Monday, March 25, 2013

Inklings: Resolving Your Conflict

Your story got off to a great start. It has great characters and action. It moves along at a good pace and keeps the reader interested. So, can you celebrate your creation of a great piece of literature? Well, not yet. There is still something that needs to be done. Your story has to come to a satisfying conclusion. As an old ballplayer, Yogi Berra once said, "It ain't over 'til it's over."

Starting a story can be hard. Keeping it moving along and interesting in the middle can be a challenge. So after all that, how hard can writing the end of a story be? Try very hard. Think about it. You've worked hard to get your reader interested. You've got them wondering what's going to happen to your characters. They keep turning those pages to find out what happens next. The tension's building--and then the story just fizzles out. Nothing's resolved, no loose ends are tied up. The characters, and your readers, are left hanging.

Not good. As a reader, there's nothing worse than reading a book with a bad ending. It's like listening to someone tell a joke and forget the punch line. Ugh, I hate that, don't you? You feel like you've been cheated. As a writer, there is nothing worse. Whatever you do, don't cheat your reader!

How can you avoid doing that when writing your story? You can start by understanding what goes into a great ending. Here are a few things:

  • Climax--All the tension you've been building up in your plot needs to reach a breaking point, the climax. Will the hero unmask the villain, or will evil triumph? Does the boy get the girl, or is he dumped? You find out at the climax, the high point, of the story. If you don't have a climax--if the hero never confronts the villain, or if the boy does not kiss the girl, then your story just fizzles out. Ho hum, who cares?
  • Resolution--This is also known as tying up loose ends. After the climax, how is everything else resolved? Are there any subplots that have to be taken care of? Now that the boy has the girl, do they live happily ever after? If you've mentioned something earlier in the story, like the prince's cousin had been scheming to take the throne from the prince while he was busy wooing the fair maiden, you have to show how he was thwarted. Otherwise, the reader will be left hanging.
  • Happy, sad or somewhere in between--You also have to decide if your story will have a happy or sad ending, or a bittersweet or funny one. Hopefully when you outlined your story you had some idea of what was going to happen. Sometimes, though, things don't go the way you thought they would when you started writing. That's okay. Sometimes a surprise ending is fine. Just be sure that everything makes sense. The prince can't decide that instead of marrying the princess he's going to marry the shoemaker's daughter if you've never said anything about a shoemaker's daughter in the story. Again, this confuses the reader and makes them feel cheated. 

A great ending is the icing on the cake of a great story. It's something that will make it memorable in the minds of your readers. What are some of your favorite endings? Share them in the comments.

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