"If I see an ending, I can work backward."
Welcome to Writers' Wednesday! Yes, I've been away for a few days, and yes I had a terrific vacation that I'll tell you all about in the next day or so, but first, back to some writing tips for today.
Writing the opening line/paragraph/page to a story is often the hardest for authors (I know it is for me!). You need to keep in mind that you're tempting the reader and promising them a great premise all at the same time. You need to decide whether you'll use a powerful line of narrative, or an intriguing snippet of dialogue. You need to consider through whose eyes you'll present that opening scene.
But what about ending your novel or short story? Is that any easier? You still need to come up with one satisfying scene and one great final line, right? You still need to give the reader the pay-off he/she's been waiting, and reading for, all this time. So how do you get it right?
I do find it easier to write endings, maybe because I've spent the entire novel getting myself there. Or maybe because I often picture the ending to a novel before I begin the whole story. Some writers I know actually write the final line first. Recently, Writers Digest had a helpful piece on writing endings, so drawing on their advice, as well as my own experience, here are some exercises/thoughts to keep in mind as you wind your way toward those satisfying words, "The End."
1. Make sure your ending shows the way in which the protagonist has changed. This may take more than a final line or two, but you need to be sure that your hero/heroine has come through the conflicts of the story and changed/learned something/achieved a goal/become a different or better person. Go back to your character charts, if you use them, and examine that character at the start of the story. Go back to the first chapters. Compare to the ending. Are your protagonist's emotions/words/actions different? They should be.
2. Go fo the gut. Write the most emotional scene you can come up with. Free-write; don't worry too much about grammar or formatting or even whether the words make sense coming out of the characters' mouths. Just let those emotions rip. As a first-time exercise, this scene might be over the top. But go with it. Make your characters totally vulnerable to each other. See what they say or do. You might find some lines that truly work in communicating the powerful punch for a wrap-up.
3. But avoid cliches and emotional manipulation. Remember, anything your characters do or say at the end of a story needs to come directly from the elements of the storyline up to that point. A reader will feel cheated if someone speaks or acts completely out of character in the final pages.
4. Also avoid Deus ex Machina. This plot device is a throwback to Greek Drama when a character playing a god would actually be lowered onto the stage by a crane (the "machine") to fix all the characters' problems at the play's end. However, this "out of the blue" solution will generally not work in a well-written novel. Your story should resolve itself through the characters' own interactions. It shouldn't need another character to come from nowhere and put the final puzzle piece into place.
5. Write at least 3 different endings. Really. Consider where else you might finish the story. And who knows; those other endings might turn out to be scenes you can use leading up to/after the original final scene. Give yourself some possibilities.
Finally, remember The Promise you made to your reader at the beginning of the story. Every novel or short story makes a contract with its reader from the start; it promises a happy ending, or a thrilling mystery, or a tear-jerker, or comic laugh. Go back to the beginning of the story, and to your outline or any notes you made along the way. Has your story fulfilled its promise to the reader? Ask your critique partners to be brutally honest in this area. If your final scene doesn't pack the punch the reader has been waiting for, you'll need to revise and revise until it does.
Well, there you have it! Hope you found some inspiration in the tips above. And if you have any of your own, let me know! We can all use a little help in getting to that ultimately satisfying moment of writing the final line...and breaking open the champagne to celebrate!