At last. The home stretch. This week, you’re rewriting the ending to your story. The story doesn’t conclude at the climactic battle-scene. It’s not over until your heroine returns home. This final section is sometimes called the falling action or the denouement. It’s not enough that your heroine makes a new choice in the climax. Once the story plight is resolved, the reader has to see how this choice has altered his life.
It’s also important to recognize that just because the plight is resolved, this doesn’t mean that there’s no more tension. Readers want to see how the characters relate differently as a result of the battle scene. All of your characters revolve around the plight. It’s through seeing them at the end of the story that your theme is most fully expressed.
Questions you might be asking yourself this week would be:
- How is your heroine relating differently to other characters as a result of her journey?
- What has she come to understand at the end that she didn’t understand at the beginning?
- Are you maintaining tension up until the final sentence?
- What’s the final image in your story?
- Have you said everything that you set out to say?
- Have you said it in the most compelling way?
We shall not cease from explorationAnd the end of all our exploringWill be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time.— T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
An ending is the completion of a circle, the boxing of a square. While it comes as a total surprise, it’s also utterly inevitable, if only the reader (and the main character) had read the clues correctly from the beginning. “All of this could have been avoided if Woody had just gone straight to the police.” The heroine isn’t just arriving at a new destination, a new understanding of herself and her plight, she’s also returning to the beginning, and seeing the place where she started from that wholly new perspective. She understands something about herself and her plight that she didn’t understand before. She’s been transformed, and the ending is that final reaction moment where she comes to realize and appreciate that change in herself.
My own novel, The Romance of Eowain, presented a particular problem in this regard, in that the story that I wanted to tell was only one piece of a larger story in the series, a story that wouldn’t be complete until the Lady Eithne had the chance to tell her side of the story. And so the ending needed to resolve Eowain’s story, yet leave open the question of what happens in Eithne’s story and how the choices they both make work together to resolve their combined story.
This is one of the challenges in writing a series: each individual installment has to satisfy the reader in the moment, while also setting up the reader for the next installment in the series.
The infamous cliff-hanger is the archetypal example of how this can be done, but readers have mixed reactions to it. It can work well on television, where the other half of the cliff-hanger has probably already been filmed, and is likely to air next week, or in a few months time, after the series hiatus for the summer. In the age of binge-watching, it works even better, because the audience can just skip right on to the conclusion of the cliff-hanger.
But many people want immediate gratification, and waiting a year or three for the next book in the series can seem like an eternity (just ask George R.R. Martin fans). And this is why it’s even more important in literature to make sure that the present story itself has a satisfactory ending, even if you still leave the reader hanging from a cliff with the heroine.
So how did I handle this in The Romance of Eowain? That answer depends on who you ask. Some readers have critiqued it for being unsatisfactory. Most believe it resolves the immediate story, while holding open several questions yet to be resolved in The Wedding of Eithne.
Ultimately, no writer can please every reader all the time, and one has to be prepared to take the crunchy with the smooth in terms of reader feedback. You have to decide for yourself whether the ending satisfies you and the story-goals you set for yourself as the writer of the story in front of you, and whatever other works you have in mind for the future of your career.
Because the end of this story is just the beginning of your next one. By that measure, I’m proud of the way The Romance of Eowain came to an end in the last four scenes that comprise Chapters 19 and 20. Decide for yourself, free on Wattpad.
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