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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Five Steps to a Great Ending


by Dina Sleiman

I just finished a new novel. We hear so much about the importance of great beginnings in the fiction world. Great first sentences, pages, chapters. True enough, a great beginning will hook someone to read your book. But you know what will hook someone to read your next book? You guessed it, a great ending. So as I was wrapping up my book, I stopped to ponder some of the rules of great endings. I'll share mine, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

1) Give the reader what they expect or something better.
This is a general rule of fiction, but it doubly applies to endings. If you give a romance reader anything less than their expected hero and heroine vow their undying love, or leave your mystery reader without solving the crime, you will have one ticked off customer who will not be buying your next book. Reader expectations must rule the day. On the other hand, if you give them exactly what they expect. Ho hum. Boring. Try to find some unexpected twist that will satisfy your reader plus give them a little extra something special.

2) Tie up loose threads.
Any published author knows that you must provide a proper climax and resolution at the end of a novel. However, a good novel will also answer all the reader's questions. It will not leave them wondering, “But what happened to such and such or so and so.” Authors must be careful to go through and make sure they have tied up all their loose ends. Of course the exception would be a series. For a book in a series, the major conflict of the plot should be resolved, but loose threads concerning subplots and minor characters can be left open to be explored in future books.

3) Properly pace the ending.
Endings should neither be too short nor too long. You don't want to rush the reader through the ending or bore them which unnecessary details. I think a general rule of thumb for an average 75-100k word novel is one to two chapters for the climax and one scene to one chapter for the resolution. Again, this could vary by genre. For a novella, perhaps one short scene for each or a longer scene that incorporates both. You never want to have climax, one paragraph of resolution because you're out of words, and done. Whew! Your reader will not feel satisfied. Nor do you want 10% of your book to be happy sappy resolution with no tension. Now for a long epic novel, the ending will also need to be longer. You might need to provide proper closure for a number of characters. And for the ending of a lengthy series, the resolution could stretch quite a few chapters as it provides wrap-up for a significant investment of time by the reader.

4) Provide emotional satisfaction.
You can tell you hit the other elements properly if you provide your reader with an emotionally satisfying ending. For a happy ending you want them to sigh, even cry tears of joy, and then put down the book feeling good about it. If it is a more realistic ending, they should feel like they've taken a worthwhile journey and have deep issues to ponder for many days to come. And if it's a sad ending...well, if it's a sad ending, move to France because we don't like those. Okay, fine, if it's a sad ending it should provide a cathartic experience with plenty of tears and teach a valuable lesson.

5) Utilize circularity.
Readers, chances are you have delighted in this feature in your favorite endings without even knowing the name. And authors, this one will really put your ending over the top. Circularity occurs when you bring back elements from the beginning of the story at the end. Particularly bringing back subject-matter, settings, words and phrasings. In my most recent book, I wrote my ending and concluded the story. Great. Job done. Reader satisfied. But then I went back and rewrote the ending with echoed words and phrases from the opening of the book that juxtaposed the character at the beginning with the character at the end. That's no longer just mission accomplished, it is mission accomplished with flair.

So those are some of the elements that I think make a great ending. How about you? What are some of your favorite endings and what makes them stand out?


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Dina Sleiman writes lyrical stories that dance with light. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. She was the Overall Winner in the 2009 Touched by Love contest for unpublished authors. Her debut novel, Dance of the Dandelion with Whitefire Publishing, won an honorable mention in the 2012 Selah Awards. Her latest novel, Love in Three-Quarter Time, is the launch title for the new Zondervan First imprint. Dina is a contributing author at Inkwell InspirationsColonial Quillsiflourishonline.com, a part-time acquistions editor for WhiteFire Publishing, and she is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Agency. Join her as she discovers the unforced rhythms of grace. For more info visit her at http://dinasleiman.com/

19 comments:

  1. Good tips, Dina. The ending needs to fit. I typically like happy endings, but sometimes bittersweet endings are the best.

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  2. Thanks for taking time to give these excellent tips.

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  3. Lisa, I kind of like bittersweet too. I just finished a tv series on netflix that had a bittersweet finale, and I thought it was excellent.

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  4. Gay, you're very welcome. I hope they were helpful.

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  5. Thanks, DeAnna. I did have another one I was thinking of, but I it needs its own post to really explain well. Make sure all inner and outer journeys come together for an explosive climax.

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  6. Ohhh, I never actually gave words to circularity in the ending, but I'm happy to realize I've done it before. :)

    These are wonderful tips, Dina. Thank you. I agree, the ending is so important. The last thing you want is an unsatisfied reader.

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  7. I'm going to have to look through my books and find some endings I particularly liked. I will say one of the things I DON'T like about romance is you always know how it will end. I prefer to be surprised. Julie Klassen and Siri Mitchell manage to write romantic books without you knowing how they will end. I like that a lot. And my favorite book of the summer had the hero and heroine marry before the climax. That was a surprise, and allowed for the climax and resolution to be about other issues in the book. Of course Angela Hunt is great for surprise endings. And you never really know what to expect from literary authors.

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  8. Great thoughts on a great ending! I like to use the circularity factor as well. It helps me as the author feel satisfied and hopefully the reader will feel the same way.

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  9. Great post, Dina. Like Suzie and Carla, I like the circularity factor although I never realized there was a term for it.

    I really dislike rushed endings. Usually when it happens, so many other scenes come to mind and I wonder why the author insisted on those instead of the ending. It's so hard to write a book review when that happens because I'm left bereft so I've contacted the authors and I've come to realize it usually happens when the author doesn't take the time to go back and edit out the unnecessary stuff because they're on a schedule and haven't the time. It's 'good enough' so they let it go. Unfortunately, those authors stick in my memory and I shy away from their books.

    Thanks for this list, Dina. Here I go printing it off. :)

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  10. Excellent guidance for those endings, Dina. Thanks for the tip on the climax, too. I'm printing them.

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  11. Carla, yes, circularity really adds to that sense of fulfillment and closure.

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  12. Anita, I agree. The poor editing is sad and annoying. I pay close attention to endings when I edit for WhiteFire.

    I think I first learned the term cirularity in undergrad creative writing classes. It is used a lot in short story. But more recently I heard someone teach on it too. I'm thinking it might have been Steven James.

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  13. Anita, I agree. The poor editing is sad and annoying. I pay close attention to endings when I edit for WhiteFire.

    I think I first learned the term cirularity in undergrad creative writing classes. It is used a lot in short story. But more recently I heard someone teach on it too. I'm thinking it might have been Steven James.

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  14. Aw, that's nice to hear, Pat :) Makes my time seem really worthwhile.

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  15. I fear them. I feel it's my weakest part of each story. I guess I need to surprise myself with the ending because I struggle with them. Okay, you can all forget I said that!

    Great points that I will need to remember. Thanks for gathering them, Dina!

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  16. Great post, Dina. I love how concisely you put it--very helpful. We want our endings to pack a punch and tie everything up! (Well, almost everything.)

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  17. Interesting thought, Deb. I've only written one book that I wasn't completely sure how it would end by early in the process.

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