Final Advice on Writing Endings

It’s appropriate for my final post of the year on the final day of the year to be about final advice on writing endings. This advice comes from three YA authors, Jill Williamson, Stephanie Morrill, and Shannon Dittemore, in their recently released book Go Teen Writers: Write Your Novel. I finally received my copy once Amazon figured out that I didn’t live in Maryland. The advice these ladies offer on how to craft endings is worth the price of the book alone.

There’s no single way to craft an ending, and each author offers different approaches. Ms. Williamson discusses “the five-step finale”. Ms. Morrill uses the ending of Frozen to illustrate certain concepts and give tips on when to use an epilogue. I particularly like the section by Ms. Williamson entitled “Make Your Main Character Integral to Saving the Day.”

One of my biggest gripes about YA books is when I feel cheated because the main character is sidelined at the climax. I’ve followed the teen through the roller coaster of the plot, rooting for them through all their battles, only to have some adult character save them during the finale.

The questions the authors pose in this section are ones I’ve wrestled with as I’ve shaped the ending of my YA mystery, such as how to make the climax exciting and surprising but not shocking and the denouement satisfying. One way is look back at what you have built throughout my story. Ms. Williamson calls this bringing the story full circle. I’ve been calling it echoing. I need to echo themes I’ve woven into my story at the end.

And this is what I’ve gotten out of one chapter. If you need writing advice, check out Go Teen Writer: Write Your Novel. For more tips on writing endings, visit my blog post, “The Three Key Elements of an Ending”.

Any final thoughts on how to write endings or stories with great ones?

What’s the Ending?

What’s the ending for this final prompt of the year? The photo is suitable for any holiday or celebration, but I’ll set it during New Year’s Eve. For more prompts for endings, click here.

Here’s my inspiration:

“Let’s burn up the old year.” I hand him sparkler.

He takes it, and I light one for me and one for him.

“But some good things did happen.” A smile pushes aside his weariness.

“Yeah, some good things.”

We lift the sparklers high, and the burning sparks mimic the stars glittering over us in the height of the sky.

What’s the Ending?

I love the expression on this little guy’s face, so he inspired me to include him as a prompt. What’s the ending of a story in which he’s the main character? I’m thinking a middle grade story, possibly a mystery. Here’s my ending:

Okay. So the squad and I didn’t deduce the identity of the thief who stole Mrs. Haines’s jewels. But we did find the jewels and that helped Mom arrest Mrs. Haines’s cousin. We’ll be the best private detectives in town by the time we’re in fourth grade.

Although the biggest mystery of all remains unsolved. My Santa trap didn’t produce any hard evidence. But I’ve got a whole year to work on it. That fat man won’t escape me next Christmas.

For more prompts about endings, click here.

The Three Key Elements of an Ending

I seem to find more advice on how to begin a novel than how to end it. Both parts of the story are critical. A stellar beginning entices readers to keep reading. But a phenomenal ending makes them reread and wanting the author’s other stories. As I’ve wrestled with finishing my YA mystery, A Shadow in the Snow, I’ve learned a few lessons about the three key elements of an ending.

The Climax

My Webster’s dictionary defines the climax as “the point of greatest intensity in a series of events.” As I wrote to my climax, I had to make sure that I kept building the tension by raising the stakes for my main character. Half way through the novel, I have an action sequence that puts a big twist in the path of the plot. I wanted to make this scene suspenseful and exciting, but not more than the climax. It’s like a fireworks display. It’s all right to set off some really big ones in the middle, but I need to save the most impressive ones for the end.

The Denouement

Or the wrap up, where the loose ends of the plot are tied up. This is especially important in a mystery. In the climax, the detective reveals who the culprit is. In the denouement, he must explain how he solved the mystery. The danger with this part is I will write on and on, drawing out the ending, deflating the thrill of the climax.

That was a complaint of many people who watched The Return of the King when it came out in 2003. The climax was when the One Ring was destroyed in the flames of Mount Doom. The movie continued for fifteen or twenty minutes, resolving character developments and plot points. I didn’t mind because I’d read the novel and expected these scenes. But other people thought the denouement dragged on too long.

On the other hand, I don’t want to end too abruptly. We’ve all watched shows or read books where the storyline doesn’t so much ends as quits, as if the writer lost interest. My kids pointed this out when they watched The Rescuers Down Under. In this Disney cartoon, a little boy is kidnapped by a poacher, who is hunting a rare bird. The boy is rescued, the bird saved, but my kids felt they should have shown the boy being reunited with his mother. It was a loose end left dangling.

Last lines

I’ve struggled with this with my novel because it’s so important. It’s literally the last thing people read and probably one of the things that sticks with them. Whatever mood, message, feeling I’m trying to convey throughout the story should be there in the last lines.

For my short story, “A Rose from the Ashes”, I wanted an ending that would leave a smile on the face of readers. The climax is very emotional as my MC confronts the three men who could be her father and the one who tried to murder her mother. I wanted the last lines to be lighter but still carry the deep meaning of Rae finding her father.

I was inspired by the way Alfred Hitchcock ended The Man Who Knew Too Much. Jimmy Stewart and Doris Day play American parents, unwittingly involved in an international assassination plot. Their son Hank is kidnapped, and they chase the criminals across Europe, thwart the scheme, and rescue Hank unharmed in England. A few of their English friends have been waiting for them at their hotel. When the reunited family walks in, Jimmy Stewart says, “Sorry we were gone so long, but we had to pick up Hank.” I like how that line is perfectly honest, but the audience knows the true meaning while the friends only take it at face value.

What books or movies have great endings? Which ones have lousy ones?

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