A Must-Know Tip for Writing Slam-Bang Finales

This week’s video talks about a simple technique you can use to encourage readers to keep turning your final pages deep into the wee hours of the morning.

Video Transcript:

The ends of our novels are make or break territory for our readers. If we’ve convinced them to keep reading this far, we had better have something extra special in store for them come the end. If we disappoint a reader in our story’s climax, we’ve not only failed in our most important job as authors, we’ve also likely lost that reader for life. So how do we dazzle them in that last quarter of our stories?

Not surprisingly, there isn’t a hard-and-fast answer to this. Every story is different, so, of course, every climax is different. The foundation of your slam-bang finale has to be built into the story—the plot and the characters—that preceded it. But there is one trick that can make a world of difference in your presentation of that final quarter, and it’s one we find used to great effect in Brent Weeks’s fantasy The Way of Shadows. This technique had me racing through his pages so fast that I quite literally lost track of time.

The technique I’m talking about is nothing more or less than shortening the scenes and chapters in the final quarter of the story. Doing so creates a sense of speed and urgency, as the story darts back and forth between the important actions of multiple POV characters, intertwining them, and funneling them all down to their inevitable meeting at the conclusion. Shorter scenes—which in turn are made up of shorter paragraphs and shorter sentences—suck readers into the mad dash of your finale. However, as with everything in writing, you have to use this technique with finesse. Don’t force it. Just watch out for the natural scene breaks, which should come faster and faster the closer you get to the end.

Tell me your opinion: Do your scenes get shorter toward the end of the book?

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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. in my WIP I have shorter scenes and chapters that interweave the hero and heroine’s POV for the outer conflict and resolution, but then it goes back into a regular length for the heroine’s internal dark point and resolution. I don’t know if that works, we’ll see…

  2. Finishing my first novel and aware that much rewriting must be done, I plan to use this tip. Now I know why it is I ALWAYS stayed up late and read those last few chapters faster and faster…brilliant.

  3. Great vlog, K.M.

  4. @Angela: Unless there’s a good reason (e.g., the hero dies) to do otherwise, if you’ve set the pattern of interwoven POVs, you’d probably be wise to continue it throughout the story, both to maintain continuity and also to avoid frustrating readers who like the hero character and want to see him finish out his journey as well.

    @Donna: It’s a crazy sneaky effective technique. I divide my nightly reading time between fiction and non-fiction books, so I’m always looking at the clock, so I know when to stop the fiction and switch over. But when those short chapters start sucking me in, I’m a goner!

    @J.L.: Thanks for watching!

  5. Great tip. Those short chapters are murder to my “one more chapter before I put the book down and go to sleep” rule. I’ve spent many a day working on little to no sleep because of it, but I’ve never quite been able to identify why. Now I know that writers employ psychological trickery–and now I plan on using it too mwahaha. Thanks for the great post, I thouroughly enjoy your blog.

  6. I tend to do the shortening thing because, as I’m writing, I also get caught up in the story and rush to the end.

  7. If other authors can do it to us, we can definitely return the torture – I mean favor or our readers!

  8. @Stephen: Same here. Generally, it’s something that comes naturally. But it’s also good to be aware of it, for when it doesn’t come so easily.

  9. This is a technique I’d never considered. But when I think about it, I have to wonder why I hadn’t, because it’s a “duh!” factor. It should have been obvious to me. If you want the reader to keep reading, it makes sense to shorten scenes and chapters so the reader will say, “Oh, just one more chapter.” Then, “Oh, just one more.” I definitely plan to use this in my WIP now. Thanks, Katie.

  10. It’s not something I had consciously thought about before, but makes perfect sense. Thanks, K.M.

  11. @Lorna: Theoretically, as a reader, it doesn’t matter to me how long an author makes his chapters, since I read for the same amount of time every evening. But I definitely notice that longer chapters seem more “oppressive” and shorter chapters lull me into the habit of ignoring the chapter breaks altogether.

    @DJ: It’s one of our sneaky ninja writer tricks!

  12. I’ve been experimenting with this, but often in a climax I switch POV fairly often (with a break between scenes), and let the climax grow out of the facts I’ve already presented. For instance, I used to introduce someone new to save them, or conjure up a circumstance out of thin air. Not anymore, everything that happens must be foreshadowed.

    Great article, as always.

    ~ VT

  13. You don’t have to have multiple POVs to make this technique work. But the mad dash darting back and forth between multiple characters, all involved in high-tension activities, really helps amp that suspense.

  14. I did use this in my latest WIP. I have enjoyed other novels where the author used this technique and I learn many ideas from reading. From personal experience, I found when written in this format I am more likely not to put the book down and finishing it. Thanks for the post, it was excellent and useful as always.

  15. I wouldn’t say the chapters and scenes get shorter, but the time-space definitely shrinks significantly. Where it takes my characters 2/3 of the book to get from one side of the country to the other — and for the protagonist to finally make the decision that will lead him to the end of the book — suddenly in three chapters the readers find themselves in the “end.” Not AT the end, but it’s clearly entering the closing scenes of the story. So it’s more like a roller coaster, where the longest part of the ride seems to be the initial climb, but as soon as you drop over the first hill the ride seems practically over.

  16. Did you find the trick effective in your WIP?

  17. @Daniel: The climax should begin roundabout the 3/4 mark of the story, with the climax of the climax 3/4 of the way through that. And, you’re right, speeding up the timeline is often very effective.

  18. Yes, my two critique partners said it made the flow faster and had the “I have to know what happens” feeling. I’m not sure if it would work in every WIP, but it did in my mystery.

  19. This technique definitely works best in fast-paced stories. Literary novels and the like can benefit from it as well, but not to the same extent.

  20. Now that you mention it, the scenes leading to my climax are shorter and do feel more urgent. So looks like I got it right by feel. 🙂

  21. I’ll need to remember that as I wind down to the final chapters of my WIP, to shorten scenes and chapters:) Great tip…thanks:)

  22. The instincts we hone as readers usually come in handy when we start writing our own stories!

  23. @Lorna: Have fun writing those final chapters!

  24. I think it is a fabulous technique! But I always thought it chould be used during the whole course of the book!

    Since I have a lot of characters in my WIP, it is perfectly possible.

    Thanks again!

    M.

  25. Yes, it definitely works just as well for earlier segments of the book. But even if you’ve opted to use longer chapters earlier, shortening up the pacing in the end (something that often happens naturally anyway) can lend the third act a breathlessly intense feel.

  26. I´ll definitely give it a try 🙂 You rock!

  27. Maryann Fitzharris says

    I naturally do shorter scenes at the end. glad to have this validation. However, I’m a fan of brisk writing anyway. Short, fast-paced sentences, etc.
    Thanks for all you do in this blog!

  28. Pacing is very much a gut-instinct thing. We just have to feel it out. Most of us sense that the story has to move quicker as it approaches the finale. A writer’s instincts are her most valuable asset!

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