The Big Ending
I recently read an excellent thriller by a NY Times Best Selling writer, but felt let down by the ending. And if this can happen to those guys, imagine what it does to a debut author in loss of future readership.
In my experience, most writers say they spend most time on making sure the beginning of their novel is sufficiently honed to hook the reader. But if the ending is a let down, will the readers come back? Which raises the question: what function does the ending of a novel perform? And what can we do to ensure readers are not disappointed?
In researching this topic, the first place I turned was Don Maass’ wonderful resource for writers The Breakout Novelist(http://www.maassagency.com). Maass believes that many authors rush the ending, often because of story fatigue or a looming deadline, perhaps both. Maass believes that the function of the ending is to satisfactorily resolve both the inner conflicts of the main character(s) and the outer, plot-driven conflicts.
Ideally, Maass says, the story needs to be structured in a way that makes the inner and outer conflicts converge at the climax. No mean feat, given that writers have numerous subplots to resolve, the main storyline to bring to a climax, character arcs to achieve, and outcomes to tie back to the storyline in order to wrap things up for the reader. There’s nothing worse than having a reviewer complain that the author failed to explain what happened to the dog.
In my novel, No Remorse, I wanted to create maximum scope for a sequel by having the reader realize that there are still evil forces at work out there, possibly more evil than the ones just defeated. I needed to do this in a way that still had the protagonist sufficiently heroic in resolving the storyline. I also wanted to maximize the impact of the ending by having a low page count post-climax resolution.
Helping me achieve this was the conflicted relationship between the protagonist and another main character, continuing right to the last few pages. Reader feedback has been overwhelmingly positive on the ending, with one writing that it was one of the best twists at the end that she has read.
To get there, I changed the ending to my story seventeen times (excluding edits).
Here are some suggestions based on my experience, if you are struggling with the ending, or feel you still have some potential to ramp up the volume:
- Try writing the ending scene(s) part way through the book, rather than waiting until the end. Even if you change the scenes later, you’ve at least got some material to work with.
- Rather than yet another edit from the beginning, only review the climax and resolution. Are they engaging as a stand alone read? Do they plausibly fit the storyline? How can the tension be heightened and held right to the last page?
- Write a checklist, and vet the ending against the checklist. Does it tick all the boxes? (I’ll come back to the checklist later).
- Try two or three alternative endings.
- Try an unintended consequence, like killing off a main character you hadn’t been going to. (Even if you don’t use this, it might give you inspiration to change something).
- Try a different ending from another character’s POV (even a non-POV character, which you can change to a POV character later).
- Using index cards with actions or conflicts (eg explosion; slaps face) and character tension (eg lingering doubts; worries), come up with some new, random events to build another mini-climax, as though you are setting up the sequel.
- “Do a Don (Maass)” by reversing the obvious happenings, or reordering priorities or motivations.
If none of the above work, it might be a good idea to put the manuscript in the drawer for a few weeks, and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Does the change make for heightened reader suspense to the end?
Character Arc: If the protagonist (or antagonist) has changed, is this being presented adequately, or is it being skipped over?
The Future: is it looking rosy for the protagonist and his (new?) girlfriend, or is he doing a Jack Reacher and walking down another lonely road to the next adventure?
Ian Walkley wanted to write novels since his teenage days, but like many people pursued a career. He was a social researcher and worked in business development, until eventually starting his own market research agency. Ian contributed to national e-magazine Marketing Update and co-authored and edited two publications on small business.
Ian enjoys applying his experience as a consumer researcher to the motivations underlying the behaviour of his characters and researching the technical detail of jobs, locations, weapons and other aspects of his writing.
He began writing No Remorse in late 2008, in his spare time, and it was published in January 2012 by Marq Books.
Ian is currently writing his second book and planning the third. He continues to undertake marketing consulting, travel writing, and copywriting, which blends creative writing with his experience in marketing.
He lives in Brisbane, Australia with his wife and three children.
No Remorse is a fast paced action thriller. The independent Kirkus Reviews described the book thus: “Walkley’s beefy prose and rousing action sequences deliver a thriller to satisfy any adrenaline addict.”
A top Amazon reviewer said of No Remorse: "It has more action, more adventure and more thrills per page than any novel I have recently read."
While it is primarily a plot-driven romp, the novel also considers a number of topical themes, from slavery to corruption in the global financial system, terrorism, and the illegal arms trade.
The story follows Lee McCloud, an ex-soldier and Tally, a female computer geek, in the search for two teenage girls kidnapped in Mexico, who find themselves caught up in a global conspiracy.
Ian says he wrote the book for people who are usually too busy to read to enjoy. “It's not meant to be deep, just thoroughly entertaining. Both male and female readers who like action thrillers will enjoy it.”
Kindle store: http://amzn.com/
Barnes & Noble: http://www.
barnesandnoble.com/w/no- remorse-ian-walkley/ 1037031892?ean=9780980806601& itm=5&usri=no+remorse