Recently, the eight ladies celebrated the completion of Justine’s first draft. Like most of us, she’d been struggling with the last third of her book. After months (well really over a year) of hard work and dead-ends, she finally had that breakthrough moment we all dream of, the moment when she discovered her perfect ending.
It’s great when a friend and sister-in-arms succeeds (congrats to Nancy, too!). Not only does she move that much closer to her ultimate goal, but her success is an inspirational battle cry for the rest of us, too. My perfect ending is out there somewhere; I just need to discover it. I already have a general idea of what happens: Cheyenne will get her HEA (Happily Ever After) and she’ll win the conflict over the family house and land that she’s embroiled in with her Uncle Hawk, but how all of that happens is still a mystery. So I went back to the basics we learned at McD for inspiration on crafting the perfect ending.
Linking Beginnings & Endings
One of the first things we learned about beginnings and endings at McD was that they should be linked to show the circular nature of the story. That means that I need to go back to where my story begins—a hot, dusty Arizona day in June.
As my story opens, Cheyenne has just arrived in the fictional town of Dry Creek and is attempting to break into the house she’s inherited from her mother (symbolically claiming it). Just as Cheyenne begins to gain a foothold, her Uncle Hawk halts her progress. He blocks her way and questions her sense of entitlement, then threatens the thing she holds most dear at that moment (her dog). It’s a contentious scene that ends with Hawk riding away from a shaken but determined Cheyenne. Hawk may have won this round, but she’ll find another way into the house (all roads point to her mother’s executor, Reed McConnell).
My opener does most of what it’s supposed to. It sets the time and place, introduces the protagonist and her stake in the story, as well as foreshadows the main conflict with the antagonist. All good stuff, but it doesn’t really get me closer to discovering my ending.
Or does it?
Something else we learned at McD was that the story beginning should foreshadow the ending, and the ending should repeat elements from the opening scene. This means that the climatic scene should mirror the opening scene in as many ways as possible. Here are a few ways to accomplish this:
- Use the same setting in both scenes.
The opening takes place at the house, but the climax was slated to occur in the barn. I’m rethinking that now.
- Have the same characters present in both the opening scene and the climax.
My opener features both the protagonist and the antagonist physically squaring off. The climax will feature them both as well, but the loose plan was that they’d be engaged in a psychological battle rather than a physical one. Hmm, the scenes should mirror each other. That points to a physical confrontation.
- Use similar dialogue, or a memorable line or word.
My opening doesn’t have a standout piece of dialogue, but if yours does, working it into the climax is a great way to mirror the scenes.
- Use the same motifs and/or metaphors.
In the opening scene, what means the most to Cheyenne (her dog) is under threat and she physically protects him. In the end, what means the most to Cheyenne is her relationship with River (and Reed). The house is also a metaphor for Cheyenne’s mother (i.e. the past) and it must play a role. What happens to it in the ending will be central to the story resolution.
The last bit of advice on crafting endings is this: keep the resolution short, make sure it ties up all the loose plot ends and answers all the questions, as well as establishes a “new” stability for the protagonist. And perhaps most importantly, the ending should be satisfying for the reader.
All of that is very helpful in how to approach crafting the ending, but it still doesn’t get me my slam-bang finish. Yet. For that, I’ll have to keep writing and trust my characters to lead me home.
Many experts advise writers to write the ending first and work backwards (or is that forwards?) and I definitely see the wisdom in that as I struggle with my ending. What do you think of this piece of writing advice?