I covered scene beginnings and middles over the last few weeks, so let’s look at endings. Just like beginnings, endings carry a special burden. The reader must be left with a feeling, like an aftertaste. So you need to stop and think. Just what feeling do you want the reader to have? Shock, sadness, warmth, confusion, curiosity? You want to keep in mind that the basic storytelling structure for a novel is action—reaction—action—reaction. Too many scenes end with a character experiencing something and then . . . it ends. We need to see how the character reacts to what has just happened. You don’t have to do this every time, and in some genres where plot is king (suspense/thrillers), you may often end with the building exploding and you have no idea if your character just died. But as a general rule, you want to be with your character and see their reaction, feeling, or response—even if just told in one line—to what has just happened.
Endings Need to Feel Like Endings
A scene ending needs to feel just like that—an ending. There must be a sense of completion, even if the reader is left hanging. I’m not sure how to explain that, but even if the POV character is left confused in the middle of something, the scene itself has to have a feeling of completeness in that the scene wholly accomplished its objective—leading you from one place to another, from one moment to another. The ending must leave the reader with a sense of anticipation and a desire to read on. Each ending, in essence, should spark a new beginning. That’s accomplished by giving the reader a piece of new plot information, presenting another clue, or revealing something moving or fascinating about the character. Again, moments don’t need to be big. They are powerful and impacting if they contain meaning for your character.
Two Types of Endings
There are basically two types of endings—plot endings and character endings. Plot endings might be cliffhangers or contain a new plot twist or reveal a clue. A character ending is more about insight. The reader now knows something more about your character, or you may have the character thinking about what just happened, or you may have some poignant dialog (even one line) or description (motif or metaphor) that your character ponders. Think about zooming in like a camera to your character’s thoughts and feelings. Or maybe zoom out to show a larger understanding your character now has for her life or her world. Moments of insight make for powerful endings.
This week, take a look at your scene endings and see if they wrap up the scene like the ending of a good book. If they just stop abruptly, think how you can create either a plot revelation or a character insight to end smoothly and leave the reader wanting more.