The ending of a story makes reading it worthwhile.
Ideally, you want the story to sparkle from start to finish, to offer a total entertainment package.
Writers can’t always deliver such perfection, however, especially when working on a long plot such as a novel. Sometimes, the book sags a bit or the storyline gets vague and has holes here and there. Writers are humans. They make mistakes or they forget details or they become so wound up in characters, viewpoints, and motivations that they simply don’t see that Chapter 11 is illogical.
My point is not to excuse such errors, but to acknowledge that they can happen despite the writer’s and editor’s combined best efforts.
I recommend that if your story’s going to wobble a bit, let it happen in the first half but never, never, never in the second.
If you can only achieve sparkle in one place, make it the finale. Because do you really want to open your story with a stunning hook and end it with a lame whimper?
I think not.
Granted, several of you are already thinking, but if the beginning of the story is lame, who will want to read it?
Agreed. A very good point.
My reply is this: if the story is lame at its conclusion, who will bother to read your next one?
So we always strive to achieve consistent sparkle in order to entice new readers, to keep them happy throughout, and to make them close the story with a smile or a sigh of satisfaction.
It’s common for a writer to tire in the final section of a book manuscript. You get so weary that you’re slogging from one chapter to the next. You just want it to end. Your stamina is exhausted. Your brain is on fire. Your eyeballs feel strained from hours and days and weeks of peering into a computer screen. And so, from sheer fatigue, you let the story climax slide. You tell yourself it’s okay, that it’s only a small lessening of standards, that the reader won’t notice if the ending comes a bit too easily or is contrived just a little so that everything can be tied up.
And I tell you that it’s not okay. Never lie to yourself as an artist.
Never let the ending be less than it should be. It is, after all, the culmination of the story. If you’ve entranced a reader into stepping into your story world and skipping along the yellow brick road and worrying about your characters, then you owe the reader a good finish.
That’s part of your job.
The climax of a story has a structure that writers have developed, honed, and refined across the centuries to deliver a catharsis of anticipation, confrontation, devastation, and elation.
But last of all and best of all, you should deliver poetic justice to each of your principal characters.
Poetic justice is simply whatever the character deserves, good or bad, based on what that individual has done in the story.
Poetic justice is about what’s fair and what ought to be. It isn’t connected to social or legal justice. Instead, it’s what we want as five-year-olds when our mean cousin Ginny has pinched us until we lose our temper and hit back—just as Granny comes to the window and sees the blow we struck … but not what provoked it.
And we take the punishment while our evil cousin gloats. We learn then, as we cry in rage and frustration, that life is not fair.
But in books, in stories, in the wondrous realm of make believe—at the end, life IS fair.
The murderer is caught, arrested, and arraigned for trial.
The rugged bachelor who’s evaded every female lure thrown at him for years meets THE ONE, the woman who’s his perfect mate and perfect match.
The evil time traveler out to destroy history is caught in a time loop he can never escape, so that he’s forced to live the same day over and over throughout infinity.
The town sheriff forced to confront the bad guys who are coming into town to kill him in a last showdown manages to face his fears, stand alone and outnumbered, and prevail through sheer courage and better shooting.
It doesn’t have to be presented in some contrived and hokey way, but what’s wrong with getting to cheer the hero and boo the villain? Are you too sophisticated and jaded for that simple concept? I hope not, because it cuts you off from the affirmations that fiction can provide. Affirmations that readers still love and respond to.