Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Endings that Should be Shot

I hardly ever remember endings . . . of books, movies, football games (at least those in which my home team is not involved).

I want to write endings that will be remembered. Hopefully for their twists and satisfying conclusions. "Job well done, Peg Brantley" is what I want to hear.

But I've read one or two (if only it could be so few) books where the ending just didn't work.

The following is taken from The Elements of Mystery Fiction by William G. Tapply.

Climactic resolutions to avoid:

1. Deus ex machina. This is where the meddling god (police/cavalry) swoops in to save the day. Other examples in this not to be believed divine intervention would include the lucky shot or bolt of lightning. Easy to write, hard for the reader to swallow.

2. The suddenly invincible hero or heroine. This is the "where did they learn to fly like that?" syndrome. The antagonist you've created is resourceful and desperate. But suddenly, the protagonist has a skill set, specific to saving the day, never before divulged.

3. The suddenly fallible villain. The antagonist who has eluded every force suddenly stumbles, allowing for capture. Puh-lease.

4. The conversion of the villain. At the critical confrontation, the antagonist who has murdered in cold blood, and may be threatening thousands, says, "Yep. You've got me. Take me in." Redemption is nice, but unless you've written this character to be morally complex and tortured, this is just too easy.

Writing effective and believable climactic scenes requires all of your creativity. There is no formula. Your story's resolution must follow logically from the strengths and abilities and personalities of the characters and from the events that have come before. And yet it must not seem preordained.

I want to write killer endings, not easy endings. There needs to be believable resolution, with some creativity kicked in.

I love this adventure of writing . . .

Opportunities are usually disguised as hard work, so most people don't recognize them. ~Ann Landers

CR: Night Kills by John Lutz. Man, is this a good book.

It's all better with friends.


  1. In my all-most-finalized WIP, "The Impossible Choice", my first draft definitely had a touch of the superhero ending. The hero rescues the heroine and fights off a load of baddies. I knew he was an accomplished black belt, even made mention of it somewhere in the beginning). A friend who read the novel in its original form was quick to point that out. So I had to work in a few more scenes and references to make it more realistic that two guys could fight off ten fighters.

  2. First, congratulations on your accomplishment! Way to go, Ralene!

    And kudos to your friend who gave you good feedback you can use (meat) rather than just warm fuzzies (milk). We need both of those, but it's the meat that helps us grow.