The Characteristic Moment Belongs at the End of Your Book Too

This week’s video talks about the little-discussed characteristic moment at the end of your story, which bookends the one at the beginning.

Video Transcript:

I know you’re totally all over the idea that the beginning of your book needs to feature your protagonist in a characteristic moment. The idea, of course, behind this is that we immediately want to show readers what this character is all about—and, even more than that, we want to hook them in with that character. We want them to see this character for who he is—in all his flawed glory—and fall in love with him, or, at the very least, be interested in seeing where he ends up.

But there is actually a second instance of the characteristic moment that is often overlooked—and this is in your ending. Now, obviously, you’re going to want your character to act in character throughout your book. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is deliberately creating another scene that showcases your character’s personality. You’re going to want to do this for several reasons:

1. If your character has evolved over the course of the story, which he probably has, then you’re going to want to use a closing characteristic moment to contrast the opening characteristic moment. You’re proving to readers how far the character has come.

2. This closing characteristic moment presents this charming snapshot of your character, which your readers can carry with them. It’s like when you reach the end of a great vacation and you get everybody together for a group shot, so you can take that photo with you as a reminder of a good time.

An excellent example of this technique is the closing scene in the BBC’s recent adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit. If you watch just the last three minutes of this series, you can see how practically every important character is given a final characteristic action or line of dialogue. It beautifully sums up each character’s role and personality and leaves viewers with a nice, little happy feeling.

Tell me your opinion: What kind of characteristic moment can you use to end your story?

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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.


  1. In the mystery I’m editing now, my protag is a man who has always been a lone wolf. Never even told his wife about his troubles. At the end of the book, he asks his head waitress to be a full partner in his diner, then drags her to the river that runs by the diner and flings both of them in, just like he’d always dreamed of doing with his (now dead) wife but never would have because of his insecurities. The river “baptism” also ties in the spiritual elements of the story.

  2. Well, I’m trying to work into one of my WIP’s that my MC has become a little less rigid and more accepting of her partner. It’s a bit tricky, since it has to come out naturally in the story, I just can’t throw in a scene just for the heck of it, especially not in the middle of the climax.

    • The closing characteristic moment is more properly going to occur in the resolution, after the events of the climax have had a chance to settle down some.

      • True…. It also depends on how long of a denoument you allow yourself! A healthy chunk of one of mine is about to be cut in the revised draft of one of my WIPs!

        • K.M. Weiland says

          I tend to prefer denouements that err on the side of shorter rather than longer. But closing characteristic moments don’t have to be lengthy. Sometimes a snippet of dialogue is all it takes.

  3. The hero in my romance is first seen illegally entering a home to check out antiques left by the dead owner. He hopes to find enough money in the haul to finance a legitimate business, and leave the ‘family business’ of breaking and entering behind forever.

    The last scene shows our hero being tackled with hugs and kisses on the floor by the dead owner’s granddaughter, her son, and their dog, showing his success in leaving behind his life of crime.

  4. Good advice. Especially since the last lines sell the next book, right?

  5. This is great to remember. I think a lot of authors rush their ending and forget about their character’s development at the end. It’s just as or more annoying when an author does show a contrast in the character’s attitude, but doesn’t build up for it or they just say it rather than showing the readers their thoughts and actions. That doesn’t mean subtlety can’t be possible though. The new movie: “Gravity” pulls it off beautifully. If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend that you do!

  6. Thanks for the post. My current WIP was inspired by a matched pair of characteristic moments. The first paragraph starts with a description of how the main character never smiles. The last paragraph has her contemplating where her life has gone in the course of the story and ends with the line, “And she smiled.” I actually thought of those lines first, and created the rest of the story in between to match.

    • K.M. Weiland says

      Love it! I’m a big fan of mirrored opening and closing lines when they flow organically from the story and the character.

  7. Oh, the book jacket theory! I love it and it actually gave me the perfect frame for my novel coming out next month! Yes, this is something every author must have in mind every time, in every novel. As you said, it just takes it to the next level!
    Big hugs!

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