And now, I'd like to welcome Jennifer Nielsen to the blog today for Tip Tuesday. Jennifer is the author of the forthcoming book, THE FALSE PRINCE (Scholastic, Apr `12). It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, who called it “an impressive, promising story with some expertly executed twists.” Jennifer is involved in a long-term love affair with old books, mountain air, and dark chocolate. Mostly the chocolate.
Today, Jennifer is talking endings - story endings. Take it away, Jennifer:
Story Endings with a Bang
Like nearly the rest of the planet, I loved HUNGER GAMES. But what converted me was the amazing ending. Suzanne Collins set up a dangerous premise in which I was certain there was no way for the book to leave me feeling satisfied for all the characters in the end. But everything came together perfectly for me.
I think of stories as a contract between the writer and the reader. The writer makes certain promises from the beginning: is the reader embarking on a fantastical adventure, diving into a mystery, or opening their heart to the most vulnerable emotions? Whatever the promise, by the end the reader will expect the payoff. The feeling that the journey begun in the early pages was completed to her satisfaction.
The way to achieve this is to know the goal of your story, which is the biggest thing your protagonist wants for this story. It might be external or internal to the character, and might be positive (to get something) or negative (to get rid of something). A proper story goal should be big enough that pursuing it will require your protagonist to change, and achieving it will impact other characters. If the goal is not big enough, then your conclusion will be weak.
If you’ll forgive the shameless self-promotion, an example of this is with my book, THE FALSE PRINCE. The central character, Sage, is an orphan who becomes caught up in a plot where he must either learn to impersonate the lost prince of the country, or else he will be killed. His story goal then is to survive, but hopefully to avoid treason as well.
Once you’ve created a strong story goal, the next step is to begin to tighten the free space around the characters. The rising action of the story will narrow their choices, push them into acting, or changing, or making the hard decision. This continues until the story’s climax.
The climax becomes the decision point for the protagonist. The moment when they either will or will not achieve their goal. If it’s a strong enough goal, then the story leads you to one of three climaxes: Recognition, where the character has an eventual epiphany and puts all the pieces in place, like with a mystery. Decision point, where the character is finally forced to the ultimate decision, such as Frodo on Mt. Doom. Or third, a final battle, either internally or externally, where all hope rests in a last confrontation.
As you plan your story endings, think of the Chinese symbol for crisis. It’s actually the combination of two words: danger and opportunity. The greater the threat upon your character, externally or internally, physically or emotionally, the greater the opportunity for a story that ends with a bang.
~~Thank you for this great post Jennifer. And like you, I was left satisfied with Hunger Games too. Great advice for us today!
What do you guys think? What makes a great story ending for you?
And don't forget to shoot over to Angela's blog and check out the next part of LACRIMOSA.