Thursday, August 25, 2011

The End!

The End--two of the most satisfying words an author can write. My fourth manuscript for Thomas Nelson is due a week from today and I’m rushing toward the end with less than 1,000 words to go and one more scene to write. Then I can celebrate and breathe easy for a few weeks!

I like to write the ending of a manuscript not just because it signals the culmination of a long project, but also because I actually enjoy the process as opposed to developing middles. By the time I arrive at the last act I know my characters and plot so well it’s easy to write. Relatively. Unlike the beginning, there are only so many ways to conclude a story. And unlike ‘sagging middles,’ the ending is relatively short. It’s the resolution of conflicts that many of us don’t like writing because we like our characters to get along and be happy.

The forces that you’ve developed during the middle of the book will collide at the climax. Something has to give—things can’t keep going the way they were. Peaceful endings are anti-climactic and disappointing to the reader. Can anyone think of a satisfying resolution that didn’t involve some kind of confrontation between the forces in opposition?

You must use the same characters, tensions, and conflicts etc. that are developing through the story at the conclusion. No fair bringing in the cavalry to bail out your characters!

The ending has to fulfill the promise you made to your reader throughout the story. Did you promise love? Or justice? Or terror? Don’t promise love and then deliver only heart stopping terror. If it’s romantic suspense, you’ll want the plot to resolve, but you also want the love between the hero and heroine to come together, too.

It’s a good idea to list the forces you’ve set into conflict earlier so you’ll remember to deal with each and every one of them. No loose ends or your reader will feel dissatisfied and cheated!

Most story endings have two parts: the climax and the denouement.

The climax is the clash of the forces at the big, important story event that brings it all together. It often shows how the protagonist has changed. It’s the payoff.

The climax should do four things:
1. It must satisfy the view of life implied in your story.

2. It must deliver emotion—especially important in a romance.

3. It must deliver the appropriate level of emotion.

4. It must be logical to the plot and believable for the characters.

The ending grows out of who the characters are. The climax usually takes at least a chapter, sometimes several chapters.

The denouement comes after the climax. Its function is to wrap up the story. It shows the reader the consequences of the plot and the fate of any characters that are not accounted for in the climax. To be successful it has three characteristics: closure, brevity and dramatization.

Once you satisfy all these things you can write The End and smile at your accomplishment-- unless you have an Epilogue, but that’s a topic for another post.

Do you have a favorite section to write? Any reason why?

I’m giving away a copy of Love by the Book, the newest historical romance in the Ladies of Summerhill series. Please leave your e-mail address if you’d like to be in the drawing.


  1. Hi Cara:

    This is easy.
    Begin with the end.
    For all is well that ends well.

    If you start with a great ending, you will have a prize to keep you eyes on. You will have a bright beacon to guild you through the dark depressing depths of sagging middles. With your reward always in sight, you will never be lost and never be without inspiration.

    With an ending that you know will make your readers stand up and cheer and hurry to their computers to order your next book, with this knowledge, how could you not make the time to write?

    Instead of making excuses why you don’t have time to write, you’ll be making excuses why you must write rather than anything else. Even pantsers can flit and fly in any direction as long as they are headed towards the light at the end of the cornucopia.

    As it has been said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first."

    So let it be.


  2. Hm. I don't like to think I'm a drama queen, but I sure love those angsty/ angry scenes! I like to write the tension better than the sweet endings. In my mind, those scenes always pop up first... Speaking of which, my husband said something today that sure made me laugh. I was arguing about something (unusual for me, honest!) and he said, 'stop drowning in a glass of water'. Ha! I guess it's a saying in his country, but as it came out in English, I had to stop arguing and laugh!

  3. I always write my beginning first, then my end. Then I start bringing the two together like an arch.

  4. But I do especially love writing a good fight scene.

  5. Good morning!

    Vince, I like your idea of beginning with the end. I think I'll write the beginning first to get to know my characters better and then go to the ending. In that way I'll know how many words to devote to the middle. It sounds kind of mechanical, but if you have a strict word count you have to be.

  6. Virginia, I love to write scenes with lots of conflict although I run from it in 'real' life. I'm definitely flight, not fight. That wouldn't make a great story.

    I find it's harder to write romantic scenes!

  7. Good morning, Cara! Firstly I love writing the openings, then endings. Muddled middle, not so much. :) As a reader I never used to care for epilogues, but Love Inspireds have epilogues and it turns out writing those are especially fun for me! Who'da thunk? Throughout, I have my ending in mind and often it reflects something from the beginning.

  8. Walt and Glynna, I'm surprised about writing endings before the middle. I never seriously considered it before. I'm going to try it because endings are SO important I don't like to do them in a rush. And if your on a deadline, you might be very rushed!

    I'd like to try an epilogue, Glynna. Maybe next time. I love to read them. It's great to know what happens to the characters I've grown attached to.

  9. Cara, I love typing the last words of my story. I try to make the ending tie to the opening in some way to take the reader full circle.

    My favorite section to write is the opening. I'm full of excitement and hope that this will be the best book I've ever written. By the middle I'm sure it's the worst book I've ever written. By the ending, I'm feeling better. Lots of angst.


  10. Writing the end is usually hard for me because I want to tie everything up perfectly so the last chap makes me nervous. lol

  11. Sweet! I love writing The End.

    This might sound silly, but I tend to get wrapped up in the journey of the book along with my characters and at times, I'm mildly surprised at how it all ends, too! LOL!!

    Cara you are so right about keeping the tension -- the promise -- consistant through the last page. I really hate when some out-of-the-blue element arises and makes all the conflict and angst okay.

    That's cheating.

    I love the Ladies of Summerhill series. Unique in its locale and perspective, I hope this number 4 book leads to MANY more!!

  12. Thank you so much for the chance to win this book. I sounds amazing. I would love to read this. Thanks again.


  13. J.K. Rowling wrote the ending to her book and beginning first. I can't do that and so though by the middle of the book I have found how I am going to end it I let the writing catch up before I write it.

  14. Cara,

    I too enjoy writing the end. Sometimes though my end goes through rewrite after rewrite before I'm satisfied :)

    Amanda Barratt

  15. Janet, I'm laughing because I think we all have such high hopes beginning chapter one that this will be the book of the century. Well, it could be, right?

    Jessica, if you forget to tie up any loose end, your editor will probably catch it. If not, then your readers will. Not so good! So it's good to keep a list of things to bring to a conclusion at the end. Sometimes there are a lot of them!

  16. Thanks, Audra! I'm so glad you liked the Ladies of Summerhill series. I was kind of sad to leave Newport for book 4, A Path toward Love, which is set in the Adirondack Mountains of New York state. But I love mountains as well as the coast. I lived in Vermont for 20 years!

  17. When I'm nearly the end I reach a point where the whole conclusion becomes laid out for me. I can see exactly where I want to go and how I want to get there. It's usually really FAST writing, though the very end, that last bit ... the happily ever after part takes a lot of tweaking because i want it to be fun and cute and perfect, the perfect last line wrapping everything up.

    Still, I think for me, I prefer beginnings. I just love exploding a book. Love getting it right, fast, high stakes. Not sure I always manage it, but I love trying.

  18. Glynna, I love epilogues, too. I especially love them if they are a wedding or a baby or maybe a year int he future when all is well. I enjoy all of those kind of wrap-ups.

  19. Love the post, Cara! I dream of the day I can write “The End” on a novel I feel is promising. I love writing beginnings because it retains that sense of newness and excitement found in the beginning of any new relationship. Middles, well… I haven’t had a lot of experience trudging very far through them with novels, though I’ve written several children’s stories, a few short stories, and a novella. Endings must be very satisfying to have emerged from the muck alongside your characters and come to a fulfilling conclusion.

    I would love to read this series, so please enter me in the drawing.



  20. Hi Cara,

    I love writing the Black Moment! Maybe because I know the Happily Ever After (HEA) is right around the corner. But I just love the devastation in that moment!!

    The next best part is the resolution/ ending. It has to make me sigh at the end, or I haven't done my job right.

    I do love epilogues as well. The worst part for me is the opening. I usually have to go back and re-write it a million times!

    The sun is shining here today after a huge storm and tornado warnings last night. Apparently 5 funnel clouds were spotted but none of them touched down. Thank goodness!

    Have a great day! And since I'm not sure if Helen is available today, I've put on the coffee pot! Lots of good Tim Hortons from us Canadians!

    sbmason at sympatico dot ca

  21. Cara, I'm a chronological writer, so reaching The End is rewarding. By that point, I've put my poor characters through so much and am eager for them to get their Happily-Ever-After. They worked for it, so they deserve it, and I love to give it to them.

  22. Ooo, the ending is my favorite part, Cara! So fun to write! Although I always rush it a little in the rough draft and have to fill in details later, like the subplots and how they worked out.

    I like to know the ending before I start writing. Otherwise, I don't know what I'm shooting for. If I have a beginning and an end, the middle is easy, because I'm just moving the plot through all the things that have to happen in order for the ending to come about.

    I am actually, finally reading Love on Assignment and really enjoying it! I love the premise. So fun!

  23. I like the beginning best. (Once I've figured out where it is, LOL)
    It's like the first cut into a fresh sheet of construction paper, or the first scoop from a newly opened pint of Blue Bell Buttered Pecan ice cream. So many possibilities =)

  24. Hi, Rebecca!

    Nikole, I think a lot of writers find out more about their characters and story during the middle section. And that will show them what their ending should be. I try to know my ending before I begin writing because I'm afraid I'll get stuck in the middle and that will cause me to be stuck for an ending.

  25. Amanda, even though I pretty much know my ending I do several re-writes. I never get it exactly right the first time.

    Lol, Mary! You always get the ending right--and the whole book, too!

  26. Whitney, you obviously love Jane Austen! I do too.
    Maybe if you find middles long and tedious, you could experiment by writing the ending right after the beginning. It might work.

    Sue, I re-write and then tweak my beginnings a lot. But the first few scenes are the ones my editor usually has be re-work the most. And the ending, too. If a reader doesn't find the first page and scene interesting, she won't continue.

  27. I have to admit that when I read this I thought "oh no. I write the ending shortly after I start." I'm relieved to see that I'm not alone. LoL.

    Thanks for laying out so clearly what the ending needs to include and do. Very helpful! =]

  28. I LOVE The End.

    And hate it too. Because of what you said, to make sure you tie up all those loose ends flapping about AND make it satisfying. I guess for me personally (and this is when I'm reading not writing) I would rather have a satisfying ending with a few ends missing, than an UNsatisfying ending and all threads tied up in a neat little package.

    I want to do BOTH (tied ends and good ending) in my fiction.

    Not. Easy! LOL!

    Thank you for the post Cara. :)

  29. a great posting...

    thanks for the chance to read cara's latest novel, too :)

    kmkuka at yahoo dot com

  30. As a reader, I love a book that makes me hate getting to the end! That means that the author has created a world that I don't want to leave. On the other hand, a book that just meanders around never reaching a conclusion would be painful to read, wouldn't it?

    I also hate authors who end their books too soon. I just read one of those recently (not a Seeker book!), and I felt cheated. Bam, bam, bam, the black moment, climax and denouement were done in about three pages.

    I kept that in mind as I wrote the end of my WIP - the pacing is so important! Too fast or too slow and you lose your readers. I'm letting it sit for a few weeks, then I'll go back and read it again.

    By the way, I'm with Vince all the way. I know exactly how I want my story to end before I even start the beginning. It's like starting on a road trip - you know your destination, you just have to make the journey to get there.

    And of course, put me in for the drawing!

  31. And Mary Connealy? No worries. Your beginnings AND endings are always perfectly scrumptious!

  32. I love how lots of advice meant for writing a book also works in "real life" too.
    Vince begins with the end, but Cara writes the first and last, and THEN the middle, so that she has her word count.
    I am 52 now, and though I'm in the middle portion of my life (hopefully), I still keep an eye on my beginning AND an eye on my ending, so to speak, but want to live in the moment as much as possible. To that end (bad pun), I have been cleaning out drawers and drawers of "stuff" that I just don't need, and what my kids don't need to go through when I'm gone.
    So ... with that in mind, I too will stop making excuses, at least today, and find time to do those things that need to be done.
    Good luck with your writing in that regard!

  33. Count me in! Would love to read this book!


  34. Hi Cara, I'm with Walt and Glynna. I write the ends first and not only that when I'm reading I always read the end after about the first three chapters. Drives my husband nuts. LOL. But I want to be sure its worth reading the middle. Or I simply can't wait to find out. I know. I'm crazy.

    Great post Cara. Always good to think it all out and get to that HEA.

  35. Nancy, I'd love to have some butter pecan ice cream right now. It's one of my favorites.

    Keli, I've always written chronologically, too. It keeps my scenes from being episodic. But the problem with that is if I have to change the sequence I have a lot of changes to make with scenes coming before it and after.

  36. Melanie, I'm glad you're enjoying Love on Assignment. I had a difficult time with that ending.

    The end is where I really have a tendency to rush things. Part of that is because it's a dramatic part. But also because I'm in a hurry to finish the book. But I do go back and slow it down. I dislike rushed endings. Now that I'm a writer I understand how that can happen.

  37. Cara, I snatched this up as soon as it came out! :D Love your stories!

    Ted Dekker conference: Some of you wanted to hear about The Ragged Edge upon my return. Here's my blog post:

  38. I can't imagine how to write the ending first...but then again I'm still new to this writing thing! When I started my WIP I was thinking it was going to go in one direction, but it sort of took a life of its own and went in ways I didn't even expect. That was fun for me, though. But after writing the ending, one of my critiquers said that it was just too tidy/too perfect. So I've got some work to do on that. Your post is certainly going to help me! Blessings~Stacey

  39. 4. It must be logical to the plot and believable for the characters.

    This is one reason I get frustrated with the "romance formula" for Christian romance. It's not always believable. I really strive for believability! :D

  40. Laney, I agree we should remember to live in the moment! And that's what we do when we write, I think.

    Casey, writing is a complex process which we try to make look easy and seemless.

    Patty, everyone writes he or she own way. No right way or wrong way.

  41. Thanks for this post, Cara. Even though it's a great feeling to finally write THE END on a manuscript, I must say my favorite part is writing the beginning! I think that's because as a SOTP writer (by nature) I'm excited to see where my characters will take me, and what adventures they'll encounter (besides the ones I've already got in mind). ~ Blessings, Patti Jo :)

  42. Hey Cara,

    Quickly stopping by today as I'm dashing.

    I found writing "The End" on my first manuscript DAUNTING. No more tweaks, no more action, nothing. This was IT! Wshew!

    Maybe I got around the epilogue issue by including a chapter from Book 2 of the series. Does that count?

    Yes - please enter me may at maythek9spy dot com

    As far as my fave part to write - I don't really know, I enjoyed all of it. I guess starting is the hard part. Once I get going, I'm GOOD! (So to speak!)

    Read yesterday that Karen Kingsbury is contracted for 17 (NOT a typo) books and when she sits down to write, she cranks out 10K words or more at a whack. Whoa. Maybe some of that Karen-ness will rub off on me? ;D

    OOOH - may I beg an indulgence and sneak this in for a moment? Vince wrote a PAWMAZING review. I just read it. Had to share:

    Thanks Vince!!!!!!!

  43. Super comments by the way. Great to read all the variety. I'm working hard to NOT be a pantster this time. We shall see. I sure trend that way...

  44. Howdy Cara!

    Congrats on your newest novel.
    As far as writing goes, I like writing the beginning. Everything is so new and exciting. It's a lot of fun.
    I most enjoy writing scenes of conflict. Scenes that make me emotional, although exhausting.
    It's so much fun...isn't it?:)

    Please enter me: jthompson711(at)gmail(dot)com

  45. A beautifully instructive post, Cara! It's so important that in the end our stories deliver what we promised in the beginning.

    My favorite part to write? Hmmm...once I get rolling, I just love watching to see where the characters take me! And conflict scenes are the most fun, definitely!

    I do write chronologically, but even so, I typically begin with at least a general idea of how the story will end, along with a few key turning points.

    Of course, as I work through the middle, anything can change! Like you, Cara, I believe writing chronologically helps keep scenes from becoming episodic. I let cause/effect and action/reaction drive the story forward.

    Which is why I am NO GOOD at pre-plotting or writing my synopsis too early into the first draft.

  46. Hello Seekerville and Cara! I've lurked a while here and finally felt like commenting.
    I'm not quite sure what part I like writing best, since I am writing my first novel right now, but as a journalist by day, I have to say the beginning is where I'm most skilled. Always have to have a great lead to grab the readers' attention!
    Cara, I just picked up "Love on Assignment," having already read "Love on a Dime," so I'd love to be in the drawing for your next book!
    Have a wonderful day, Seekerville!
    Stephanie Ludwig

  47. I'm white rabbit late today! Cara, I love getting to the end! It feels so good to know I've traveled the path, walked the walk! And how well you describe it...

    I'm working on the last 10K of A Family to Cherish right now, and loving it. No lie. These are such delightful people that it's my honor-bound DUTY to get them to a happy ending.

    Without hurrying or rushing the process.

    And they're so cute.

    Love it.

    Hey, I'm leaving some chocolate chip zucchini bread for snacking. So yummy. Dig in, gotta enjoy zucchini season!

  48. Cara, I am so anxious to read your the others and loved them. Please enter me. Thanks!!!

  49. Hey I just love ghosting around Seekerville even though I'm, technically speaking, a Speculative Fiction writer. There's always some romance in there, what is the point if there isn't some romance? I like Vince's idea of writing the ending first... that would probably help knock down my rocketing word count as I meander around looking for the ending, wouldn't it? Thanks Vince! To answer the original question I'd have to say I enjoy writing the ending best, but I spend the bulk of my life wandering around that middle part looking for the best paths... and upon finding the end I go back and just hack everything half to death because apparently 250,000 words is too long for even Speculative Fiction. lol

  50. Cara, we are at the same point. I just finished my second book and am looking forward to editing it :) Congratulations on writing 'the end'! I never actually write those two words :) Maybe because I know I'll have to go back and edit and I never feel as if a book is done :) Maybe I should just write 'word count accomplished' lol

    Eva Maria Hamilton at gmail dot com

  51. Sandra, I'm laughing because sometimes i read the end before I'm even close to it. Especially mysteries.

    Linnette, I agree romance has a formula, but so do most of the other genres. I guess mainstream doesn't, but it does follow some structural rules.

    KC, I'd love to write at Karen Kingbury's pace, but I can't. I can't even imagine how she does it.

    Stephanie, I think I'm most skilled at writing the beginning since it's what grabs an editor's attention. Also, I seem to spend more time working on it than on the middle. Maybe this is because I used to enter a lot of contents and the beginning is what counts. Just ask an Seeker!

  52. I can't believe all you people who like to write the beginning best! The beginning always makes me so nervous! Because I know it's the first thing people will see. I have the hardest time with the first 50 pages. Also because it has to set up the action for the rest of the book. SO HARD! Writing the beginning is by far my least favorite part. But it's only because of my insecurity! So sad.

  53. Stephanie, I try really hard not to wander around the middle, but sometimes I do because I get lost easily. I am directionally challenged in real life (no snickering, Sandra!) and I'm not much better at the middle of a story. I delete many more middle scenes than in any other part of a book.

  54. Hi Cara:

    I just wanted to point something out that may be useful:

    You wrote:

    The climax should do four things:

    1. It must satisfy the view of life implied in your story.

    2. It must deliver emotion—especially important in a romance.

    3. It must deliver the appropriate level of emotion.

    4. It must be logical to the plot and believable for the characters.

    You can accomplish all four of the above objectives, keeping the reader happy and the editor pleased, and still be far short of a ‘stand up and cheer’ ending. There are just not that many celebratory endings.

    I’d like to suggest a number 5.

    5. Create an ending with enough piazza to provoke a ‘stand-up and cheer’ emotional burst in the reader sufficient to cause the reader to run to the computer and order your next book and any books from you backlist the reader hasn’t yet read.

    I think many writers are happy to tie up all the loose ends with a ‘four-featured’ satisfactory climax. But if, by the grace of God, their efforts also produced a #5 – so much the better!

    As an exercise in wish fulfillment (and God does help those who help themselves) think of the best ending you possibly can. Once you’re excited by this ending, see if there is any way you can plot your way to that climax!

    Like they say in the Air Force:

    Aim High!


  55. Hi Cara:

    Here is a question I do not know the answer to in advance.

    Below are two book that I remember as having ‘stand up and cheer’ endings.

    I’d love to know how the authors came up with these ending.

    Please share if you read this. : )

    Substitute Bride, Janet Dean

    The Officer’s Secret, Debby Giusti


  56. I'm just the opposite, Melanie. I whip through the first 50 pages because I wrote what I'm going to write. But then my brain stumbles.

    Good point, Vince!

  57. Great post, I enjoyed ready reading it, Keep posting good stuff like this.

  58. Laney4, that's a beautiful thought! Love it!
    And Janet, I had to laugh when I read about your feeling at the first chapter that it's going to be the best book you've ever written, then in the middle it's the worst, and then better by the end! Ha! So true..
    Walt, I can't write a physical fight scene to save my life. I have to do my best, then have five or so friends read it and point out all the errors. :(
    Sue, so THANKFUL that the twisters never touched down!! Thanking God for His protection!

  59. Hi Vince,

    Thanks for commenting about the ending in THE OFFICER'S SECRET. I have to know how my story will end--at least, how the action will play out--before I begin to write.

    Sometimes the ending is foreshadowed in the beginning of the story, such as in NOWHERE TO HIDE. Often weather will play an important role in the climax, such as in SCARED TO DEATH and MIA: MISSING IN ATLANTA. The hero or heroine sometimes has to face his or her greatest fear as well as battle the villain, which occurred in KILLER HEADLINE.

    I like to take my main characters to the brink...and then save them. That means throwing as much bad stuff their way as I can weave into the story. Usually either the hero or heroine is wounded when they confront the bad guy or guys. Of course, they keep charging until they conquer the odds and emerge victorious.

  60. Thanks for your helpful advice. I enjoyed learning more about you and your book sounds amazing.
    I love reading every word in a book. Dedication, prologue, story and epilogue.
    Thanks for sharing!

  61. Patty the longer I write the more I talk to other writers, the more I know there is not RIGHT way to write a book. So many different ways, plotting, winging it. Beginning first straight through. Climactic scenes through out written first. Interviewing charaters first. It's an art darling and we're all artists (right????) so that doesn't mean you can't learn a new way, try a new thing and find out you like it, but your way is not wrong.

  62. And that's what's so neat about it, Mary. I'm so glad it's NOT one-size-fits all. It's fun trying on different things to see how they work for me. Some I love, others I know better than to even try. *shiver* LoL. I ALWAYS love hearing what and how others are doing things.

    I wrote the ending, knowing I could change it as needed, but I needed it to help me through that middle. It worked. =] (for me) =]

    I've loved this discussion! It's been great!

  63. Well done, Cara. And I like Vince's points as well.

  64. Thanks fol the interesting insights. I do like the beginning and end. The middle is always the hardest part because I think of many different scenarios for the characters.
    cynthiakchow (at) earthlink (dot) net

  65. Thank you so much for this insight! I have an ending in mind for a story, so if I can possibly work towards that I might have at least a small hope of writing a book :)


  66. Congratulations, you're almost there. The end is in sight.

  67. I've never tried writing the ending first, but that might be an interesting tactic to pull me through the middle.

    I don't agree with Vince that all stories need a "stand up and cheer" ending. Not all stories end well but it can still be good story. As far a romance specifically, I often find that I enjoy the denouement as much or more than the climax. I enjoy when the endings are little different than standard, i.e. a wedding is not required. Just the promise of a solid relationship.

  68. CARA!!!! Sooooo sorry I am a day late and MORE than a dollar short, but I made it, FINALLY!! Had four blog interviews going yesterday and got derailed, so my apologies.

    Boy, you sure taught me something today!! I had no idea what a "denouement" was and really, had never heard the word before. I just thought it was an epilogue, so live and learn.

    And you said for a denouement "to be successful, it has three characteristics: closure, brevity and dramatization.

    LOL ... well two out of 3 ain't bad, I guess, because God knows "brevity" is not in not in my vocabulary!! :)


  69. Great post! I would love to win a copy of 'Love by the Book'! Please enter me.

    lovetoread205 [at] gmail [dot] com