Changing Focus

A writer I know had an enjoyable fantasy dramatizing the education of a girl in the disciplines of wizardry. The story culminated in a magical battle between the girl's mentor (a good wizard) and his enemy (an evil wizard). The girl looked on.

It was a bad ending.

It didn't lack drama, action, or very literal fireworks. The problem was that the protagonist of the story wasn't the protagonist of the ending. The story had changed focus, right at the end. And so it was uninvolving and surprisingly empty, considering all the potentially exciting pyrotechnics going on.

This is something you can avoid fairly easily, if you realize the danger. Though it's necessary to have the main protagonist present during the story's final crisis, that's not enough all by itself. Be sure he or she is at the center of the ending, and that what he or she does determines the outcome. Bystanders and onlookers don't count.

When my friend realized this, she crafted a new ending that put the young protagonist right in the middle of the battle. What the girl did, though small, was appropriate to what had gone before and proved crucial: distracting the evil magician so that he lost concentration. His own spells turned on him. And the girl was responsible, breaking the wizardly stalemate and bringing about victory.

With that change of focus and action, it became a good, effective ending.

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