Wednesday, June 18, 2014
Workshop Wednesday - Finishing Strong, notes on writing conclusions
And so we come to the end. Those final few chapters, the last lines, the moments before the fade to black. The last image in the readers' minds before the back cover shuts and the adventure is encased once more, ready to be put away and revisited sometime down the line. THE END. I would argue it's of equal or greater value than the beginning. The beginning has to ensnare the reader; but the ending - that's what delivers and makes the hours they've spent worth it.
There's your classic happy ending, where the characters attain their well-earned happiness: Pride and Prejudice.
Your tragic ending: Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth...sensing a pattern here?
The melancholy ending: Faithful Place (this is one of my contemporary favorites)
The horrifying ending: Pet Sematary
But whatever the tone of the story's conclusion, in order to finish strong and leave readers with a lasting impression, an author has to keep these important things in mind:
- Character growth. If the writer has done his/her job throughout the novel, the central protagonists (maybe even the antagonist) have gone through some growing pains - personally, within their relationships, in their struggle against the antagonist. Wherever the characters end up, however happy the conclusions to their individual stories, it's important they bear the scars of the novel's plot.
- Thematic throughput. An author should make sure the questions posed in the novel are answered in a way that makes sense in terms of these characters and this story. If a question can't be answered, hang a lantern on it, and note that it's unanswerable, either for the moment, or for good.
- Don't stumble during the denouement. Sometimes, the temptation of getting done, that light at the end of the tunnel, can lead to a rushed or choppy conclusion. Once the action has wound down, it's nice to have a slow beat, a moment for the characters to take a breath, a bit of reflection, before the curtain comes down.
I've been known to make a checklist sometimes, to ensure I'm hitting all the marks I need to as I draft the ending. Though it's tempting to just "get it done," readers always appreciate a well thought out and well-developed ending that ties up all the loose ends and delivers the characters into their new dynamic skins.
It's always rather surprising: one day, I'm typing a first chapter, and then, suddenly, here I am at the end. It's exhilarating...and a little sad. I've spent every day with this novel for almost five months now, and it's time to kiss it on the head and send it out into the world. I'm like a proud mama! It's been a longer process than I thought; I've had some setbacks with losing my dog and with my health. I appreciate everyone's patience.
So what's your favorite kind of ending? I like an old fashioned happy one myself, secret sap that I am.