Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Makes A Good Ending?

by Stephanie Morrill

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.

Denoument

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

29 comments:

  1. Beginnings are definitely my favorite part to write. I love starting a story and getting all of these wonderful ideas for a brand new plot. This can become problematic, though. :/ I can't even count how many beginnings I've written and loved, but ended up fizzling off after a few pages.
    Right now I'm learning how to push myself into the middle of the story instead of just quitting it.
    I've really enjoyed these posts, Stephanie! Great job!

    -Abby :D

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    1. I'm so glad, Abby! They were a bit challenging to write, but it was still fun :)

      Beginnings are my favorite part too. I'm like you - I have a folder full of stories that fizzled after a page or two.

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    2. I'm the same way! I have a lot of great situations and characters but I have a really hard time thinking of what could happen to them. Climaxes are hard for me. Hopefully I can go into that folder someday and finish my favorite ideas!

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  2. Aww, your daughter is so cute!
    I'm 27,500 words away from my ending. My character doesn't have a human antagonist, but she's been battling with her grief over the loss of her brother throughout the book.

    Piper♥

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    1. Thanks, Piper! Good luck with your ending :)

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  3. I'd say endings, because I like working on them and working on them until it sounds just right. Plus, if I've gotten a story all the way there...it just gives me a sense of accomplishment. :) Endings are really special to me because it's...well, because it's the ENDING. The characters are done being worked with...it's kind of like, "I need to get this just right because...gasp! This is the end of me writing these characters!!" :D

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    1. Amanda, it's like that with reading too, isn't it? Where you're so excited to find out what happens in the end, and then you're almost bummed to have finished.

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    2. Endings are my favourite too! But in a weird way, also the part I hate the most - even more than the middle! I miss my characters too much when it's all over :(

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  4. I don't know that I really have a favourite part to write. Beginnings, middles and endings all have things I like and dislike about writing them.
    Endings are kind of sad to write, I've found, because while there's that sense of 'wow! I finished!' it's also kind of sad to know that that's where your story ends...and that now you have to move onto revision...
    Thanks for the great post!

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  5. Yay! My ending is better off than I thought! I know it still needs some reworking (I think there's too much of an information dump toward the end), but I've definitely got a final battle-ish thing.
    The ending is my favorite part to write. When I wrote the ending of my first novel-length manuscript this past summer, I got really excited. I think my heart beat a little faster for several minutes because I had FINISHED a complete story. It was the greatest feeling! And then I had to go announce to everyone around that I'd finished the story. They just kind of smiled at me, but I had enough enthusiasm to share.

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  6. Cinderella cookies, so fun!! When I was a little girl I was tiaras all the time :)

    I'd have to say writing beginnings because I've done it the most, the middles are when it starts to fall apart for me, so im working on it. My endings tend to be lame as well, again working on it. It's great to have your checklist to make sure I have some assemblance of something, once I get that down I can work at getting them prettier.

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  7. I guess I've only ever written one ending. I thought it was good, and knowing I finished a whole novel was super cool, but beginnings always come most easily to me. Middles are fun because you get to grow your characters and write fun dialogue, but they are so difficult because you have to make sure everything gets fitted in somewhere and enough action happens to keep the story going. Thanks for the post!

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  8. Endings!!! For some reason, they're waaay easier for me then beginnings. I'm even more fond of middles then beginnings (weird, I know). It's great to bring everyone to a whopping finale, I just have to make sure people stay alive or else the next book is kind of slim on characters (plus everyone ends up permanently scarred and can't do much but cry).

    AW, to your adorable daughter. I can't wait until my niece is a little older. Her brother (2 yrs) likes trucks, dirt and Thomas the Tank Engine. I have a feeling, though, she'll probably follow in his footsteps and we STILL won't get princesses or tiaras. ;)

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    1. Lol, Cait. Those older siblings certainly wield influence! I've found my son (who's 2) dressed up in McKenna's princess clothes before. (Sigh.) But he's also WAY into construction and Thomas and all that too, so your niece may surprise you yet!

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  9. I guess I'm one of the weird writers then. The middle is definitely my favourite part of writing. Beginnings are my least favourite. I never manage to nail them, and endings are quite hard for me too, wrapping everything up nicely. But the middle, that's where all the adventures happen, and that's my favourite part.

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    1. I was hoping someone would be weird! :) I'm jealous. It always feels like I'm in the middle FOREVER.

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  11. Beginnings are my favorite to write. The first five chapters are the easiest and the most fun for me. I finished my first ever first draft of a novel a few months ago and the ending was really difficult, so many loose ends to tie up!

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    1. Agreed! I fly through those early chapters.

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  12. At the end of your article (which was very helpful), you said something about leaving a "But..." feeling. Well, for my novel, that's what I want at the moment. How do I GET a "But..." feeling? How can I write an interesting/effective cliffhanger? And give the readers the idea that not all is well yet?

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    1. Bex, I most commonly see it in the denoument. Often it's when the character is at something joyous and happy (say, a wedding) but they feel unrest in their souls and reflect upon in or dialogue with another character.

      Does that make sense? Helpful?

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    2. This makes me think of the last chapter of the Half-Blood Prince :)

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    3. Yes, thank you! That makes a bunch of sense!

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    4. Oh, good!

      And, Anonymous, that is TOTALLY the book I had in mind when I wrote my response. J. K. does it flawlessly in that book!

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  13. Hmm. I don't actually know, since I'm still on Act 1 of my first novel that I'm actually intending to complete. But I've made up lots of stories in my head, and all of them are basically middles with lots of B plots and no ending. So I have a feeling middles should be my strong point :) And I have no idea what my ending is going to be, so that might be my weak point.

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  14. Thank you, Stephanie! Needed this as I'm rewriting my ending yet again! :)

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  15. My favourites are beginnings because you can introduced your character and get to know them. Beginnings are reasonably easy to write. I also love the idea of a new life coming around with the beginning of a story. I know it sounds a little stupid but... Oh well

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  16. As many other people have said before me, beginnings are my favorite. I just love the "anything can happen" feel. If you're like me, you've laid down next to no rules as to how your characters are going to act and respond in situations. It's great having thousands of story options at your fingertips and getting to choose which ones to use.
    Endings are definitely the most satisfying though. The last bit of the book is when I write the fastest. I'm as anxious to find out what happens to my characters as I am when reading the fate of someone else in another book. But somehow whenever I finish I always wonder if there was something big I missed. Was there something intriguing I left unearthed? Could some untrod path have made this story even better?

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