Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Keys to a satisfying conclusion

First off, "Rachel" you won your choice of Jill Williamson's books, but there's no email address for you. Can you please send me an email?

We are almost done talking through the ins and outs of the first draft, and then we'll move on to editing. I'm super excited, because I like the first draft process, but I looooove editing.

Quick recap of the last couple weeks. We've talked about how long a book should be, making dialogue natural, finding your writing voice, and beating off those first draft blues, which tend to strike in the last half of the book.

So today we're going to talk about how to write a satisfying conclusion. In short - it's all about the black moment.

The black moment is when all hope is lost. It's when your main character's greatest fear has happened, the lie they believe about themselves has never seemed truer, and they can't see their way out of this mess.

In Pride & Prejudice, it's when Lydia has run away with Mr. Wickham and Elizabeth feels in her heart that Mr. Darcy is lost to her forever.

In Me, Just Different it's when Skylar's mom has left, her dad has given up hope of her returning, Connor went back on a promise, Abbie has run away, and now she's discovered her boyfriend is cheating on her.

In It's a Wonderful Life, it when George Bailey realizes he's "worth more dead than alive" and stands at the bridge contemplating suicide.

I know it can be hard to let your character suffer, but without the black moment, your conclusion will feel flat. Because if you haven't brought your character to their knees, if you haven't shown them how bad it can be, then they'll lack appreciation of everything working out okay in the end. And so will your reader.

So look at your manuscript and ask, what is my character most afraid of? What would it hurt most to lose? Then make it happen.

A book isn't a book without conflict, but lots of writers struggle with the black moment. They love their main character and don't want to torture them. What about you? Do you have a tough time "tormenting" your beloved main character?


  1. I live for the torture!! In reading and in writing....does that make me a terrible person?! haha. (I hate the torture in real life...for me, or anyone!)

    I've loved these posts! Can't wait for editing, I'm nearly there!

  2. Will definitely be thinking about some ways to make the black moment in my novel blacker.

    By the way, reviewed your Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt Series on my blog:

  3. Hahaha, my thoughts and opinions mirror Nicole! I feel bad, but I always like my character experiencing a lot of pain--either emotionally or physically--in my writings. And in what I read!

    It makes for a more intense read, in my eyes!

    ~ Katy

  4. Emotionally, I am fine hurting my characters as long as it gets resolved.
    Physically, no so much.

    Alyson :)

  5. I have a bad habit of rushing through this part in my first draft. Not that I don't want to hurt my characters, I'm just too eager to get to "the end" LOL. Luckily, when I go back and reread a couple days later, I see how to ratchet it up a few notches. =) (Strangely, I have no trouble at all killing off main characters mid-book . . .)

  6. Nicole, I'm with you! No wonder you like the Skylar series. I had a few people who were like, "It seemed like a little too much was being thrown at poor Skylar." Those reviews always made me chuckle. Like, should I have paused the story events for Skylar to have a coffee break?

    Rachelle, what a sweet review! Thank you so much for telling me about it.

    Katy, "intense" is a great word. That's what helps build a page turner.

    Alyson, lol, me too!

    Roseanna, at least that can all be fixed in the editing process. It's hard to slow down when you know you're close to finishing.

  7. So, is it bad that I kinda enjoy writing horrible moments in my writing work?? x) Because I really do enjoy it to a point, its sad and hard yes, but I really love writing "black moments"; it adds spice to my books!
    It makes books SO great! If anyone feels like picking up the Inkheart Trilogy, READ IT. Its amazing! And the second book is the best out of the 3, and the horrible black moment made my throat get tight and I felt like I would cry in anger at what had just happened.
    I don't know about any of you... but BLACK MOMENTS are AMAZING! =D Especially when they are written well and have unique, original ideas in them.

  8. I kind of enjoy "torturing" my characters in this way. I know, it may seem terrible, but what's a good book without a ultimate low?

  9. Actually, torturing my character is my favorite part (oh yes, cringe) and although I HATE it, and I feel bad about it, but I think I'm pretty good at making my character feel 'all is lost', but the best part ever is when he or she gets through it and becomes the hero!
    Technically 'I'm' the hero because I'm the one helping the character save the day...

    Isn't writing fun?

  10. I just discovered this blog so I realize that I'm commenting on something that is three years old but I have a question. I can't decide if I've already put my character through too much suffering. Her mother was killed, her sister taken hostage, and she is about to discover that her friend all her life has betrayed her. Would it be too much to also have her role-model/mentor side-character killed as well???? I don't want to make the story so morbid, I just don't know how far is too far. Can someone help?

    1. I'm sorry this is a late response, but I just found this blog.
      I would not say so, seeing as I abuse my characters.
      Example: The MCs best friend would be going to a boarding school in one day, then she hopes to find comfort in her mother, but her mother is getting remarried to a man who abused her.
      Then her nemesis is going to the same boarding school as her best friend. She then ran away and joined the boarding school as well.
      That all happened in the first chapter.
      I continued to have the best friend fall in love with her, the MC with a crush on someone who becomes a friend but likes another girl, the MC realize her feelings are for her best friend, and then he gets terribly injured, only to wake up from his coma with amnesia.
      Oh, then two of her new friends are kidnapped by a sadistic sociopath looking for someone who went to the boarding school. Following that, the MC's best friend had disappeared from the hospital and her soon to be stepfather was her first crush's dad.
      Worse things happen by far, that's just the tip of the iceberg, but my readers were a little disturbed. In the end, it hooked them to the story and made them appreciate the true black moment and the happy ending a lot more than if I made it easy for the MC.
      I would say to go for it if you feel like it's the best choice for your story. You can always go back and edit it if you decide it was too much. Or you could just make some other awful event happen other than death. There truly are fates much, much worse than death. In the end, I would love it, from the sound of it. I find my favorite series are the ones with suffering, sadly where my favorite characters die. Despite my angry rants, sobbing, screaming, and beating up pillows, I love it and it inspires my writing. The best writing, to me at least, has the power to manipulate the readers' emotions. So long as you do this well and does not become forced, throwing off the flow of your story, I would go for it!
      Of course, not everyone will like it. Find your target audience, or simply write it for yourself. :) I hope this helped!

  11. My main character actually suffers quite a bit. At the end he dies after his sister betrays him. His whole family other than his sister died 10 years before the first book. And he often makes bad decisions which often lead to his downfall.