning. This is where you can have your ending mirror your beginning. A new beginning is when you show the protagonist moving forward with something like a wedding, a graduation, etc. A cliffhanger is where you leave the reader with a major unanswered question and/or an unresolved conflict. Most readers don’t like cliffhangers, especially in standalone novels. This can be appropriate for series because it makes your reader anxious to read the next book. An epilogue is a final scene showing your character(s) sometime in the future. It’s like a Where are they at now? If you’re not sure where to end your story, try writing one of these types (Donne).
These are the basics of endings. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.
Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!
1) What’s your favorite story ending? Why is it your favorite story ending? Don’t spoil it. Just share the name of the book/movie/show.
2) Do you like cliffhanger endings in series? Why or why not?
Donne, Alexa. “Writing Effective Book Endings.” YouTube, uploaded by Alexa Donne, 22 June 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDOAnnl9-dA
Maass, Donald. Writing the Breakout Novel. Writer’s Digest Books, 2001.
Moreci, Jenna. “How to Write THE END of Your Book.” YouTube, uploaded by Writing with Jenna Moreci, 4 September 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiXC8dM9Vas
Moreci, Jenna. “How to Write an Epic Climax.” YouTube, uploaded by Writing with Jenna Moreci, 4 May 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0cllmjJiAA