Friday, May 31, 2019

6 Tips for Writing a Killer End Scene

We all know that first impressions are important. They make or break a story. After all, when a reader is trying to decide whether or not to read a book, they open it up to the first page and read a little bit to see if suits them.

What a reader does not do, however, is read the last page. Because, you know, spoilers.

Because of this, writers tend to spend a lot of time shaping the first couple pages of their story into something perfect and memorable. That's good. Healthy, even. First pages are definitely very important.

But what about the last pages? Readers are much more likely to remember the end of the book than the beginning, thus influencing whether or not they will write a good review, recommend it to a friend, or continue reading more stories by the same author. Basically: the end scene of your story is crucial. Let's talk about ways to not mess it up:

1. Think about the themes of your story. The end scene needs to address the themes that have run throughout your entire story. If you make it all the way to the end of story and then just throw all of the themes out the window, your reader is going to feel cheated and confused. Hopefully, by the time you've reached the end, a lot of the themes are mostly resolved or coming full circle. But "mostly" doesn't cut it. The end scenes that pack a punch are the end scene that do a deep dive into the themes of the story. Take the ending of the Dark Knight, for example:

This scene takes every big idea in the movie and wraps it up in a gut-wrenching conclusion. It addresses Batman's purpose and touches on themes of hope and on the concept of what makes a hero a hero. That's how it's done, folks.

2. Consider character growth. Your end scene needs to stay true to your character. Don't make your character behave in a way they wouldn't simply to bring about an end to the plot. This is cheap and will lead to your readers rioting. Also make sure that the end scene does your character's arc justice. Don't let the arc fizzle out or change directions at the last minute. Many readers invest more in the characters than they do the plot, so if you want to make a good final impression, make sure you are giving the character an ending that fit their personality, arc, and goals.

3. Anticipate your reader's expectations. By the time a reader reaches the end of the story, they are going to have expectations. Maybe they expect Character X to have a happy ending, maybe they are thirsting for Character Y's death. They are most certainly expecting for the end scene to match the entire story's tone, themes, and plot. Some of these expectations you should lean into, but some of them to you can feel free to subvert if you want a surprise ending. That being said, your surprise ending should be good or at least satisfying, not upsetting. Inception, Ender's Game, and 1984 are all great examples of endings that fit their stories while also being surprising.

4. Don't feel the need to answer every question. Some things are better left unsaid. Lead your reader to the ending, but also understand that you can leave some things up to their imagination. You can hint at a happy ending, or at a character turning over a new leaf, but you don't actually have to show all of this unfolding. For example, Lord of the Rings left off with Frodo setting sail for the Undying Lands. It doesn't show his trip there because that's not the point. The point is that he gets a chance at living happily (and that the audience gets a chance at ugly-sobbing).

Gif of Merry and Pippin on a battle field. Pippin is sobbing while Merry holds him.
If you didn't feel like this at the end of Return of the King, you're lying.
Find the main point of your ending, then stop there.

5. Consider writing the end scene first. This is a fun trick to help your ending pack an extra punch. If you write your end scene first, everything else you write will be building right up to it. This really helps create a cohesive plot and an emotionally impactive end.

6. Make the last sentence powerful. Easier said than done? Maybe. Here are some tips: 1) The final sentence should match the feel of the story. 2) The final sentence should use strong language. 3) If the final sentence can be a call-back to a major theme or incident in the story, go for it. I recommend studying the last sentences of well-written books. Like this:
  • The Dark Knight by Frank Miller (what, you thought I was only going to mention Batman once in this post?): "This will be a good life....Good enough." This is a call-back to the opening pages of the comic book where Batman thinks, "This would be a good death....But not good enough," then saves himself from death. This ending line wraps everything up nicely, showing that Batman has finally found a life that is enough. However, the look on his face makes us think that perhaps the "enough" indicates that he might go looking for something more, as Batman is wont to do. 
  • Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. "Tomorrow, I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day." This strikes right to the core of Scarlett's character. She's always ruining things, but always goes on to (somewhat, but not really) fix them. However, near the end of the book she is getting desperate, and both herself and the readers know that tomorrow isn't going to be much better for her. This is in-keeping with everything that has happened up until this point.
  • Taran Wanderer by Lloyd Alexander: "From the hills a wind had risen, driving the scattered leaves before it, bearing homeward to Caer Dallben. Taran followed it." Taran has spent most of this book trying to discover who his parents are in hopes of finding that he is of noble blood. By the end of the book, he realizes his lineage doesn't matter. Rather, it's who he has become over time that counts. These last sentences show that he is finally ready to stop wandering and return to his true home: The farm where his life and his adventures all started.
You'll notice that all of these ending sentences wrap up major themes or ideas in the plot. Not all end lines have to do this, but generally the ones that resonate with us most are the ones that employ this technique.

What are some of your favorite last sentences? Do you write your end scene first or last? I tend to write my end scene last, though recently I tried writing it first and really enjoyed it. 

Related articles: 
8 Tips for Writing a Solid Opening Line
7 Tips for Re-Writing Your Story

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  1. So I rewatched the end of the Dark Knight through your clip and it tore me to pieces. I had forgotten how good it is! I totally needed this advice because I am terrible with endings. Somehow, I made my cliffhanger in my first book good, but I think it is because of my editor Lol. Thanks for the advice!

  2. I've always been intrigued by the idea of writing the ending first, but so far I haven't really tried it. I guess that will have to be my next experiment. Great tips!

    1. I agree, but I'm not really sure how to go about doing it.


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