Scene Writing: How to End a Scene

You’ve set up your scene and built tension as it progresses. But as you write, it dawns on you that you aren’t sure where to end the scene. Sound familiar?

Writing Tip for Today: Here are some things to consider when a scene’s ending isn’t clear:

Scenes as Micro-stories

Scene ending trouble often crops up when story structure hasn’t been followed. You’re writing along, building tension, but suddenly you get the feeling the scene could go on and on and on. No stopping point jumps out. What to do?

The big picture of any story or novel is the pursuit of a character’s goal despite obstacles. Each scene must move the character closer to or farther from that end goal. But each scene should also be a miniature version of the whole. Every scene should mirror the set-up, build-up and pay-off of the larger story. Each scene needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

What about that goal? You might decide that this scene is about when your character uncovers the truth about her mother. Or maybe the scene is meant to show how mean Mother really is. The problem with these statements is that while they describe situations, they aren’t really goals.

Situations v. Goals

In order to clearly define a goal for a scene, the character must act in some way. This means that the scene can’t just be a general expose on Mom. That’s a situation. To translate this situation into a goal, give your character something specific to go after or to do.

In the situation about finding the truth about Mother, maybe the character sneaks into her mom’s off-limits room and goes through personal papers until she stumbles onto an old newspaper clipping that shows Mom’s been lying about something. This gives you some action to write, plus the motivation, and pulls the story forward. Once she uncovers the truth, she’ll never un-know this information.

There’s no going back if Mom comes home early, catches Character snooping and begins to berate her daughter or even gets violent.  The character’s goal at this point becomes getting away from crazy mom. When Character escapes, you know the scene is over.

Your Protagonist’s Aim

Another way to ferret out a scene’s ending is to ask yourself what your protagonist is looking to achieve with the scene. Keeping this goal in mind has helped me avoid rambling on when I write. By answering the “aims” question, you’ll know right where the scene ends—at the point she wins the goal or loses.

Before you can give your protagonist a scene goal, be sure you know the story goal. What is the point of the story? Why are we reading about this protagonist? If the answer is not, “to see if she wins or loses her goal,” rethink your story.

Think of your story as a board game. Each scene can advance or pull back your character on his way to the End Goal. By giving each scene a micro-goal, you’ll be able to control each scene ending in a seamless way as it “hands-off” to the next scene. For more about handing off scenes, read Janice Hardy’s excellent post at Fiction University. By writing better scene endings, you can keep your story from running into the weeds.

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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