The way a story ends is just as important as the way it begins. While the beginning should hook you in and drive you to continue reading, the ending should bring closure. At this point, the climax has answered many of the plot’s questions, so the ending should show the new normal world of the protagonist.
The Resolution of the story helps readers feel as if the story is over. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Even in a series, the lessons the characters learn, and the conflicts they’ve been through should come to an end. It should all make sense, though. That doesn’t necessarily mean a happy ending, just that all the pieces have been put together and almost everything leading up to the finishing of the climax is explained.
Of course, by “explain” I mean “shown in a meaningful way.”
Readers want to see what the characters are up to after the drama is over. Try showing that the lessons they learned are now part of their everyday lives. Although it’s hard to keep these last scenes from being boring, they shouldn’t introduce more conflict.
There needs to be a last moment for characters and readers to sit back and reflect on the rest of the book. A deep breath before closing the cover will go a long way toward satisfying readers. A short chapter of one or two scenes, depending on genre and the length of the book, should suffice.
Let’s take a bare-bones mystery for example. We know that there is an inciting incident (someone is murdered), growing conflict (the series of ups and downs the protagonist faces in catching the perpetrator), a predicament (will the perp be arrested?), and the climax (the perp is arrested). Should the story end with the cuffs being slapped on?
What about all the other loose threads? These all need to be tied up as well. If this were a Sherlock Holmes movie (the ones with Robert Downey, Jr. naturally), the resolution comes when Holmes gives Watson the lowdown on how he came to his conclusions. Fans of Scooby-Doo and Columbo (for those over 35) might recognize this as well.
You might think about being a bit more sophisticated with it, though. After the antagonist is arrested, the protagonist needs to be shown going on with life in the new normal. Since one aspect of fiction is transformation, the detective should have been changed in some way by the case. Maybe in our scenario he learned that there are gray areas to law enforcement and that not everything needs to be by the book every time. So the last scene, the Resolution, should reflect that.
It might look something like this:
The detective is at work, closing out the case. It’s 11:47 a.m., and his partner is ready for a break and wants to head to lunch. In the past our hero made him wait because their scheduled lunch was at noon. In this conclusion, he shuts down his computer and they head out for an early lunch.
Of course, this is overly simplified, but it shows the change the character has gone through and applies it to his everyday life.
When I come across a resolution that doesn’t resolve all the issues or doesn’t show that the protagonist has changed, I first think of the conclusion itself. Most times it’s unsatisfactory because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the story. For example, the character may be exactly the same as he was in the beginning; he still makes his partner wait until exactly noon to head to lunch. Those types of things are usually quick fixes, like tweaking the time or changing the motivation of the character in the last scene.
Sometimes, though rarely, I come across an ending that makes no sense to the story. When the resolution is way off mark, it shows me that the author is a little confused about the story’s message. It may require reworking the entire scene or adding or deleting elements within the body of the story to coincide with the controlling theme. Most of the time, some back and forth between the client and me is necessary, so the message is what the author wants and it satisfies readers.
The takeaway is this: show that your character has changed and that all the pieces are there, and you’ll have an ending that satisfies.
Have you found the Five Requirements to be a helpful tool in editing your work? I’d love to hear from you; leave a comment below!