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Thursday, July 8

Who Ordered the Happily Ever After? Writing Endings

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

A reader asked...

I imagine every author approaches stories from a different angle: the what-if writers, the setting writers, the theme writers. Me, I'm a character girl. That is to say, the characters are the genesis for everything that follows. Now, I have written a YA fantasy and am in the process of revisions. As you mentioned with Shifter 3, this is turning out to involve a lot of changing toward the end. And I find I'm having the hardest time keeping all the plot threads (and their emotional/thematic ramifications) separate enough in my fingers to weave them into the ending I know the characters need. Do you have a trick to help me out? Is this a situation where a second pair of eyes is helpful? Or is just a case of buckling down, clearing my head, making some lists, and muscling my way through?

D. All of the above.

You have a few options to help keep things straight. Lists are my favorite, because you can quickly refer to them and by keeping them in sight, you can remind yourself what needs to be done as you write. Their in the back of your mind so when you reach a point where you can weave them into the story, they're right there.

You can also try writing your ending however it falls out of your head, then pick each character and fill in their ending where you feel it works best. Do this character by character until all the threads are tied up. You'll probably need one more pass after that to make sure everything flows well after all that editing. I'd suggest letting it sit a few weeks before re-reading so you better see what's actually there.

A second pair of eyes is almost always helpful. They can tell you what's there and not what you think you wrote. We all have had scenes we were sure did one thing, but readers told us another. That's one of the more valuable aspects of a beta reader. They can also tell you what storylines they really wanted to see tied up and ones they cared less about. That can help you prioritize.

I'd also suggest thinking about how you want your ending to play out. You still want that sense of things building to a climax, even as you wrap up other plot lines. You also want to avoid the sense that they story isn't ending (boy is this my nemesis!) because there's just "one more thing" that has to be overcome or resolved. You might outline how you want your events to unfold so you can keep the order straight, and use that to help pace it.

You might also think about...

1. Which endings are denouement events that can come after the climax?

Sometimes we like to know what happened to Soandso, and that can happen after the big bad has been resolved.

2. Which endings might be good last steps before the climax?

Sometimes things need to be done or revealed in order to get to the climax, and ending one character's plot line could open up a door to another's ending. Maybe some of the characters can act in a way that helps the protagonist, and in doing so, resolves their own storyline or story arc.

3. Is there an order the endings need to happen in?

Depending on the importance of the various characters, you could help pace your climax by how you arrange those character endings. Smaller reveals build to the big "oh wow!" moment.

4. What priority are the endings?

This is important if you have smaller subplots or lesser characters you're wrapping up. Their endings might come earlier on in the third act, because they aren't critical to the plot. But major characters and major storyline would likely be resolved at or near the end, because that's what readers are looking for.

5. Are any of these endings a surprise?

A reveal ending could work to drive the story forward, because readers have probably been wondering about this. If there's a slow spot in the climax, this ending might help fill that gap and keep things moving.

6. Can any of the endings be smaller asides and not full blown endings?

A secondary character who needed X might get it and be "done" as part of another scene. Characters take a moment to smile and be happy for them, then they're off again. It resolves that minor character's story, but it doesn't require a lot of attention.

I think any situation where you have a lot of pieces to make work together, taking some time to think about what needs to be done will help a lot when you actually do it. Even if you're not an outliner and like to just go with it, a little forethought can make a world of difference.


  1. Endings are tough. These are excellent points to consider. Thanks! :)

  2. The second set of eyes on my UF WIP has been invaluable. I hadn't explained the character or world to her, so she caught many little details that I knew and that affected the story, but had never actually made it on the page. (Or had accidentally been cut altogether in the fight against infodumps.)

    In general, I find bulleted lists helpful, listing each character involved and what must/will/would happen. (This works for scene progression, too.)

    I know people recommend to wait before revising, but I find it best to read through the entire thing once, right after finishing, to check the flow and maybe catch some detail thoughts that I didn't quite finish, then I wait until I don't even remember how I handled some things and revise. I reduce the "Er, what was I trying to say?" problem, that way.

    Of course, I'm still trying to get a novel to a publishable level, so possibly that's proof that the immediate-revision technique doesn't work so well.

  3. These are excellent tips on ending a story. Thanks!

  4. Whatever works, works, Carradee. Nothing wrong with doing a once over right away :)