A powerful ending doesn’t stay sealed inside a book once you close the cover. The surprise, challenge, curiosity, or inspiration in the final words becomes part of you. You’ve lived an experience through the characters, watched them resolve an issue, explore an idea, or pursue a goal. And now their feelings have melded with your own. How a story ends is as important as how it hooks readers in the beginning. One captures readers’ interest for a few hundred pages while the other captures their hearts forever. You can approach an ending from any number of directions, but I’m going to outline three of my favorites that can help you brainstorm a memorable one.
Abortion. Homosexuality. Feminism. Race. Border politics. These topics dominate the news, and fiction needs to accurately portray our world, but how do we write with caution and avoid inflaming or alienating readers? (Hint: Not with blunt statements like the opening of this article.) God’s Word reveals answers and helps us form clear stances on controversial issues. Unfortunately, when we try to share our beliefs in our stories, we can come across as condescending (at best) or openly hostile.
In this article, I’m going to give you two lists of outside-the-box strategies to cracking the big-picture puzzle of an engaging story. The more you experiment, the more sides of your story you’ll reveal until you can visualize how every piece fits together and find the jewel at the center. As you consider the possibilities, don’t be too quick to discard any, because sometimes the ideas you’re reluctant to try will help you the most.
Worldbuilding and plotting are two separate processes, right? Wrong. Like every component of fiction, story world and plot are interlinked. Or rather, they can be. When you take the effort to use worldbuilding to deepen your plot, your book will feel intentional and whole.
The task of fiction writing is complicated. We make up people, places, and situations that are supposed to inspire readers to care and relate. We’re not trying to enchant anyone to the extent that they lose sight of the line between fiction and reality, but we are hoping to lift the veil of disbelief so that their imagination can run through the lush grass or the chipped pavement of worlds that don’t exist.
The methods for planning a novel are endless: character questionnaires, structure templates, prewriting, outlining. Some writers fall into the camp of plotters, where warm-up work is second nature and vital to racking up a word count. But how are those of us who approach the process by the seat of our pants supposed to write amazing stories?
A little over a year ago, I signed up for a theater class. Most of the lessons focused on the techniques actors use to learn about the roles they’re portraying, which involves much more than memorizing a script. Before ever setting foot on stage, each actor identifies the goal his or her character is trying to achieve in the upcoming scene. Whether it’s as simple as asking a friend for a favor or as dramatic as attacking an enemy, the character and actor both need motivation to move from Point A to Point B.
Over a period of one year, famous artist Claud Monet dedicated himself to painting a set of haystacks during various seasons, weather conditions, and times of day. Sounds monotonous, right? On the contrary, the results were stunning, because Monet discovered a technique that can revolutionize any scene—whether it’s typed in a word processor or splashed onto a canvas.
Offensive line coaches in football think strategically. While they may love a quick score, they don’t expect a touchdown without a fight. Instead, they develop a series of plays with a singular goal: to advance the ball up the field. Football is a game of inches, and if each part of the plan is executed correctly, the ball should cross into the end zone. When writers craft stories, they also must think strategically. From brief encounters to full-scale scenes, the characters need to act and react in a manner that pushes the plot toward a specific outcome.
Writers are liars. We spend hours trying to make imaginary people and places seem realistic enough that the line between fact and fiction blurs inside readers’ heads. We want the sensory details to be so tangible that they can see, hear, and feel everything the characters experience. But readers aren’t the only parties we need to convince. Our characters should be tangled up in the deception too.