Since last week, I've been talking about what I feel are elements that create successful beginnings and middles to stories. While it seems necessary to illustrate good endings, I don't feel comfortable giving away the great endings of books and movies.
I'm going to primarily use two Disney movies - Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Not only have I watched them a lot recently (princesses are a rather hot topic in our house at this time) but I can illustrate my point easily, and I'm guessing many of us have already seen them or are at least familiar with the stories.
|My 5-year-old, McKenna. She's most definitely a girl.|
The ending of a story is made up of two big parts, the final battle and a wrap-up scene that I often see referred to as denoument.
The Final Battle
A final battle varies in its needs depending on the genre, and it's up to you to determine what the final battle should look like. If you're writing a spy novel like The New Recruit, that will suggest a different type of battle than if you're writing, say, a historical romance like The Tutor's Daughter.
The final battle is best when it's your main character versus the main antagonist (or villain) in a face-to-face situation. You likely have many characters that work against your main character. In Jill's The New Recruit, the main character, Spencer, has several characters who he views as antagonists, but the sneaky terrorist Anya is who he working against and who is working agains thim.. Same with Harry Potter. Yeah, Draco gets in Harry's way from time to time, but he's not worthy of a final battle scene. Harry's final battle(s) require Voldemort's presence.
For Cinderella, her final battle is against her stepmother. The stepsisters are annoying for sure, but the stepmother is the one who's been actively opposing and oppressing her for years. And while the final battle involves her sitting there waiting for the Grand Duke to put a shoe on her, it's a battle nonetheless.
For Belle in Beauty and the Beast the final battle is a literal battle, and, unlike the stories mentioned above, there are three characters who need to be present. The scene would lack oomph for sure if Belle, the Beast, and Gaston were not all there. I think this is because in a romance, the bond between the couple is what's at stake, and it's represented best by both parties being present.
And while you can make the argument that Cinderella is a romance, the love story is more of a B storyline (at least in the Disney version) so we don't need Prince Charming at the final battle. Though you'll notice in many adaptations of Cinderella, like Ever After with Drew Barrymore and Anjelica Huston, the love story gets much more screen time and Prince Charming is written into the climax.
I think final battles are best when they come with a story twist. This can come from a character's crazy plan to best the bad guys (like The Hunger Games with the berries), the main character discovering something they didn't already know (like Belle not realizing the Beast is really a prince), or an unexpected ray of hope when it seemed all was lost (like Cinderella pulling the glass slipper from her apron pocket).
While your reader may have had a general idea all along what the final battle would involve, throwing something unexpected at them in the midst of it will make them feel like your book was worth reading.
After your amazing final battle, your readers need a scene that wraps up the major story lines and leaves them with a sense of ... something. A sense of hope, happiness, justice, dread, or whatever else you want.
In Beauty and the Beast, we have Belle and the Prince waltzing (are they waltzing?) around a ballroom. We catch a glimpse of the enchanted objects transformed into their human selves, and we get a nice sense of "happily ever after."
If you're writing a series, you also want to leave your readers with a sense of, "But..." Things are looking up but the bad guys are still out there. But there's still a lot of work to be done. But this peace is unstable, and it won't take much to rock it.
Another thing to keep in mind about writing a series is you'll want your final battles to keep getting bigger. The Harry Potter series does this so well. With each book, the stakes of the final battle climb higher and higher. To the extent that I was almost scared to read book seven because I was afraid of who might get killed off.
Now that we've summed up what all three parts of the story involve, which one is your favorite to write? Beginnings? Endings? Or are you that rare breed of writer who loves writing middles?
Other articles in this series:
7 Things You Need in the Beginning of Your Story
What Makes A Good Middle? Part 1
What Makes A Good Middle? Part 2