Barely a second later came the muffled sound of footsteps. My sword was in my hand before Charlie even heard a noise.
Not again, I thought, taking a wide fighting stance.
There must be hundreds of them searching for us.
This is a good chapter ending. Suspenseful and exciting.
~ Isobelle Carmody
|Copyright: Harry Li (Creative Commons)|
Endings are harder than you think. Or they should be if you’re doing it right. There is a tendency in fantasy writing to go for the easiest fix, the ending that proves black is black and white is white, and if you’re writing epic fantasy, that ‘danger looms on the horizon with ten thousand sharp teeth and a PMS problem’. Endings are as important as beginnings, if you leave the reader with a clichéd trope the chances of them singing your praises is about as likely as your ability to spontaneously morph into a mermaid.
John Cleese did anamazing speech on creativity in which he encouraged creatives to play with endings long after they had happened upon the most obvious one; to have fun with the generation of ideas rather than treating it like work. He would sometimes play with the endings of his Monty Python sketches for hours past the most obvious joke. By playing with these ideas he would come across the most surprising and funny conclusions.
It was through the generation of such original ideas that Monty Python found success, and it is a sentiment I have taken to heart, particularly ever since I wrote my first Choose Your Own Adventure story. For those of you who don’t know, I run a physical Choose Your Own Adventure project where the sections of the adventure occur in the location the reader is standing. Once the reader experiences the scene, they are then given choices (in different locations) to continue their adventure. While this project, Street Reads, is now run in Brisbane, when I ran the test project for this, I wrote my own real life adventure in Adelaide, South Australia. For my story I had to create eight different endings. It was one of the hardest writing ‘exercises’ I had even set myself, because once the obvious two to three endings had been penned, I still had to find another five endings that would leave a reader satisfied (or righteously pissed off because I’d just ‘killed’ them with an alien ray-gun).
While I won’t pretend it didn’t take hours of blankly staring at walls and suddenly interrupting conversations with, “What if the unicorn in the building façade suddenly came to life and impaled the spaceship with his horn?” I did find that the endings I was most proud of were those last five, pulled from the ether and satisfyingly mashed together. If I were to make a linear narrative and pick one path for the reader, I would end it with one of those last, rather desperately created, story ideas. Because overall they were the most original, surprising, and true.
I should also mention that endings in novels come in two types, the ending of the novel and story arc as a whole, and the ending of chapters. Each has a different purpose. I have never had trouble writing chapter endings, as I have read enough good (and bad) books to know what makes me want to give up hours of precious sleep. See if you can spot why Isobelle, my writing mentor, was so excited by the below chapter endings (and the one at the start of this post):
With a sigh, the boy checked that he had his dagger in his boot and the straps of his pack were securely tightened. If they were going to the surface to find the child with the Priori, he wanted to make sure he was ready for everything. He knew who would get blamed if his sister was hurt or if they led the Ruhle to the Priori. He joined his sister’s side and together they took a deep breath, pushing their way into the centre of the liquid sphere. After a slight pause they slowly shimmered out of existence in an explosion of coloured lights.
Great end of chapter!
~ Isobelle Carmody
I had such a feeling of déjà vu that I didn’t react until it was too late. Shima reared in terror. My breath caught in my throat as the ball slammed into my chest, my body absorbing the blue energy as the impact launched me off Shima’s back and into the air. My last memory was of screams, as thousands of tonnes of earth and rock descended from the roof.
Wow exciting end!
~ Isobelle Carmody
Each chapter ending is a cliff hanger, an exciting, suspenseful discovery, or event that leaves the reader struggling to put the book down. These must be carefully crafted for each chapter and generally leave a strong visual image. A visual is a way to reinforce intrigue, mystery and suspense, making it visceral as well as intellectual. You can double the effect by naming the chapter after with an intriguing or unexpected title, which is what I do for my Madeline Cain book series. Your aim with chapter endings is to make sure the reader can’t put your book down until they’ve reached the last page.
The ending of a novel is a different beast all together. As I mentioned previously, the best endings involve a lot of playing with ideas before a writer actually commits themselves to the final path. The ending of a novel needs to tie up subplots, concluding the sidekick’s love affair with a turtle, or the protagonist’s daddy issues, or the impact of the hero’s actions on that town they accidentally set on fire etc etc. It also needs to examine the emotional impact on the character. How different are they from the start of the book when they began their journey? Because the mystery(s) has been solved, and the exciting events are in the past, this is where many fantasy authors find themselves falling into cliché, like I did at the end of the first draft for Priori:
Charlie, still trying to guide his little sister from afar. Yes the Kraken was still out there and yes I would face him again. But then there was nothing I could do about it; no way I could avoid it. What was it the Brethren had said? Oh, yes. Destiny cannot be sought but faced with grace. All I can hope is that I can face such a destiny.
~ Priori – First Draft
This does not seem to strive high enough for the very end statement in a story. Try to find some different words, ones that don’t feel like a cliché from a dozen interchangeable fantasy novels. Strive for the truth of this moment. How would you feel? What would you think? Try to find an original sentiment and words to express it.
I smiled. Charlie, still trying to guide his little sister from afar. Yes the Kraken was still out there and yes I would face him again. But then there was nothing I could do about it; no way I could avoid it. The time for hiding was over; it was time to face things as Charlie would, with courage.
~ Priori – Rewrite
The rewrite for the end of Priori was much more in keeping with the relationship between the main character Beverly and her brother Charlie, referring to the sentiment in a previous scene. Being able to express emotions in a true, non-cliché way, relies on you knowing your character well. You need to know their motivations, their connections to other characters in the book and how the actions of others have impacted your protagonist’s original state of mind. This requires you to keep track of their emotional arc. This is where having ‘deep and meaningfuls’ with friends can help (sorry gents, you’re gonna have to get your human on). These D&M conversations are how writers can observe the reactions, feelings and emotions of different people. Two people will not react in the same way to the same situation. Collecting these reactions and folding them into your characters, will give you the emotional resonance you need to avoid cliché.
You’ll also notice that the above ending sets up a further mystery, as this is just the first book in a planned series. The reason why this mystery isn’t turned into a cliff hanger, as you would the ending of a chapter, is because I don’t know when I will get to writing the next book. There is no better way to piss off your readers then to leave them hanging at the end of a three hundred page book and take a year or two to write the next one. If you want your readers salivating for the next book, than by all means leave a large dangling taunt at the end, just be ready for the onslaught of reader pressure until you get the next in the series out of the labyrinth that is your creative mind.
It seems fitting that the final blog post on my mentorship with Isobelle should be on endings. Finally, almost two years from the end of our mentorship, everything I have learnt from her has been set down in these digital pages. I can’t thank you enough for coming on this journey with me; I hope I have managed to convey what it means to write original fantasy.
This is not the end of the blog however! (Sorry to all those who thought they could get rid of me, I’m like a fungus, I just keep growing.) I’ll still be passing on writing tools that I have learnt, and ways to expand your writing further, to reinvigorate yourself (and myself) as the months pass. But more excitingly, I will be adding an element of fiction to this blog in the form of a podcast.
I have banded together with the amazing voiceover talents of Kevin Powe, Colin Smith, Sam Piggley and Lois Spangler to turn my novel ‘Priori’, which you’ve read so much about, into a regular podcast. We will hopefully start releasing episodes before the end of the year, so keep an eye out for launch announcements by signing up to the newsletter on your right.
Good luck on your writing journey. I can’t wait to read your original fantasy.