Make Endings Ring True – A Spoiler-Free Ode To Avengers: Endgame

Whether you’re writing a stand-alone novel, an 7 book/tv-season long show, or a 22 movies long franchise, you’ve got to get the ending right.

All the endings right.

Otherwise? Your readers or viewers will feel cheated.

So, every novel, episode, and season needs its own arc with a solid ending. But? The serieses that linger in people’s hearts and minds are often the ones in which the overarching themes and goals are wrapped up the right way in the last book.

Of course, that’s not saying you can’t set up a new story arc in that last book/episode/movie…

What type of ending you need depends on what sort of story you have, but you’re going to need at least 2 of these ingredients.

The 5 Ingredients Of A Satisfying Ending

Plot goals achieved

This is the easiest one to accomplish. You’ve set out to complete a mission, a goal, and you’ve achieved it.

We’re going to get that boy. We’re going to find out who gets to sit on the Iron Throne. We’re going to find out how to defeat whatever big-bad the universe has cooked up for us this time.

Sometimes, there’s a twist. Maybe you find what you thought you wanted isn’t satisfying. It’s okay to change goals in your story, as long as it makes sense for the world and the characters. It still counts.

Personal Growth

Remember that twist I just mentioned? Most stories have at least one character that’s going to grow and change. Sometimes they have to mature. Sometimes, they suffer traumas that they need to work through. And sometimes? They’ve got to accept themselves, before they can become the person they were always meant to be.

When we see a character learn the true extent of their capacity for compassion or greatness, it’s… it’s like a warm tasty pie. Delicious and warm and filling.

Relationship closure

Many stories keep us going with relationship issues. Be they friendships, rivals, family, or romantic issues. The ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, but it should have some sort of closure, even if it’s simply a character recognizing that they don’t need the other character any more.

But making amends, getting that happily-ever-after, or even, getting that nod of approval from a mentor, those are the things that can give us a solid ending.

Thematic

Getting more esoteric, let’s talk about themes. Many themes are relationship based — family, trust, love. But not all. Faith, justice, and freedom can be themes.

These endings have to be carefully done, or they can read like a morality play. But, like Sam on Mount Doom, loyalty and perseverance can pay off.

Sacrifice

It’s hard to find a good ending without some sort of sacrifice — or at least some solid compromise. The greater the odds, the more the characters have to suffer and pay to achieve the ending. If the success at the end comes too easily, the reader will feel cheated. Like the odds weren’t as tough as they were told. The challenges were too easy for the characters.

And sacrifice can be used as a symbol of … well, many things. When Gollum leaps into the lava, we lose Smeagol, who had been fighting so hard to do what’s right. When Charlotte of Charlotte’s Web passes, it’s her gracious way of accepting the inevitability, and nature’s way of bringing in the new generation.

Sacrifices should follow the theme and rise to the level of the stakes.


If you can weave together plot goals achievements, personal growth, relationship closure, thematic ties, and sacrifice, readers should be able to appreciate your ending. Even if it makes them cry.


Are there any other ingredients you appreciate at the end of your stories?

What story do you think has done it the best?

(Please, don’t give any Endgame spoilers or current Game Of Thrones spoilers until AFTER May)

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One Method For Incorporating Feedback In Your Writing

If you’re a writer, at some point between you putting the words down and it going out to its intended audience, you’re probably going to solicit some feedback (and if you don’t, you probably should).

Be it from one or all of these:

  • an alpha reader
  • a flock of beta readers
  • a writing group
  • a critique partner
  • a paid editor
  • an agent
  • an acquiring Editor for a publishing house
  • or your mom

you’re likely going to receive some feedback other than, “I loved it! Don’t change a thing!”

But, when that feedback is more nebulous or overarching than typos and wording, it can be tricky to know where to start.

Here are the 6 steps I follow when receiving reader feedback

Step 1 – Read the feedback

You’d think it would go without saying, but it’s easy to get ticked off three comments in, decide that the person who sent the feedback totally doesn’t get your book, your genre, and might not read your language, and storm off.

Luckily, I can calm my knee-jerk reactions by subscribing to what I call:

Morgan’s Rule Of Thirds

  • 1/3rd is line and copy edits – easy to fix or skip if it’s a stylistic thing or they don’t know what they’re talking about.
  • 1/3rd is where the reader didn’t get your story and/or your writing style. You can probably ignore these. (But, don’t delete them just yet….)
  • 1/3rd is the stuff that you thought you’d fixed, but really? You’d just painted over it and called it ‘good enough’.
    • These issues are typically related to the tricky things like:
      • motivation
      • set-up
      • emotional impact

Step 2 – Give yourself time to cool off

Sit on the feedback for a couple hours, or days, or weeks. However much time you need before you open it back up, and can face it without your ego screaming.

Step 3 – Analyse the feedback and fix the little things

Maybe this should be two steps, but as I go through, line-by-line, I usually fix the little things- even if they might get deleted later. The typos and line-edits, so that the feedback is reduced to something I can actually process, without the noise of all the little stuff.

Look not only at WHAT the feedback is saying but WHERE it’s saying it. The reader might have given you edits telling you how to fix it. They are only SUGGESTIONS, not fixes. But look at the scene, the paragraph. Maybe there is something confusing, maybe it wasn’t set up properly and that’s why the reader got confused, maybe you need to move the scene.

Is there some way that you can make it so the way you had it was inevitable — given the world, characters, and issues? Is there a better way to change it, so that the pieces come together more smoothly?

The reader might be wrong about how to fix it, but they often know WHERE something needs to be fixed.

Step 4 – Make the edits

This is where you make the complicated changes — cutting or moving scenes or characters, fixing pacing, adding tension, condensing backstory.

Whatever you’ve decided needs to be done — taking suggestions and doing with them as you will.

Step 5 – Reread and blend the new stuff with the old

Whether you’ve used the suggested wording from your reader or your own phrasing, edits don’t always fit in smoothly with the rest of the manuscript.

After you’ve agonized over the feedback, debated how to integrate it, and finessed it with all of your skills, it’s still gonna need a bit more polish.

You’re gonna need to re-read the lead up THROUGH the outro of the sections you’ve revised. Along the way, you’re looking for:

  • continuity errors
  • awkward phrasing
  • scene pacing
  • repetitious paragraphs or phrases (my favorite)
    • The number of times I’ve added a paragraph to emphasize something, then found I’d already had it in there, nearly word for word a page later — where it fit better in the pacing… Well, let’s just say it’s more than a handful of times.

Step 6 – Send it out again

I like to send it to 2 types of people

  1. People who have read it before, to make sure I didn’t break anything
  2. A new reader, to make sure the confusion points were actually fixed

I write fantasy, so there’s a lot of world building involved, but even if you don’t, you may want to do this. An old reader can spot a lot, but they can’t tell if you’re introducing everything in the right order — soon enough as to minimize confusion, but slow enough as to not overwhelm the reader.

You can only have someone read your story for the first time, once. After that, your world starts to become familiar territory.

***

And that’s it. That’s my editing process. For each and every round.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this post – ’cause I’m ready for step 5 with my current revisions!


Do you have any editing tricks that I missed?

Anything you prefer to do differently?

5 Tips for Pacing Your Novel

Tips for Avoiding the Saggy Middle

You already know about the 3-Act Structure, you’ve experimented with beat sheets, and you’ve tried using script writing techniques to punch up the drama, but you’ve still got sections of your novel that lag.

Now what?

This was a panel at Balticon51. The panelists were Gail Z. Martin, Ken Schrader, Paul Cooley, and Michael Ventrilla.

1. Every scene needs a beginning, middle, and end

There are two main ways you can look at this.

You can look at it where a scene has:

  1. Conflict
  2. Action
  3. Resolution/Conflict

Or, you can look at it wherein a ‘scene’ is the action part of the chapter and the sequel is the rumination or explanation of what just happened.

  1. “Scene”
  2. “Sequel”

Jim Butcher uses this technique with great success. He interweaves multiple Points of View (POVs), so we’re always anticipating the “sequel” of the other character’s previous “scene”.*

2. Action isn’t always violence

  • tension
  • stress
  • interaction
    • Fighting
    • Arguing

3. All chapters should end unresolved

I know, it sounds like I’m saying we should stop every chapter in the middle of the action, at a climatic moment. She just plummeted from a cliff! He just screamed a confession/plot-point. But there are more subtle ways to do it.

  • Mid-action
  • Raise a new question (in the reader and/or main character’s head)
  • Bring a new/old problem brought to the forefront — make it something that needs to be addressed next

4. If you’re bored, your readers will be bored

Avoid Long sections with no action

  • Cut words/pages from the long, boring section
  • Split them up with
    • Action
    • Conversation

Spice up info-dumps

  • Comic relief
  • Arguments
  • Have something interesting happening! While the information is being conveyed

5. Learn from the experts

Be analytical about the novels you like, the ones where the pace really works for you. Look at them and decide exactly what it is that gives the effect you like.

Reread and outline your aspiration novels. Really study them.

Practice and slowly diminish the time you leave for the “sequel”, and punch up the “scenes”.


Take these techniques and play with them. Don’t be afraid to try something new.

Paying attention to some of my favorite writers, has led me to experiment with chapter length. Without rewriting a word, I’ve found you can often build tension by making shorter and clippier scenes.


What have YOU learned from reading?
What writers do you think get it right? Who gets it wrong?