This post was originally written for Shelley Munro’s blog.
Though I read a lot, I was never good at articulating what made a satisfying ending for a novel. Over years of writing, I got better at endings, mostly thanks to fellow-workshoppers Ann Tonsor Zeddies and Holly Black and the trenchant comments they made on my first novel.
The main thing I learned from them was that if certain things don’t happen at the end of a novel, the reader won’t be happy (both have a gift for identifying what those things are). It’s not that those expected things are the same from book to book. It’s that you, the author, arouse expectations, and the reader wants those expectations satisfied; in fact, they want to be better than satisfied. They want you to come up with a solution that is better than they imagined.
Remember, you can always go backwards and insert expectations as you revise!
I liken this method of creating endings to Lois McMaster Bujold’s method of plotting, which seems to involve putting her lead character into the worst situation possible for them, continuing to make it worse, yet somehow pulling out success for them at the end, even if the success is tinged with failures…and somehow making those failures even more intriguing than total success would have been.
I don’t think I’m even close to Bujold’s level of plotting yet, but I did experiment a bit with The Duke and the Pirate Queen by moving back and forth between two plotlines, one primary and one secondary. To do that, I made sure that neither plotline dropped out of sight for too long, and I would mention each one briefly within the other so the reader could keep them both in mind. I used questions and cliffhangers to move from one plotline to the other. And both plotlines had to come together at the end. Events of the secondary plotline made the primary plotline possible, so they came together with (I hope) great satisfaction for the reader.
If you read the book, let me know how I did!