Monday, March 24, 2014

Critical Plot Elements - Endings #3 - Ribbons and Bows

All previous plot posts can be found here.

Bloodied, panting and with soot smudges all over their face, your protagonist staggers out of the ashes of your climax to pump his / her fist at the world and say "I DID IT!"

But there's still another five-to-twenty pages to go. 

Yes, there is.

You aren't finished yet.  You've got some loose ends to tie up.  There's still some pay-offs to pay out. You're embarking on those final steps, tying the bow on top of your plot package. Nudging your reader and saying "Don't worry, I didn't forget..."

Okay, okay, I'll get on with it.

You have one goal for the final chapters (or epilogue, if that's how you roll): Resolution.

There are only two critical elements for resolution, but I'm throwing in a third that (in my opinion) makes for a really satisfying read:

#1 Thing Most Professionals Say a Resolution Needs - The tying up of loose ends.

There will always be one or two questions left unanswered by the end of your climax.  Whether new information comes to light, a previously unattainable character is freed, or your protagonist 'wins' something they didn't have before, one way or the other you've got to use these pages to make sure your reader isn't jumping on Google the minute they're done to find out "Whatever happened to Aunt Ruth and Lassie?"

#2 Thing Most Professionals Say a Resolution Needs - Safety / Sanctuary

Even in a book that's part of a series, even if the overarching conflict hasn't finished, these final pages should show the protagonist in safety.  Even if it's only temporary.

This is where you want to dissolve tension. This is the big pay off. We've just watched them win, now reassure us that they're being rewarded for being such a great, noble protagonist.  Show them in love, or in victory, or safely shielded from the people who still want them dead.  However you choose to achieve it, make sure that (like the Almost Lull) there's a definite sense of sanctuary about their circumstances.

3# Thing Aimee Thinks Your Resolution Needs - A Prose Mirror

I'm not the only one to say this, but I don't run into it every time I'm studying craft, so...

Remember that first chapter, those opening pages? Somewhere back there is the mental image your reader associates with the beginning of your book. 

If possible, bring the book full-circle by mirroring that scene, circumstance, or setting in the closing pages, or somehow bringing the reader back to the beginning of the emotional circle.

You and I both know everyone doesn't do this. Not every book makes it possible. But most do - and it doesn't have to be trite:

Maybe in the opening pages your detective was in the car on their way to a murder case.  So maybe at the end they're in the car telling (or being told by) the same colleague those last few details that needed to be cleared up.

Maybe your Cowboy was struggling to train a stubborn horse in the opening pages. Maybe at the end, the son whose custody he's fought to win is in the ring with him learning the ropes with an equally stubborn mule.

I'm being overly simplistic to get the point across, but you know what I mean.  If it's possible, bring something from the intial impression of your book into the end.  Whether it's a setting, a saying, an object of importance, who cares? What we're looking to achieve is the sense of 'full circle'.  This is completion. The satisfying feeling of a job well done.

It's the opportunity to close the book on book.

Now - we're almost done!  Next Post: The Plot W Round-Up

Your Turn: Last chance for questions about any of the Critical Plot Elements posts, or to give me ideas for examples you'd like to understand better. Comment here or email me.


  1. This is really interesting. I'm going to pay attention to whether the books I'm reading do this now. I actually do this in my own book, but didn't realise it was a 'technique'. My intuition must have been working that time! :-)

  2. Hi! New reader (and aspiring author) from Sweden here!

    I just want to say "thanks" for an enlightening series! I've read through the posts now and am happy to say I think I have all of it - in some kind - in what I'm working on now. It was supposed to be one book. I still think of it as one story, but it got far too long and I've picked transitions points to make it a trilogy. So, a question about that:

    I realize that each part in a trilgy need to stand alone, while also be part of the whole. So each of these plot elements should be included in each part, right? And, of course, with raised stakes in part two and three. (I'm still editing part one and have the other loosely outlined, so changes are possible :-) )