Plot and Structure: Endings

Plot and Structure: Endings


Ask the Author: Mia Northrop via – have you ever worried that references to real people (eg current political figures) or technology or media (eg iPhones, Facebook) would negatively date a book? Is there a trade off between reflecting current trends and the longevity of a novel?

Aaron: I’ve never been overly worried about this kind of thing. I’ll use fictional political figures, but I often use “old” bands. I’ve got a kid who wears a Nirvana shirt in one of my current works. He refers to lyrics from that band (and others like them). Kurt Vonnegut did this in Slaughterhouse 5. Really, I just see it as developing the setting. Classics are classics regardless of what “dated” technologies or pop culture references are made. The specificity adds to the believability of the prose. That’s my two cents, at least.

Al:  Any tech will date your book. Michael Crichton wrote a book that included a state of the art portable computer that fit in a back pack and had 64K memory. I don’t worry about it. When I re-publish I sometimes at a date stamp the book or chapters.

MJ: I think a bigger concern is the use of slang. Relevant media and people help set the scene, but it’s the lingo that shifts through even just a few years. I try to use local dialect but not slang.


  • Conflict, Crisis, Resolution
    • The ending of a novel is contingent upon the work put in before hand. We cannot look at the resolution without first understanding what precedes it.
      • Conflict: the obstacle which must be overcome for the character to achieve their desires.
      • Crisis: the culmination of events leading to the “climax” or “do-or-die” moment. Immediately precedes resolution.
        • Jerome Stern Says This About Crisis:
          “May be a recognition, a decision, or a resolution. The character understands what hasn’t been seen before, or realizes what must be done, or finally decides to do it.”
        • “Timing is crucial. If the crisis occurs too early, readers will expect still another turning point. If it occurs too late, readers will get impatient–the character will seem rather thick.” (From Making Shapely Fiction)
      • Resolution: Resolves the conflict (character wins or loses).
        • Must be believable
        • Avoid Deus ex Machina
          • Any resolution to the plot that doesn’t come from the protagonist.


  • Types of Resolution


  • Open.  Readers determine the meaning.
    • “Scotty,” the voice said. “It is about Scotty,” the voice said. “It has to do with Scotty, yes.” – Raymond Carver, The Bath
    • Lou Anders’ printer cut off the final page of a short story of his. The final page closed the story with finality, but the second-to-last page gave it an open resolve which he felt worked much better. His editor agreed.
  • Resolved.  Clear-cut outcome.
    • It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known.’ –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
  • Parallel to Beginning.  Similar to beginning situation or image.
    • They were driving their 1964 Chevrolet Impala down the highway while the wind blew through their hair.
      Her father drove up in a new 1964 Chevrolet Impala, a replacement for the one that burned up.
  • Monologue:  Character comments.
    • But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before. –Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Dialogue.  Characters converse.
  • Literal Image.  Setting or aspect of setting resolves the plot.
    • There beyond the mountains, above the parched dirt of a rain-starved desert, a wisp of a cloud gathered friends.
  • Symbolic Image.  Details represent a meaning beyond the literal one.
    • He stood near the front of the church, the shadow of the cross stretching over him.
    • One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, “Poo-tee-weet?” –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five 
  • Loose Ends: Tying up loose ends is important, but does not need to be done after the climax.
    • Once the climax occurs, the story is done.
    • Tie up loose ends while building toward the climax.
    • Avoid Inheritance disease.


  • Avoid the Twist
    • Aim for the unexpected but inevitable.
    • Twist endings are often “trick” endings.
    • Do not write a novel to serve an ending, rather, write an ending to serve the novel.
  • Write poorly first, then revise
  • Find something from the beginning to bring back at the end.
    • Readers like to be rewarded for their attentiveness. On your re-read, find some element from the first few pages to bring back at the end.
  • Late in, early out.
    • Ending early can be very effective. Leave some smaller conflicts unresolved to allow the story to live on. This leaves the reader with a bittersweet satisfaction, leaves them hungry for more. This allows the readers to mourn while they celebrate. Can be risky, though. Some people really like neat bows on their novels. 


  • Readers like these things:
    • Hero emerges victoriously (Luke blows up the Death Star
    • Hero is somehow changed (Luke refuses to fight Darth Vader
    • Hero comes to new understanding of her/his situation in the world (Luke must rebuild the Jedi Order)
    • Hero reconciles with companion character (Han Solo comes back to help in the final battle)
    • Hero achieves their ultimate goal (Luke becomes a Jedi and overthrows the Empire)
    • Hero (and/or villain) is redeemed (Darth Vader saves his son’s life and destroys the Emperor.)
    • Hero’s change benefits others (The galaxy is free from the tyrannical rule of a malicious dictator.)
      • Not all are necessary, but the more you put in, the stronger your ending will be.
      • The closer these events happen together, the more powerful your ending will be.

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