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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Your Ending: The Rollercoaster Stop

I once heard the amazingly-talented Kathleen Duey say that your ending should be like a roller coaster stop.  You want to hit the climax and then coast to the end rather quickly.  When the ride is over, your reader wants off; there's no point in staying on any longer.
At the same time, we all know our readers need a little resolution - maybe have some loose ends tied up.  We don't want to slam readers into an abrupt ending that leaves them scratching their heads.

So where's the middle ground?  How do you end your novel in a way that satisfies without becoming stale?

Here are a few tips:

1.  Get to the Point.  Why did you write this story?  According to editor Victoria Mixon, your point in writing the story is your climax.  Once you've gotten to that point, there should not be much else of interest to write.  I'd suggest that if you've got a ton more to say, then either your climax is in the wrong place or (a la Stephanie Meyer), what you're actually writing is the sequel.

2.  Consider an Epilogue.  Author Edward Patterson provides an extensive on-line list of ways to end your book WRONG.  His main suggestion on how to get it right?  Consider an epilogue.*  He describes it beautifully as "that taste of sherbet between courses, "your novel" and "the reader's exit to the real world." And isn't that what we want?  The novel really ends when the climax is over, but rather than slamming into an ending, we ease our readers out of the story by tying up loose ends and letting them know how things work out for our characters.

*This is not to suggest that every story has to have an epilogue.

I really want to know your thoughts on this.  What are some of your favorite tips and tricks for creating a satisfying ending that doesn't go on forever?

7 comments:

LTM said...

this is a tough question, J! I had this problem in Debut Novel and ended up at #1--writing one and a half more books. In current book, I was able to wrap things up quickly, but I like the epilogue idea. I don't know. I'd be interested to see what others do... :D

Liz Czukas said...

I write romance, the the ending is a foregone conclusion. I like to get the feeling of FINALLY! and then call it a day. That being said, I'm also a huge fan of the epilogue. Something to show the reader that our erstwhile couple is not only together, but doing well. I'm not published, so I don't know if I've got the formula, but my readers seem to like it.

Excellent food for thought.

- Liz

Kimberly Sabatini said...

Surface has an epilogue and as a reader of my own writing, it was a *heart squish* moment for me to write it. <3

katieellyson said...

Oooh... good question, Jessie! My answer: it depends on the book. I've edited way too many manuscripts where the author had 5 endings. Seriously. Or, my least favorite, epilogues that don't add to the story.

First, you're right about writing to the climax. You want to hit that hard and stop right at the height of the euphoria/relief that your characters experience because of it. But what then? I tell authors to steal a big screenwriter secret--end with a closing image that mirrors your opening image, but in reverse.

Say you open your story with a character sitting at the table eating a bowl of cereal by themselves. In your story, their internal goal is to find love/family/community. Your closing image would then be the opening scene, tweaked to include what it is the character achieved. In this story, there might be a lover at the table eating with them, their hair deliciously rumpled from the night before. Or maybe they met someone who has kids and you close with a warm family scene in the kitchen in which your character feels complete. Or you could go the breakfast-in-bed route.

You see where I'm going with this? The goal is to end with something that gives the reader closure. Edward Patterson's "sherbet" analogy works nicely with this. Closure truly is the yummy transition between the novel world and the real world, but too much sherbet will make you (and your readers) sick. Don't go overboard. With a strong closing image, less is more!

Nikki said...

Funny, I was just thinking of writing a post on this!! I actually flip flop on my last chapter in Shoreline. Sometimes I think it's not necessary, sometimes I think it eases the reader out of the book (and leads to a sequel if it ever comes to that).

I'll tell you what I don't like. Ending on a cliffhanger (like Catching Fire!!!) Leaves me going insane for months on end!

Jessie said...

Thanks for your insights everyone!
Nikki - I was thinking some of Shoreline as I wrote this b/c it's such a nice wrap up and I definitely felt like it was necessary. The perfect amount of "sorbet."
Katie - I LOVE these tips. Coming full circle is so important and I love your use of parallel imagery.
Kim - I'm right there with you. The Destined epilogue is *heart squish* for me too.

AE Rought said...

Normally the ending is one of the first things I write. Yes, I'm a puzzling pantser with plotitudinal tendencies. When I first began in the ebook publishing world, I had the rollercoaster ending on a story and the editor busted my chops, refusing to buy the story until I completed the story arc. since then, I'm very careful with my endings.

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