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Vicki Hinze © 2003
The ending of a novel is
the summation; the portion of the book where what the
characters have experienced in the novel's events lead to
a conclusion that is logical and in a sense inevitable.
The character's journey is done. S/he is a different
person than s/he had been at the onset. Stronger. Wiser.
Or weaker, broken. Good or bad, for better or worse, the
character is different, and that difference is a direct
result of what s/he did or experienced in the novel.
Like the beginning and the middle of a novel, the ending
has specific responsibilitiesto the book and to the
reader. Here are some considerations of what should and
should not be included. (These are direct editorial
citations of reasons for rejections, though as always,
remember that these are rules of thumb. There are NO
absolutes in writing. For every rule declared, there is a
published example of it being broken.)
The ending of the novel introduces no new characters. Any
here should have been introduced earlier in the book, if
only briefly. A good rule of thumb is to follow the Rule
Of Three: Introduce, Reinforce, Utilize.
You introduce the character early on. Later in the book,
you remind the reader of this character, or have a brisk
second appearance to reinforce memory of this character
and remind the reader who s/he is and how s/he relates to
the story. Still later in the book, the character
performs a specific story task.
This is a great way to foreshadow coming events. It's
also an excellent way to get all the novel pieces puzzled
together snuglyintertwinedso you never hear
editors use words like convoluted, contrived, or
coincidence(deadly words in fiction
writing)in connection with your books.
The end is the place where the writer ties up all loose
ends. Threads created within the book should be
resolved--even if that resolution is that the character
recognizes that s/he will never know the truth or that a
concrete resolution is not possible.
Even in those situationswhere there is no
resolutionthe character must know and accept it.
That might mean that the character "thinks"
there is no answer but s/he will keep searching for one,
or that s/he acknowledges an answer will never be found
and s/he is at peace with that. Even grudging acceptance
is a resolution. The key is in addressing the issue.
Pulling the thread through and having the character deal
with it. This eliminates "loose threads" or
"dangling threads" from your work.
The end answers all questions, or the character
determines there is no answer. Again, you deal with the
issues. The character confronts and settles them, if only
in his/her mind.
The end resolves all of the lesser conflicts before
resolving the major conflict. In a series on conflict, we
discussed this. You build conflicts through the novel.
With each successive chapter, the conflict becomes
stronger, more formidable, more difficult to master.
You start out at ground zero and as you chart the
conflict in each chapter, you move consistently higher
into a spike. While you might grant time for the reader
to "catch their breath," you don't introduce a
lesser conflict than the preceding conflict. You build on
the foundation. Little dips, for breathers, yes, but to
lower the obstacles and/or the risks to the character
diminishes suspense and deflates the strength of the
eventit weakens the book.
Resolving the conflicts is done in reverse order. Little
conflicts first, and then the largest, overall novel
conflict. The reason you do this is because once the
major conflict is resolved, the book is over. (The
novel's spine is the book.) If you resolve the
"major" conflict and haven't yet resolved the
minor ones, then you've got unanswered questions,
unresolved issues, and nothing to sustain them because
you've removed the spine supporting them.
The end reveals all of the lesser truths that depict
character growth that has occurred during the course of
the novel as a result of experiences incurred by the
That growth is the tool that grants the character that
seemingly unobtainable quality which enables him/her to
attempt the final (and major) conflict and emerge
It is here that the character faces the black
momentthat bleak time in the novel when it seems
all hope of success is gone--and s/he either achieves the
novel goal or decides that the resolution to the ultimate
conflict is acceptable to him/her. (The satisfying ending
versus the happy ending.)
If you look closely, you'll see that this is the internal
conflict that resolves parallel to the external conflict.
Typically, we see the lesser conflicts resolved, the
major conflict resolved, and then a shortusually a
page or twothat evidences the resolution of the
Writers should be cautious in this critical portion of
the book. We tend to want to linger and go on a while.
But as a rule, we should fight the urge. While it's
understandablewe have spent months with this book
and these characterswe need to recall that once the
spine is brokenthe major conflict
resolvedthen a very brief wrap-up of is all we
need. To give in and linger earns comments such as:
"the ending drags."
That's dangerous. Think about it. The reader reads, goes
on this journey, this adventure, and snatches victory
from the jaws of defeat. Then s/he reads the lingering
end. The powerful impact of the success, the adventure is
diminished under the weight of the lingering.
That's not the emotional impact we want we leave readers
with; we want them satisfied, but wanting more. We want
them to close the cover with that emotional sense of
empowerment, savoring the victory.
Now, just as each novel has a beginning, middle, and end,
so does each chapter and scene. Apply the scene-element
tests we discussed to the scenes, the chapters, and then
to the novel as a whole. In respecting what is typical
and atypical for the beginning, middle, and end, you can
depict your work in its strongest light.
© Copyright Vicki Hinze 2003. All Rights
Dr. Vicki Hinze is an award-winning,
best-selling author who routinely shares her expertise at
national writers' conferences, online, and through her
writing guides. Her latest non-fiction book is ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL, from Spilled Candy Books for
Writers. This 589-page ebook covers everything you need
to know about the craft of writing, the publishing
business, and the secrets to getting published. ALL
ABOUT WRITING TO SELL is available at www.SpilledCandy.com as a download or
Or you can visit Vicki's author site at www.vickihinze.com
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