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Episode Info: Episode Notes Today we’re looking at the craft of writing convincing endings for each chapter of our novels and stories. This podcast was written in response to a listener question in the Writing Talk Podcast Facebook group. If you have questions or issues that you’d like me to discuss, commenting in the group is a good way to do it, but you can also post comments on this site. There are two main aspects to this question: How does the ending of each chapter fit into the structure of the novel? Are we effectively signposting the end of the chapter in order to influence the reader’s journey through the text? To avoid confusion, we’ll talk about scenes rather than chapters. Each scene has a shape, a form. Often, this will be the classical beginning, middle, end, but it’s more useful to think in terms of hook, progressive complication, payoff. These are the terms used by Shawn Coyne in his book, The Story Grid. I like these terms because they encourage us to focus on function rather than form. Scenes that don’t fulfil some sort of function may feel empty and dull, and to the reader, they will feel like pointless padding. So thinking in these terms for each scene, how does our ending flow from what has gone before? In addition, how does the ending point to what will come next? Notice that I’m not talking about resolution because I don’t find it a particularly useful concept. Resolution suggests that things should be tied up, and that’s quite a limiting idea. A good ending will often keep us guessing, and that can be very effective. We don’t want to shoehorn contrived plot points into an ending, but bear in mind that endings provide great opportunities to write turning points. for example, a character ends a scene by changing her mind or confronting a fear or resolving to take certain steps. In a mystery, perhaps a clue is revealed. In a romance, a desired partner is seen embracing someone. In a thriller, the detective hurls aside the whiskey bottle instead of taking a drink and heads for the street. At this point, we resist the urge to deliver the rest of the plot, and we bring the scene to a swift end. This isn’t a classic cliffhanger, but we have encouraged a sense of anticipation. We’ve built up some energy, and now we need to keep the pressure contained because if we go on, all that pressure will dissipate. And this is where the signalling comes in. We don’t want to leave people in the lurch. We don’t want to jar them out of their experience. So how do we let them down swiftly but gently? Shakespeare used to write the last lines of a scene as a rhyming couplet to signal the ending to the audience. Novelists may find the repetition of similar phrases to be an easily recognizable signal, e.g. He didn’t like it. he didn’t like it at all. Alternatively, a character emphasising a point may provide a good cue that the end is approaching, e.g. She wasn’t going to stand any more of his bullshit. Not for one second. These ...
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