The End Providing A Strong Satisfying Finish

In the final section of your story, Act Three, the action marches inexorably toward the climax. You have turned the last corner. The final complications are those that directly bring about the confrontation between the protagonist and the main opposing force.

This showdown is the moment you have been building up to, the one that rewards your readers for sticking it out until the end. At last we learn the answers to the questions and discover whether the protagonist succeeds or fails.

These pointers will help you bring the story to a satisfying conclusion:

• Bring the confrontation to front and center. This should be the most forceful event in the story, the point of its greatest power and emotion. You can't get away with avoiding it, or soft-pedaling it, or pushing it off-stage.

For maximum impact, place the climax as late in the story as possible. You may need a paragraph or a page for the denouement, where you sort out the remaining strands of your story and bring the action to an end; but try to avoid lengthy or tedious explanations that will dilute the effect of the climax. If many things must be explained, work in the answers to lesser questions before the climax occurs.

• Provide an ending worthy of the beginning. Have you ever had the experience of reading a story that is truly enjoyable for ninety percent of the way, only to have the ending fall flat? This can happen when an author hasn't fully worked out the logical implications of the characters' choices and actions. Many writers like to have at least a vague idea of the ending before they start writing just to avoid this problem. In fact, one practical way to design a plot is to first figure out the finale and then work out the chain of cause and effect backward from there.

If you've laid the proper groundwork for the ending earlier in the story, you won't find yourself relying on tired devices, coincidences, or cop-outs. There will be no need to introduce a character on the last page whose sudden and unexpected appearance somehow explains everything, nor to have your final line read: "She woke up in the morning and realized it was all a dream."

Another reason an ending may fail to satisfy is that the author is trying to spare the characters some hurt, this time the anguish of confrontation. Remember, you cannot protect your characters—the words protagonist and antagonist have agony built in.

• Don't be in a hurry to finish writing. It's exciting to get close to the end, and after all your hard work, you're naturally eager to bask in the pleasure of accomplishment. The urge to rush—to take shortcuts and make compromises—is almost irresistible. If you give in, the ending is likely to suffer for it. Let the reader be the one who rushes to the end, eager to discover how it all turns out.

Once you have resolved the conflict and answered the questions you've raised, the story is over. You've kept your promise, giving readers a satisfying sense of closure. Having brought this set of circumstances to a reasonable conclusion, you can leave behind some ambiguities and uncertainties about what's in store for the characters. Do Cinderella and the Prince really live happily ever after? That's another story.

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