Written by Rachel Beck
First impressions are important, but multiple communication studies agree that people remember the ending most. By now, the brave survivors of NaNoWriMo should be somewhere in the second third of their novels. The end is not nigh, but it’s coming.
The end of a story does not determine whether readers start a book, but whether they will recommend it when they’ve finished. On one level, we listen to stories for the sake of the ending. Stories help us make sense of our own world and help us predict what we think will happen. Get started on you ending early. A climax without the proper groundwork is like an action-flick without a sound track: it just looks funny.
Tie Up Loose Ends
Unless you’re writing a mystery novel of a particular subtype, the famed “parlor scene” is tedious. Nothing kills the tension like having to include a lengthy explanation of each and every plot twist and how all the details tied together. No one has time for villainous monologues anymore, so handle as many subplots and lesser “reveals” before the climatic finish to avoid cluttering the set. When you finally reach the moment, you want the spotlight firmly fixed on the fatal sword thrust, the quiet declaration of love, or the timer reading 00:01.
Check Your Motivation
More specifically, check your character’s motivation. You know why your stoic, chisel-jawed, film-noir-esque (that’s totally a word) hero needs to go to the bar at midnight, despite the suspicion of his pending betrayal, but your character doesn’t. If he knew what was waiting for him, he might not go anyway. Look at it from every angle. Is there another way out? Does the story have to end the way it does? The easiest way for a story to fall on its face is to have it led by an inconsistent or inexcusably irrational hero.
Turn Swiss Cheese Into Fondue
Seek out plot holes and turn them into delicious, melt-your-heart, storytelling gold. It runs in a similar vein to consistent character motivation. Why did the police just happen to be passing the site of the double-cross at just that time? It turns out the difficult, aggressive sergeant has actually been helping Gumshoe out all along, because of his secret connection to the victim. If magic can be made to work as it does in the finale, then why haven’t people been using it like that all along? We discover too late that magic such as this comes at a steep price – it costs a life, a memory or a love. A good rule of thumb is this: your heroes may get into trouble through accidents or coincidence, but they can never get out of it that way. Banana peels are like inverted plot armor – they only foil the hero in his pursuit, never the villain in his escape.