3 Things to Know About the Ending of a Story

There are three parts of a story that are difficult to write: the beginning, the middle, and the ending. (I was going to start the article by referencing the ending of a story as one of the hardest parts, but then I realized… it’s all hard. Ahem.) Each has its own special set of challenges, but today I want to talk specifically about the function of a story’s ending and a few points that sometimes cause confusion and/or are taken for granted.

Whether or not a story works is dependent on how well its beginning, middle, and ending hang together. Are they all of a piece? Does the beginning ask a question that the middle develops and the ending resolves? When viewed in this manner, it is quite clear that all three parts are equally important. And yet it is difficult not to be inclined to give the ending special status. After all, the ending is what “proves” the story, right?

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Indeed, the ending—and particularly the Climactic Moment that decides the plot conflict—can function as a confused writer’s guiding light in figuring out just what the story is about and how to wrangle its unwieldy earlier sections. For instance, I often talk about how the Climactic Moment can be used to determine:

This is because we never really know what a story is about until we reach the ending. Regardless what has come before, the ending provides the final commentary. The ending is what indicates whether the author finds this story’s series of events to be tragic, comedic, triumphant, ironic, or even unclear.

This is, of course, one of the reasons it can be so helpful for writers to have a good idea of their endings before they start writing. If you know what you’re building toward, it’s much easier to construct a resonant path toward that ending. (Although it is, of course, an equally valid approach to use your first draft as an exploration of what you want your ending to say.)

However, it is important to keep in mind that this view of the ending or the Climactic Moment is the writer’s view. It is a meta, zoomed-out, big-picture, Creator view of the unfolding drama. This is not the view of the readers or the characters. For them, the ending is less a destination they are moving toward and more properly an emergent of the story’s many adventures and travails.

This is an important distinction. Recognizing it not only facilitates an avoidance of the kind of formulaic stories that produce formulaic endings, it also presents a more accurate reflection of how life actually works. Although all of our lives—and indeed perhaps Life itself—will reach an ending, none of us know what that ending will be or what it will “say” about the story that has come before. Even if we, like our characters, are working toward a specific end (HEA, of course), that ending is less the final triumph (or failure) of a goal and more the inevitable emergent of all the many scenes and events that have unfolded leading up to it.

The Tremendous (But Sometimes Misunderstood) Significance of the Climactic Moment in a Story’s Ending

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Because I am an outliner who finds value in knowing the ending of my own novels before I write them, and because I so often discuss the entire shape of story here on the blog, I always emphasize the importance of the Climactic Moment (for the reasons mentioned above). But today, I want to step back a little and look at the Climactic Moment as it truly is—less as the final effect in a causal progression of plot and more as the inevitable emergent from a systemic progression.

1. The Climax Proves the Story’s Change, But Does Not Create It

It’s easy to view the Climax—where the story’s plot conflict is decided in or against the protagonist’s favor—as being the moment when everything changes for the protagonist. Before the Climax, he was a loser; afterwards, he’s a hero. Before the Climax, she didn’t have a job; afterwards, she does. Before, the Climax, he hadn’t rid the world of the bad guy; afterwards, he has.

However, although the Climax enacts a final causal change, it is itself the result of the story’s systemic change.

Causal change is that of a single factor (the cause) creating a single new outcome (the effect). This is a useful understanding of a story’s events, as far as it goes. But of course, like life, things are actually a bit more complex.

On the other hand, systemic change is that which is created by multiple causes. You can think of the difference between casual change and systemic change like this:

Causal change is like a single row of dominoes, in which one domino knocks into the next, creating a long row of causes and effects.

Systemic change is like an elaborate pattern of dominoes set up so that a single domino may knock into multiple dominoes and end up setting off a chain reaction that knocks over a multiplicity of dominoes.

Your story’s Climax is a causal domino—a single event that creates a single change (the protagonist becomes a hero, gets a job, offs the bad guy). But it is also an emergent from the larger systemic pattern of falling dominoes, which was triggered by earlier events in the story.

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In short, if your protagonist is going to end the story as a hero who is capable of defeating the antagonist, that is not a change that is suddenly enabled in the Climax. If it is, then you’re asking your Climax to carry far too much weight, and your character’s transformation is likely to feel flimsy and unconvincing.

Rather, the outcome of the Climax is in many ways the inevitable emergent of all the “mini” changes created by your protagonist’s choices throughout the story.

2. The Destination Is Not the Point, the Journey Is the Point

Here’s an interesting question to ask yourself: At the beginning of your story is your protagonist capable of performing the story’s climactic action?

The answer is probably yes.

For example, is Elizabeth Bennet physically capable of telling Mr. Darcy she’ll marry him?

Pride and Prejudice 2005 Elizabeth and Darcy Pemberley

Is Frodo physically capable of throwing away the Ring?

Is Sam Spade physically capable of solving the mystery and calling the police with the truth?

The 5 Secrets of Choosing the Right Setting for Your Story's Climax

Resource and setting challenges aside, the answer, of course, is yes. So why bother to tell a 300-, 400-, 500-page novel? Why not save time by simply mentioning (in the style of the 2003 adaptation of Peter Pan) that there was “slashing and killing and it all ended happily ever after”?

The answer, of course, is that the ending is not the point. Even when readers are uncertain how a story will end, even when they are hoping to be surprised, they are not reading for the ending. If the ending defines the story, the story also defines the ending.

This is because skipping to the end, without the journey in between, is deeply unsatisfactory based on the fact that this is not how life works. More particularly, this is not how change and transformation work.

The hero is not a hero just because he reaches the end, but because of everything he did to get there. It is the difference between a visual culmination of a goal and an embodied one.

This is why, when we seek change in our own lives, just “doing the thing” doesn’t always get us the results we may want. Getting a new job, getting married, having children, moving to a big house—sometimes these goals fall flat because we put too much emphasis on the ending instead of arriving there in an organically emergent way. It’s like yoga: you and I both could probably look up some crazy pose on the Internet right now and force our bodies into it. Hooray, we’re yoga masters! Except, of course, we’re not. Potential injuries aside, we haven’t done the work to truly embody that pose. Therefore, not only do we fail to gain its true benefits, we also fail to learn what it has to teach us along the way.

It is important to remember that although a story must reach an ending, that ending is only important in the context of the protagonist having earned it through the journey. Lizzie Bennet could have accepted Mr. Darcy on his first proposal, but would they have been happy together—would they have become the epic lovers we now see them as? Frodo could have had the eagles fly to him to Mt. Doom in the first book and plopped the Ring in the fires before it properly had a hold on him, but would that ending have been anywhere near as powerful without the long pages of suffering he and Sam went through to get there? (For that matter, would the ending’s surprise of who actually destroys the Ring have been as resonant?)

In short, don’t rely simply on the events of your Climax to prove that your protagonist has changed. The Climax is merely there to give the protagonist a final stage on which to fully embody the change he or she has already earned.

3. The Ending Both Is and Is Not the Most Important Part of the Story

We often hear that the ending of a story is the most important part. In some ways, obviously, it is.

The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.–Mickey Spillane

Implicit in this idea is not so much the notion that your ending must be slam-bang, but more that the ending is what proves whether or not the story as a whole works. After all, I daresay we’ve all thrown a book or the TV remote across the room in disgust when a malapropos ending made us feel we’d wasted time on a story that, up to that point, we quite liked.

Somewhat counter-intuitively (or at least counter to lots of writing advice), the importance of an ending is not its ability to surprise us, but rather its ability to satisfy us. This is why we can and will return again and again to experience old stories whose endings we already know. Indeed, sometimes once we have initially experienced the ending and realized what a satisfying story it has produced, we will enjoy subsequent experiences of that story even more than the first time.

No less than the beginning or the middle, the ending is a crucial part of your story to get right. But part of that “rightness” is in seeing it as an emergent of everything that has come before, rather than as the final change in the characters’ world.

This mirrors another truth back to our readers, and that is that simply knowing how a story should end, or what the goal is, or the steps to “being a hero” is not enough to get there in a truly embodied way. Just doing the thing is not the same as living the journey. Lizzie and Frodo and Sam all know this.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Do you know what will happen in the ending of a story you’re currently writing? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. So, there I was reading your first take on the ending (it proves the story’s change), and thinking to myself: “yes, but in life in many ways every moment is a climatic moment”, and then you pop in point 2, and you cover my thoughts. I take the point to your examples, but Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth probably would have been unhappily married if they hadn’t gone through the story, the Nazgul would have eaten the eagles and poor Frodo with them, and Sam Spade didn’t know the answer at the start (and anyway – cut out two hours of a Bogart movie – fie I say!). But your point is well taken.

    One thing I would add is that for the novel with lots of balls in the air, you do have the resolution following the climatic moment both to show and clarify the change(s). I will confess I’ve groused at times about the climatic moment of LOTR occurring over a 100 pages from the end, but there was something satisfying about the Scouring about the Shire, and I think Tolkien may have been reminding us that the story was focused on the hobbits (regardless of how interesting Gandalf, Aragorn and all the other support characters were), how they changed and how duty often comes at a high price. JRRT hid quite a few interesting philosophical questions in his simple hero’s quest tale.

    If you find yourself fishing for column ideas, a deeper dive into the Resolution might be a good one. Some novels all but skip it, and that’s a missed opportunity. However, there is a time to end the book. Just as there is a time to end a comment.
    TTFN

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, there’s a delicate balance sometimes on the Resolution. I’m more likely to be annoyed by too little Resolution rather than too much. But there’s a line there too. Thanks for the article idea! I’ll definitely roll it around.

      • I wonder if there’s a relation between the length of your setup leading to the inciting incident and the length of your denouement post-climax. For Lord of the Rings, there was a LOT of setup before the inciting incident, and an equal length to the denouement.

        I don’t normally like a long resolution, but some of that depends on the scope of the story, too.

        • Oooo! Great observation, Anthony! I thought it really worked in LOTR and maybe that explains it.

        • Well, maybe. My theory is that JRTT just liked writing about Middle Earth and hobbits in particular, so he just wasn’t ready to let go of the story. The other thing I’d say is that while he was crowning Aragorn and scouring the shire, he did a really good job of showing Frodo confronting his loss. Others have speculated he was making a point about the problems many war heroes face after they return home and I think maybe this is the case. Either way, I think JRRT had more story he wanted to get out of him, and I suspect you could chop off the resolution of LOTR and have a fairly well structured story on its own.

    • I was thinking the same thing about the resolution/denouement. I hate them in movies. I hate writing them. But I wonder how important they are to readers? Do I need to write them for the audience? Or, can I let them write their own endings in their head?

      • I think you can do whatever feels right for you and your story. There’s got to be a little bit of a cool down period before you say goodbye, but even that “got to be” is probably too strongly worded. Sometimes there’s a lot left to resolve after the climax has ended. You don’t have to tie up all loose ends, but many readers get annoyed if there are too many things dangling. Obviously if you are going right into another book in a series, those danglers create narrative pull into the next story. But if its more of a stand alone, or the final book in a narrative arc, you’ll have to clean up at least some of them. How long that will take likely depends on the length of the story and the way the story is structured.

        If you are on an adventure quest, there are likely a lot of loose ends to tie up, including getting everyone home. In my current WIP, The protagonist starts far away from home and is trying to get home, so the climax happens at his house, and I end the chapter literally one paragraph after the climactic moment, and only have a single 1200 word scene to clean some things up. But even that has led some of my early readers to complain about things I didn’t address, so I’ll need to rework it slightly to at least reference some things in passing.

  2. Gary Myers says

    What a great way to start the week! This may be your most profound post ever…and one I’ll find myself reading over and over.

    I recently finished a book by a bestselling novelist – whose books I’d thoroughly enjoyed before – that left me totally flat. It was exactly as you described, in that the protagonist’s character arc through the first 90% of the book did not deliver the person who would act as she did in the climactic moment. It was like her otherwise smooth arc had a kink in it at the worst possible moment.

    In my current WIP, the climax is very clear. My job now is to have the rest of the characters’ journeys arrive there such that it’s inevitable.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Organic Climactic Moments can be tough. This is one reason I often like to use what I call “reverse outlining” for certain chunks of the story–working backwards from a known event to make sure I get there in an organic way.

      • In a dark hour, Frodo stops Sam from doing away with Gollum. His restraint enables the climactic moment of Lord of the Rings. (Am calling the ring-ditching the climatic moment.) Sometimes, the universe works with subtlety. Oh, precioussss subtexxxt.

  3. “If the ending defines the story, the story also defines the ending.”
    Forgive my leap to film and I hope you’ve seen “The Life of David Gale” (2003), as this powerful ending changes *everything* in the last five seconds of the story. What about these surprise ending that leave us scratching our heads for hours after the author writes “The End” – any comments for these rare cases?

  4. I love that you’re pointing out the value of the journey. I used to be all about the big ending, but your series on chiastic structure changed that. Using the First Plot Point, Midpoint, and Climax to tell a mini story has changed the way I approach structure.

    Planning the major set pieces has really helped me. I plants the other scenes, but those main pieces are totally planned, so the other stuff has to grow organically from them and follow the main arc. Thank you for making my chaotic life easier!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is something I’m pondering in my own fiction as well. I find I’m tired of writing the same old Climax.

  5. It is worth pointing out here that in classical drama the climax took place somewhere around the midpoint and the ending event was something called the catastrophe. Take Macbeth-the big climax scene is the murder. Macbeth’s fall (the catastrophe) is nowhere near as big an event it is the fallout from what has gone before. In that model your biggest scene is a big wow set piece in the middle and the catastrophe is the part which as you say proves it. IMO sticking the big climax scene at the end is the big failing in modern drama and fiction.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for bringing this up. Strong Midpoints are crucial for so many reasons. They’re the main turning point of the entire story, and in many ways they *are* the most important moment. When they’re done well, they set up both the suspense and the “inevitability” of a solid Climax. Often when the Climax doesn’t work, the Midpoint is a good place to look first for problems.

      • I’ve been suspecting that with female change arcs (Maiden / Queen / Crone), because it is focused on individuation, the Midpoint is the Climax. The way I’ve been working it out, is the midpoint is the point where the female archetype is alienated from their previous self, as a necessary step to move towards individuation. So perhaps MacBeth is a female arc?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Not sure about Macbeth; seems like more of a shadow representation. Personally, I find it offers the most clarity to think of Midpoint, Climax (etc.) in terms of timing, since these turning points will happen regardless the type of story. However, it is certainly true that the Midpoint is “bigger” in some stories than the actual Climax in the end. It depends on how you’re using the terms, and lots of people do use them differently from how I do.

    • Correct on Shakespeare. @theandyclark above, the reason the climax happens in the middle of the “Lord of the Rings” is because Tolkien was using the 5-act / Freytag pyramid structure where the climax happens in the middle.

      The point of using that structure is that you get to spend more time with the consequences of the climax. Sauron is defeated. What happens when Frodo goes home? What becomes of Saruman? Does Sam ever marry Rosie?

      In the “Writer’s Journey,” Christopher Vogler also talks about this. Rather than calling it the climax (which does come at the end, and is something else in this context), he refers to the “central crisis” or ordeal (since he’s focused on the Hero’s Journey) as happening at the midpoint. The four-act structure is referred to as the Delayed Crisis model in his book.

      It’s not a failing to delay the crisis / climax at the end; it’s simply a question of what kind of story you’re telling. The 5-Act Structure is great for tragedies, like MacBeth, again because the point is to dwell on the consequences of the character’s actions. There’s an interesting blog post about that structure here: https://thewritepractice.com/freytags-pyramid/

  6. Grace Dvorachek says

    I’m approaching the Climax in my own WIP, so thank you a very timely post.

    When I was younger, I would sometimes read the ending of a book first, or calmly listen as someone told it to me. Then I would go ahead, read it, and enjoy it as much as I would have had I not known the ending. No one could understand why, but now I realize it: I cared more about the journey than the actual ending.

    Of course, a satisfying ending caps it all off, but that’s just icing on the cake. The reason why some people blink back tears when a character makes the right choice at the Climatic Moment is not because: “Yay!!! They chose the thing most every ‘good’ person would have chosen!”

    It’s because we as readers know the struggles the character went through to even get to that moment. It’s because we know their Ghost; we know their Lie. We know that everything in their old self is telling them not to make the right choice. Or, for a Flat Arc, we know what pressures they’re under to choose the Lie. We know what possible consequences lie ahead if the character does choose right.

    And then, of course, they ultimately choose it. But the reason we close the book with a happy sigh is because we’re not just fondly remembering that Climatic Moment. We’re remembering the immense struggle, both internal and external, that the character went through during the entire book. And without that struggle, the Climatic Moment is just a cheezy, emotional scene with no meaning at all.

    Thank you for reminding me why I write–not just to get to the end, but to provide readers with a meaningful, resonating journey.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, and this is why we can experience a favorite story over and over again. Many of my favorite books and movies are ones I enjoy *more* with each viewing.

  7. This is quite an amazing perception! I’m sharing this post with my writing critique group. a number of them are following this growth journey in their stories, but I’m not sure they are aware of its importance. Knowing about it will likely sharpen their focus! (Of course, I include myself in this!)

  8. Peter Moore says

    Very well built argument for the climatic moment’s integration into the entire story. I’m writing the outline for the second book of the trilogy I am writing. I know the ending, both the climatic moment and the resolution. And now you have provided yet another sharp tool to use to make sure the entire story holds together. Thank you from the bottom of my story’s heart.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, this whole exercise gets both trickier and more important the more installments there are within a series.

  9. Nicole Biggs says

    All I want to say is the one book I threw across the room was GONE GIRL. Absolutely hated the ending and felt cheated. The whole book was awesome up until then and it made me feel like I had wasted my time. I’m unapologetically a “Hallmarkie” because I like everything tied up in a nice bow at the end. My WIP is along those lines, which is why it will probably never get published, but I’m okay with that because I’m enjoying writing it.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There are lots of readers who prefer exactly the same thing. It’s great to know what you like as a reader and to try to write a story *you* would love to read.

  10. Great article. Watching the Olympics this past fortnight it was the story of the contestant’s journey that was the most compelling, not who crossed the finishing line first. Hearing about and watching the struggles and sacrifices, the ups and downs, the injuries they had overcome, the personal happiness or heartbreak they had endured was what made the Games memorable. Same for fiction.

  11. I 100% agree that beginning, middle, and end are all part of an interdependent organic whole and they really all need to support each other to craft the best story.

    However, if we’re going to treat them as separate parts rather than nodes in an organic whole, I’d argue that the ending is the least important part.

    I’ve read a ton of Amazon reviews of novels in the past half year (over 5,000 to be specific, my goal is to read over 10,000 and I’m over halfway there, squee!) If the beginning is unsatisfying, many readers will DNF and it won’t matter how awesome the ending is. Ditto for the middle.

    One novel I did an Amazon review binge for is weakest at the end according to many, many Amazon reviews, (even the enthusiastic 5-star reviews rarely praised the ending) yet it still became a NYT bestseller and a finalist for the National Book Award based on the strength of the beginning and middle. This particular novel was one of my favorite reads of 2020. I understand and don’t even disagree with the reviewers who complain about the ending, but for me personally the weakness of the ending almost doesn’t matter (though maybe if the ending had been better it would have kicked the novel to an even higher level, so high it might have actually won the National Book Award, I don’t know because it wasn’t written that way).

    I’ve also read a lot of fiction which was originally serialized, and in those genres there is less emphasis on the ending because it’s so common for a story to keep going until it runs out of steam, yet readers lap it up anyway (until it’s done).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good points. For me, I think it depends on how weak the ending actually is. Sometimes a poor ending is forgivable, but if it changes the context of everything that went before, it can be hard not to let it color the experience of the entire story.

    • Hi Sara,

      What genres are you reading reviews for? I’m curious because I wonder if this varies by genre. I write gay romance and those readers will savage your book if you don’t give them a big, satisfying, happy ending. Even within a series, they hate cliffhangers and want some semblance of a happy ending—a happy for now. I rarely get DNFs (that I know about), but I think leaving a reader with an unsatisfying ending is worse. It means you’ve basically wasted hours of their lives. (I know the journey is important, but my readers want that climax and resolution. I neglect those at my peril.) I feel the same way as a reader—don’t waste my time (and money) on some shaggy dog tale. I need to enjoy getting to the finish and then stand up and cheer. Anything less and I feel cheated.

      • Which genres? Mostly historical fiction and fantasy, particularly sagas (for example, the book I was talking about is Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a historical saga spanning four generations of a family). In sagas, it doesn’t always feel ‘off’ if things just end without a climactic which ties everything up, since unless there’s an apocalypse which destroys everything there’s an expectation that the turbulence of the characters’ lives (or their successors’ lives) will keep going even if the main story problem is resolved. But if the middle of a saga isn’t engaging… then it’s pointless.

        • That makes sense. I used to write fantasy and had to rethink my approach to endings when I started writing romance. With romance they’ll crucify you then cover you with honey and fire ants before they throw rotten cabbages at you and set you on fire.

    • My theory is that, if you really grow to love the characters, and the journey that they went on, as long as the ending is “appropriate,” a reader will be satisfied by it. Appropriate being an ending that fulfills both genre conventions and the promises the author made along the way.

      So, in series fiction, if they enjoyed the characters, an appropriate ending to each novel will get the reader to the next book. That might not be enough to get a reader from one standalone novel to another. In those, I think the ending has to be better than “appropriate” to get most readers who enjoyed the characters and the journey to read your next book. The ending will either have to redefine the story in a way that satisfies them even more, or they’ll have to love the characters and the journey so much that they trust you to do it again int he next book.

      I think this is why read-through is so much higher in a series, not just the unresolved plot points. It’s a lower bar to clear once readers are invested in your characters.

  12. Aha–THAT’S why we can read good books over and over again. Great article. 🙂

  13. This was very timely for me. I’m working through rewriting the Hook through the inciting incident in my current WIP, and having a hard time making it work with the ending I’ve written. All three points led me to rethink the ending as I have it—and the climax is not making the right point in the MC’s internal arc, which is why I’m having such difficulty rewriting the opening, there’s no way to connect the inciting incident with the climax I have, internally. It works externally quite well, which fooled me into thinking I had the theme nailed down for quite some time now.

    I could never quite wrangle the MC’s motivations into the ending I’d created, and now I know why…point 1 applies to this. I proved for the wrong equation. I’m not off by much. The events are just fine, I just had the MC come to the wrong realization. Tweaking that fixes much of what wasn’t working with the opening.

    I, much like my character, had one more revelation to uncover before making sense of what I was trying to say.

  14. Jack Bannon says

    Great post, and for what it’s worth, I think you’re right, the journey is the point, much more so than any destination. It’s a bit like life that way, where at the end, it doesn’t matter what’s in your hands, so much as how clean you’ve kept them along the way. For that reason, I like the denouement to give the journey meaning. I think it should also tie up loose ends from the journey, though I do like to leave one or two in question. I try to leave it so readers will wonder about some aspects with enjoyment, rather than having, the unsatisfying ends of malapropos such as you describe. You asked about the ends of stories we’re writing, I hope that wasn’t a rhetorical question…

    At the end of my current story, (set in the Iraq war), my main character’s best friend imprisons an evil spirit no mortal man could defeat. That’s when you learn his friend actually did actually die in the explosion from a roadside IED a few chapters before. At the time, they walked away talking with together, but after that his friend only spoke with Heil when he was alone. His friend defeats the spirit and binds it back into the cursed artifact they took from the sand, loosing the spirit that has been trying to kill their squad.

    The fact that he gave Heil the cursed artifact they dug up in the desert after he died, yet before fought the spirit attached to it is a thread deliberately left unexplained.

    Heil looks back on finishing the war alone, surviving as his buddy wanted. He still has flashbacks to a time when he was covered in the blood of a different squad member, one who died in his arms while Heil called for a medic and pressured his wounds. His best friend Kevin showed up a few times after Heil returned to America, but now he is left alone. Heil still has dreams of the dead, and they are always doing what he saw them doing last, usually trying to kill him.

    His wife knows he cries out in the night and his daughter knows he gets a little strange sometimes, but he never talks about it, feeling it’s a load he must carry alone. He doesn’t want the family he loves to worry about him.

    On the anniversary of his friend’s death, Heil takes cigars and Jim Beam to his friend’s grave every year. He lights a cigar and puts in on Kevin’s headstone and drinks a toast to nerve, then he pours one on Kevin’s grave and talks to him until the cigars are out. He always leaves a quarter on the headstone. He doesn’t say why.

  15. Sandra Simmonds says

    This was a wonderful post. I’m particularly interested in how theme works through the story and how it ties off at the end (I’ve purchased your book). I laughed at your comment about throwing a book – I thought I was the only one who did that. Ugh!

  16. Absolutely I do know the ending. I often feel unsure about it, as in, should I even keep writing that far (haha) but I am positive, really, the ending must go the way I know it will go. In fact, I know the ending FAR better than much of the rest of the story.
    I am confused about the difference between climax and ending. I feel sure they are not one and the same, although I think we talk that way a lot.
    But maybe I’m just generally confused. The climax cannot be mid-story, can it? I think the climax comes when the mc realizes he is unable to do suicide. He begins seeking betterment then and the end is far later, when he is sane and finally satisfies his quest, but in an unexpected way. Is that all wrong?

    And if you don’t mind, slightly off topic, what do we normally call the act of keeping all the dominoes (love the video!!!) standing while we build, without accidentally knocking the whole thing over? Can a story keep branchind into other realities and drawing the writer away from the here-and-now portion of the story. How to keep them in line; are they new novels trying to engender themselves? (Etc.) I just don’t know how to research this problem, what terms to use. Thanks!

    • By coincidence, I recently did a review-binge on a novel which does have the climax in the middle (according to many reviewers at least; the fact that so many reader believe the climax is in the middle is interesting even if a story structure expert like K.M. Weiland would disagree). According to my digest (I take notes and write them up so I can remember what I learn from these review binges)… “6. Many readers noted that this book has two climaxes: some readers thought this was awesome, some
      readers thought it didn’t work,” “6. Having an unusual plot structure can win a lot of readers over if it works, but it will also inevitably
      turn off some readers”

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        As pointed out in the comments, there are many different approaches to structure. I find that most resemble each other in the basics, and my take up to this point in my life is a homogenization of what I’ve observed and resonated with in many different systems. But it’s important to realize that the particular system of structure I teach is just my own take on what is, essentially and always, theory rather than “law.”

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Climax represents the completion of the overarching plot conflict. The Climactic Moment (which is the climax of the Climax) is the moment where the protagonist either definitively gains or definitively fails to gain the plot goal.

      Sometimes the Climactic Moment can also be the literal end of the story. But usually the story will continue for at least a few scenes in order to offer a Resolution that ties offs the loose ends and creates both context and closure for the events of the Climactic Moment.

  17. I really like when endings “echo” the beginning, or remind the reader of something dear to the character’s heart.

    In my WIP, after my MC defeats his evil parents, and his sister becomes his servant, they share a dance (which was part of the beginning) and my MC recalls a Bible verse that led him to taking his journey.

  18. Thanks Weiland for the post. Looking forward to your next post.

  19. Enjoying the interesting comments being made on this article. Robert Kee’s screenwriting guide Story suggests there are two types of ending. Closed – all the questions are answered and emotions satisfied or Open – most questions are answered and most emotions satisfied and it’s left up to the audience (reader) to answer or satisfy but that the questions and emotions must be capable of being answered/satisfied. Everything that has gone before must lead to clear and limited alternatives to allow closure.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. And as others have pointed out in the comments, it’s important to understand your genre and your audience’s expectations in choosing between them.

  20. Brian Jones says

    Yes, the hero defeats his enemy but only at the corruption of his own power. #book2

  21. Wow, you really struck a vital nerve with this post! Evidently this was a post whose time had come.

  22. Fundamental as you have explained is the lead up to the conclusion, the beginning, the middle matter. But within the novel there must be a tension of a kind which draws upon what McKee discusses in “Story”, namely the negation of a negation. What has happened to many screen plays is simply more violence, more gratuitous sex, and the audiences have become more and more inured to this trend, without any real build up of tension of emotional kind. This implies also that writers write emotion, that they do so by showing the emotion of their characters. This must be a crucial factor in building up an emotional high inside the novel. Then at the end, the emotion is released, when the conclusion allows for a truth to appear, and the change finally happens.
    Thats how I see a successful novel.
    You might like sometime to discuss how to make a novel one of a “page turning” variety- Rider Haggard was supposed to be one of these- in which the reader can’t put the novel down. I would be very interested in your views on this.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, thank you so much for sharing this. It helps me see something I’ve been circling about the necessity of catharsis in a good ending.

  23. Um, Frodo did not throw away the ring. He is the hero who became somewhat corrupted by the enemy’s power.

    This makes him a more realistic veteran. He returns from the war very tired and without a high view of himself. Some veterans we would consider heroic keep dark secrets to themselves.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You’re right, that was a bit confusing how I phrased that. What I meant was that Frodo’s ultimate plot goal was destroying the ring, even though he failed to throw it away in the end.

    • Jack Bannon says

      Great point Mark. I think you’re right on. And Ms. Weiland, once again, great post.

  24. Tomas Bergström says

    This comment is not about endings.

    I just wanted to know if having the story in the cut works as well for books as it does for movies. By that I mean that we show the preparation for an event and the aftermath of an event,but we don’t really see the event. As an example I would give the robbery in the movie “Resevoir dogs”. We see the set up and we see the aftermath, but the robbery itself is only referred to, we never see it actually happening. Does this technique work as well in books as it does in movies? Or are the storytelling mediums too different from each other to make it to work?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d say it’s tricky in both movies and books. In some ways, I think it’s trickier in books, but then again, you also have the ability to fill in the blanks with narrative in a way you do not in film.

    • Jack Bannon says

      I’m not the writer K.M. Weiland is, but for what it’s worth, I think the book “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier was a masterful example of this. Rebecca is dead before the book starts, and yet she lives throughout the book. The manner of her death is also a key plot point for the book’s climax, yet it’s never happening in the story timeline. I believe it’s well worth a read, and it’s a great example in response to Tomas’s post.

      • You have reminded me of Marcus Zusak’s “The Book Thief”. We know at the start what the narrator Death will tell us! Soon, we could throttle him for it. We’d need to accomplish that with 1 hand because we cannot bear to put down the book.

  25. Feeling as though their lives are worth no more than that of a malaria mosquito, the refugees fly to a far off destination away from the hell of UNHCR camps. Already, many have died of malaria – injected by NGO doctors, who re-used syringes more than 60 times.

  26. Wonderful point that the hero of the story must earn the climatic moment. I’m going to think about this post some more in the following days. And another great point is that the ending must be satisfying, not necessarily surprising; a wonderful insight. Explains why I can watch the same movies or read the same books multiple times.

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