To the Bitter End
Last week, we went over Three Ways to Not Start a Novel. The most logical next step would be to move on to the actual writing of the story, the things to do or to not do when we are ready to step into the main part of the story.
Because this would be the most logical step, the most obvious thing to happen here would be to not do it. Instead of the middle, let’s pretend we’ve had enough time to learn all about the main part of the novel; now we’re ready to learn about the end of the novel.
The end of the novel is perhaps one of the most important parts of the novel. The beginning is important because it is the doorway into your novel; the end is important because it is the doorway out. As we’re stepping out the door, the things that go on then and there will shape our whole memory of the book when we look back on it. It’s the last thing we see and one of the most clear things we’ll remember.
We don’t want our readers to hate the end of the book. Sometimes we want our readers to be sad at the end of our books; to sit there with a half-smile on their faces, holding the book tightly as they remember the great adventure they went through, and to feel disappointed that it’s over. Yet anger and sadness are different. By the time your reader has reached the end of the book, they’ve spent time on the book. By simply the fact that they’ve made it that far shows that they decided at one point to keep reading, to make it to the end with these characters. By the time they reach the end of the book, they’re ready for a great conclusion—and we don’t really want to disappoint them.
“To the bitter end!” Say the readers, and while hopefully they would be willing to go with the character even if the end did get bitter for the character, hopefully the way the story ends doesn’t end up being so bitter for the readers that they vow to never read any more of your books—and be serious about it.
Things to Avoid
Upon thinking of things to avoid or things to do when ending novels, I’m afraid that the first things that enter my head are those to avoid. So, as we did with the beginnings, we shall go over three ways to not end stories.
The dream. Dreams are splendid. I like dreams. Dreams come back again and again in IOTW as part of the plot. But waking up from a dream is not a good ending. At the moment, I can’t think of any time when I actually read a book like this, but I thought I ought to make that clear. If ever there is a moment when you are tempted to end your novel with, “And then she woke up—it had all been a dream!” Please, please do not. When we reach the end, we’ve invested emotional energy in your characters, ended up wanting to know how the story ends, and if authors try to wind it up with the it was all a dream line, we feel cheated. We will spend the next half-hour banging our head on the desk.
Someone Else Saves the Day. This one, I have seen done. When it came to the climax, the two main characters who we had all grown to love throughout the book ended up staying off to the side while a random, newly introduced character saved the day. By the time I had finished the novel I was left with a blank look and an irritation with the writer. We read the novel not because of the plot. We read because of the characters, most specifically the main characters. Even with the most splendid, thrilling plots, the author has failed if we don’t care what happens to the character. We want to see the character do whatever they’re supposed to do, learn whatever they’re supposed to learn, and come away triumphant.
When another character is introduced simply to save the day, we don’t find what we’re looking for. Even when the main character still ends up doing whatever they’re supposed to do, ect., it makes the story seem awkward and the plot seem disconnected from the characters. This is not what we, as authors, are aiming for.
The Saccharine-Sweet Ending. “And then, everything falls into place. The character saves the day and comes away with minor (if any) injuries, everything’s splendid, the danger’s taken care of, hip-hip-hooray.” We want to see grit. We want to see struggle; we might even want to see the character reach the point when all hope is lost. We want to have all of the adventure, all of the drama, all of the danger of the whole story magnified just before the ending, so that when it ends, when the character is victorious, it doesn’t ring hollow.
Things to Attempt
Let your reader go with your character the whole way, until the threat is vanquished. Let the character learn what they’re supposed to learn; let them do what they need to do to save the world. Make it hard. Make it count.
And then bring it to a conclusion. I know that some of you like cliffhanger endings, but every time I read one, I can’t say I enjoy it, and not because I’m anxious for the next one to come out. Cliffhangers, to me, feel like cheap excuses for not actually concluding the story. If you would like to draw one novel entirely together again, and then end on a cliffhanger note, do have at it, but please, conclude your book.
It’s slightly more difficult to provide examples on how to end books, as that would be the best way to give out spoilers in the world… So I simply let you go out. Find the endings that you liked. Find the ones that touched you, the ones you loved, the ones you felt were done incredibly well. Your assignment for this week is to go out and figure out what makes you like an ending. You can post it in the comments, if you’d like.
Note: Tomorrow is the end of the Get to Know Your Characters Challenge: Antagonist. If you’re going to participate, please remember to post it on your blog today or early tomorrow, and pass me the link to your blog through email or in a comment here.