Novel Endings: Don’t Rush

The first draft of the ending of many a novel often feels rushed and shallow. Once we see the finish line up ahead, we are desperate to cross it. But readers demand much more.
Writing Tip for Today: Here are some reminders as you work on your novel’s ending:

  • Climax Scenes. The climax scene of your novel must answer your story’s main question. Will he get the girl? Will she finger the killer? All the pages before this scene have been leading here. Be sure your POV character solves her own problems–no cavalry riding to the rescue or deus ex machina  solutions. In other words, a climax scene must be fresh and original, even if the reader can see it coming. I’m often asked if you can have more than one climax scene–the short answer is no. One scene, however subtle, must fulfill the promise you made to the reader in the beginning.
  • It’s About Time. A great climax scene requires great time management. Experiment with slowing down a scene (more details, longer explanations) or speeding it up (fewer details, short sentences, fragments, active verbs) to see where the balance is for your story. In general, when characters make big decisions or have epiphanies, it’s a gradual process, one you’ll build up to slowly. The nitsy decisions we spend little time on, and your novel needs to reflect this contrast in a logical way.
  • Round up the Horses. Novelists use this term to denote all the different character arcs, subplots and so forth coming together. Author James Patterson does a great job of this in Four Blind Mice, where the climax scene uncovers the killer (naturally) but the denouement (resolution) features a short bit about a secondary character’s health–the woman diagnosed with cancer leaves the reader wondering what happened, so Patterson gives us closure on that subplot. Readers crave closure. Even though we don’t want to read, “And they lived happily ever after,” we do want a direction for the characters–at the end are they moving apart or moving closer together? There are only a few ways to end any story: Hero attains goal, likes it, attains goal, is unhappy; doesn’t attain goal, likes it anyway, doesn’t attain goal and is unhappy. Doesn’t care is hardly ever an option.

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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