Thursday, April 28, 2016

The End of the Road-How to Keep the Last Act of Your Novel Exciting and Satisfying

Last month I wrote about the Muddle in the Middle, the hardest section for me to write and maybe for some of you, too. I hope you don’t mind but I’m going to repeat the last part of that blog, Training for Battle. Then I’ll go into the Crisis, Black Moment and Act 3, the last act and the End of the Road for your story.

Part 4: Training for Battle

The hero will suffer through a number of tests such as interpersonal challenges, maybe even physical challenges. He’ll encounter obstacles that are difficult to overcome, physically, emotionally or mentally. Again, he’ll look inside himself and learn to adapt to change and conquer the barriers to his goal which he encounters through out the middle of the story.

Follow these principles: Every obstacle the hero faces must make the journey more difficult, causing him to dig deeper. He’ll find a character trait he didn’t have before. He’ll get better at the new skills he’s learning.

Each time the hero improves his skills, he becomes more of the person he wants to be, and he has a glimmer of hope for the future. So give him a glimpse of something he longs for. Let him kiss the girl. (Now I know where to add a kiss!) Things are looking good for the hero!

When the hero and heroine feel empowered and on their way to victory, you’ll pull the rug out from under them.

Since they’ve grown and matured and developed important skills, they’ll be prepared to face the problems that lay ahead. Very soon they’ll smash right into the Crisis, the worst situation of the story and of course, the most difficult to overcome.

Crisis/All is Lost: It has the whiff of death, of terrible defeat. The hero might want to run away and not face the end of his old way of thinking. He might feel he can’t possibly defeat the obstacle blocking him from the attainment of his goal. He loses hope. But fortunately, this is a false defeat. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know that, yet.

Ask yourself: what event strips the character of hope?

Black Moment: This is the darkest, lowest point because the main character has lost everything. It could be physical or emotional loss or both.

Create the Black Moment Event.

It’s based on the heroine’s greatest fear. The lie she thinks about herself holds her back throughout the story and feels totally real to her. But the Epiphany forces her to learn that what she believes is a lie. Only the truth that sets her free. Now she can break down the barriers preventing her from moving forward. She can attain her goal, and in a romance, the love of the man she cherishes.

What can the heroine do at the end that she couldn’t do at the beginning?

Overcoming her greatest fear enables her to grow into the new, stronger person that the reader wants to see. She’s able to run the race and know she can win.

How do we create the Black Moment?

The Black Moment Event comes from going back into the hero’s backstory to find a Dark Moment in his past that has shaped him. From it we pull out the Greatest Fear and the Lie he believes, but shouldn’t. The Greatest Fear is the EVENT you will recreate in some form, and the LIE is what you will make your character believe is true as inescapable as an EFFECT of the Black Moment.

The result of this is the truth setting your hero free, to escape her flaw, and then a Character Change/Hurrah finale where she does something at the end that she wouldn’t do at the beginning.

Examine her Greatest Fear to find her acute pressure point. Bring back the greatest fear by recreating the pain of a terrible past event that she’s never truly forgotten or overcome. Pain from the event in her past is still with her in the present and reaches into her future. It can be regret, abandonment, anger etc. This new event produces the same emotions, the same conclusion, the same LIE she believes. Slowly push your heroine to confront this fear right from the beginning of the story.

The Black Moment should be strong enough to bring her to her knees and re-evaluate everything she believes in. This will lead her to a healing Epiphany. She must look back and see what she did wrong. Only then will she come to some truth that will open a new door to a new future.

You start the hero on a journey and she has to want something, but be unable to attain it. During the journey, the external plot points affect the internal character journey so that the hero begins to want to change, and even opportunities to change. When she reaches the Black Moment, she realizes her need to change, and her Epiphany causes this to happen. For us to believe she’s changed, she has to be tested. This is the Final Battle.

ACT 3: In Act 3 the protagonists muster the courage to overcome their inner obstacles and remove the emotional armor that has kept them apart throughout the story.

Final Battle

In the Final Battle, she accomplishes what she couldn’t even imagine doing at the beginning. She’s tempted to give up since this is such an enormous obstacle to overcome. But the Epiphany has changed her because she’s learned to vanquish the lie and believe in the truth. She can finally press on to the Triumphant Ending.

You wage a Final Battle to show change has really taken place. It’s not just a mental assertion; it’s now a part of her entire character. You wage this internal struggle by using external elements.

To sum up the ending: The heroine faces the last, but most difficult challenge. What she couldn’t do previously, she can do now. She confronts the lie (or her inner flaws which have kept her from change). She falters, then embraces the truth/epiphany, and she forges ahead in victory.

Here are the steps to follow:

Step One: Storm the Castle. What is the final thing the heroine needs to do to prove she has changed? (Just saying she’s changed for the better isn’t enough.) She’ll have to prove it in a tangible way. It’s an internal transformation which she shows through her actions in the external plot.

Step Two: She’s human after all, so she’ll falter, or be attacked by the Lie. Ask: How can her fears or flaws, her dark moment from her backstory rise up to make her doubt herself? This shows that change is hard, even though she’s experienced a moment of enlightenment called the Epiphany. Letting go of past beliefs which have proven false are still difficult to give up.

Step Three: Grasp the truth and hold on! She’ll be reminded of her epiphany that has recently made her see the truth and this gives her strength to continue on.

Step Four: Carpe diem! Victory! How does she complete her journey by showing she has confronted the lie, and chosen truth. How can she win?


External Relationship Arc: How does fear threaten the potential of the relationship one last time?

Internal Relationship Arc: How do the characters prove they don’t want to continue without the other anymore?

Final Image / Resolution: Show how the characters are now fully themselves, in love, and perfect for each other. Show how much change has occurred. A wedding scene is a great example of how two characters at odds at the beginning finally come together in harmony.

There’s a beautiful sunset at the end of the road.

Happily Ever After: We picture our couple, who have emerged from all kinds of trials and tribulations, as people deserving and capable of living happily ever after. There’s nothing like a satisfying ending that’s truly a new beginning!

This information came from Susan May Warren’s book Conversations with a Writing Coach. I highly recommend it!

I’ll be giving away a $10.00 gift certificate to Starbucks, my favorite place for lattes and caramel frappuccinos. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.
Spring into Love


Tina Radcliffe said...


I'm printing this off-it's very much a Heroes Journey process, isn't it?

Tell us about your novella in the Spring into Love Collection.

Marianne Barkman said...

Great post, but I'm still a reader, not a writer!

Helen Gray said...

What timing! I wrote the final chapter yesterday. Now I need to write an epilogue.

Since there's not a Starbucks within a hundred miles of me, and I don't drink coffee anyhow, don't put my name in for the Starbucks card. :)

Coffee's brewing!!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Helen, you're going to have to widen your horizons. You can order Starbucks stuff online. They are part of Teavana tea now and have amazing teas.

Cindy W. said...

Cara, thank you for this great post. It is definitely one for my keeper book. I also loved the pictures.

Have a wonderful day today everyone! My dear husband and I are celebrating fifteen wonderful years of marriage today. Seems like only yesterday we were saying our "I dos". Time sure does fly.

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Bettie said...

Amazing post! I'm definitely going to check out Conversations with a writing coach.
By the way, I am going to go to my first ACFW conference. Scared...excited...overwhelmed. ..but I did it. I put down the plastic and registered before the price goes up this weekend. Any advice for a newbie?

Jill Weatherholt said...

This is great stuff, Cara...thanks! I've printed it for future reference.
You're right, Conversations with a Writing Coach is terrific.

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning Seekerville! Lots of night owls and early birds! I just woke up if you don't count getting up to let the dog out at 3a.m.

I'll be back to chat but I have to get my grandson breakfast and take him to the bus stop. See ya soon!

Kate said...

Great practical advice! I can see it playing out in my mind - and also see it at work in Susan Warren's books!

Thanks for the giveaway. Starbucks is wonderful!!!!!!!

Glynna Kaye said...


Glynna Kaye said...

Great post, CARA! Lots of meaty stuff here. Thank you!

Cara Lynn James said...

Marianne, readers are the most important people for writers! We wouldn't be writers if we didn't have readers.

Cara Lynn James said...

Helen, congratulations on finishing your book! That's such a major accomplishment. Now for the revisions. That's the fun part for me.

I hope Starbucks will move closer to you.

Cara Lynn James said...

Cindy, congratulations on your fifteenth wedding anniversary! Have a wonderful, memorable day.

Cara Lynn James said...

Bettie, I'm so glad you're going to the ACFW conferences. I've been to many and they're great. You'll learn so much and have lots of fun. There will be plenty of Seekers there.

Cara Lynn James said...

Jill, I found Susan May Warren's book really helped me plot my stories and keep on track. Different writing books help different people and this was the best one for me at this stage of my writing.

Cara Lynn James said...

Kate, you must be another Susan May Warren fan! I'm glad it's useful to you.

Cara Lynn James said...

Good morning, Glynna! I hope the Arizona weather is beautiful today. It's probably always great where you are.

Kav said...

OOoohhhhh -- this is awesome stuff. But pulling the rug out from under the hero and heroine is sooo hard to do. Maybe I'm a helicopter writer -- you know, hovering over my babies and cushioning their fictional lives too much. LOL I'll have to check into that book by Susan Mae Warren.

kaybee said...

This is helpful, Cara. I'm working on my Speedbo novella and finding that I really have to up the ante for my people.
What I've got so far:
Viola cares for her invalid stepmother and 3-year-old half-sister. Her father wants to send her back East to finishing school, but she wants to stay in the West and be with her family.
Steve never had a family and suffers from feelings of shame and unworthiness. He sees his chance at love and a family with Viola, but her father's dream for her stands in the way.
There's a black moment when Steve thinks he's not good enough and can never fight her father and when Viola thinks she has to give up her family and dream of life in the West because she won't go against her earthly Father. And there's a climax, I think it's going to involve tampering with a sawmill, which is why I've been studying early logging.
I LOVE pulling the rug out from under my H and H!
Kathy Bailey
Manipulative in NH

Michelle Matney said...

This is an awesome post! I'm not quite to the Black Moment in my WIP, but I will print and save this for when I get there. Thanks!

LeAnne Bristow said...

Wow. Just WOW. This one is getting printed and will hang on my writing wall. People always talk about the sagging middle, but the last 2 manuscripts I worked on, I really felt like the ending wasn't powerful enough. I wish I had this then. Time to dig it out and go pull the rug out from under them now! Thanks so much!!!

Cara Lynn James said...

Kav, it is so hard to throw obstacles at our story people! It's much nicer to treat them gently, like we'd like to be treated. If you bond with your characters you want them to lead happy, fulfilled lives. And they will. But you have to wait until the end of the book. Otherwise readers wouldn't keep turning the pages.

Laura Conner Kestner said...

Thank you, Cara! Wonderful post, and wonderful timing! I'm working on my first historical romance and I realized after reading your post that I've been making it too easy on the characters. I've been researching and studying what would have been available for them, to make their journey easier, when I should have been doing the opposite. Crazy I know, but I couldn't stand the thought of them doing without. Thanks again.

I've been gone for several days, hoping to find time soon to go back through previous posts and see what all I missed. I love starting my days with Seekerville!

Cara Lynn James said...

Kathy, you're lucky to be able to pull the rug out from under your hero and heroine. I find it hard but of course I do it anyway. Keep working on your Speedbo novella! I love to write novellas because they don't take forever to write.

Cara Lynn James said...

Michelle, congratulations for getting this far in your novel. I like writing from the Black Moment to the end since there's so much drama and the characters will soon solve the story problem and find each other!

Myra Johnson said...

This is great stuff, Cara--and timely for me as I'm forging ahead through the Black Moment and working toward the ending of my wip. My heroine is about to face her worst nightmare, so I've got to make sure she survives (with exactly the right kind of help from the hero) and accepts her new and better self.

Cara Lynn James said...

LeAnn, if your ending is powerful, readers will want to read your next book. The last impression is so important.

Keli Gwyn said...

What a great post, Cara! Your explanation of what we have to put our characters through is so helpful. I'm going to add Susan May Warren's book to my Amazon cart.

When I first began writing, I had a terrible time being mean to my characters. As a result, my stories were lame. They lacked the necessary conflicts that keep readers turning pages. I struggled when I learned that my job is to make life as difficult for my characters as I can, putting them in the crucible so they're forced to face their worst fears--and grow into the people God wants them to be.

One thing that helped me was watching Inside Out. The concept of core memories presented in the movie clicked with me. I realized that if I was clear on what had shaped my main characters and what they had to overcome, I could come up with the obstacles and circumstances that would force them to step out of their comfort zones, shed their self-protective behaviors and move beyond the lies they'd told themselves.

Cara Lynn James said...

Laura, you're another writer who hates to heap trouble on her characters. I so understand! Most of my writer friends are the same way. But some — you know who you are — don't mind torturing their people. Writing must be easier for them.

Cara Lynn James said...

Myra, you're coming into the fun part! But I think it takes a lot of thought to tie everything together in the most satisfying way. To me at least the ending makes itself clear as I approach it.

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Keli! It's really obvious you figured it all out! I've noticed we have many writers at Seekerville today who love showering their characters with kindness. It's hard to wait until the end, isn't it?

Cynthia Herron said...

Cara, thank you so much for this! So helpful!

Like others, I find it hard to be mean to my characters, but it really is necessary if we're to add depth and breadth to our stories. I love things happy, happy, happy, but I have to admit--the stories I've read (that I remember forever) are the ones that have taken me through the muck and mire and have changed me for the better. Those are the ones with characters who've have battled tremendous odds and hardships and have learned invaluable lessons along the way. Of course, I still long for that happy ending. Not necessarily all neat and tidy, because as we know, life is messy. For me, it's all about that word--GRACE.

Janet Dean said...

CARA, I love seeing story arc laid out this way! Thank you for sharing Susie's method. I must get her book.

I love causing my characters trouble. Sometimes I have to tone down the conflict. Not sure what that says about me. LOL I find characters' internal conflict in their backstory. I want terrible wounds in their past that make them believe the lie they tell themselves. External conflict comes from strong goals. Even better, strong conflicting goals. I can know all this but doing it is not easy. So posts like this help me see where I need to go.


Julie Lessman said...

WOW, GREAT POST, CARA! Like Myra, I'm trying to figure out my hero and heroine's "black moment," so this is timely for me as well, so THANK YOU!!


TINA -- I didn't know Teavana was part of Starbucks -- thanks for the info.

YAY, BETTIE -- way to go, girl -- you will NOT regret going to ACFW!! As far as any recommendations, I wrote a blog about my very first ACFW conference, which might help you to go in with the right mindset, which I did not! Here's the blog:



Janet Dean said...

CINDY W, happy 15th anniversary!! Celebrate!


Janet Dean said...

KATHY BAILEY, two birds of a feather... We meanies need to cling together. :-)

Janet, Manipulator 2, if we were a movie.

Janet Dean said...

BETTIE, looking forward to meeting you at ACFW! I love workshops, connecting with editors and my agent, seeing longtime friends, making new friends, sightseeing in the area.


Jackie said...

Perfect timing for me! I'd been discussing the black moment on my next story this weekend with my writer's group.

Thanks so much for sharing!

Meghan Carver said...

Good morning, Cara! I love those meaty, craft posts! I'm heading into editing mode, so I'm going to take your list and see if I got it all. I'm fairly sure I still need to do some work.... Thanks!

Renee McBride said...

Good morning, Cara!

Wow. I love the way you explain this. You're speaking my language. I'm printing this off to keep as a reference.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Great post Cara I so need it right now as I'm working on that muddled middle in my current wip

Thanks a bunch.

Bettie said...

Thanks. I'll check it out.

Bettie said...

I'm looking forward to meeting you too

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Cynthia! I enjoy good endings with loose ends tied up. But I know after the wedding things won't always be so neat and tidy.
That's one reason I like women's fiction where the couple is married, often for a long time.

Cara Lynn James said...

Janet, I'm surprised you like causing your characters trouble. I'd have thought you'd be just the opposite.

Cara Lynn James said...

Good luck with your Black Moment, Julie. I'll bet you don't have trouble getting your characters in dramatic, heart wrenching situations.

Cara Lynn James said...

Jackie, I'm glad this post came at the right time. Enjoy your writers' group this weekend.

Fran McNabb said...

Cara, the information in your blog is valuable for all writers. Thank you for directing me to the blog site again. I love the Seekers and always look forward to learning from the entries here at Seekerville. Be safe in the horrible weather today.

Cara Lynn James said...

Meghan, I love to edit. It's the empty page that I find daunting.

Cara Lynn James said...

Renee, I'm so glad this helps. I like steps to keep me on track.

Cara Lynn James said...

Sandra, hi! Get through the middle and then the fun begins, at least for me!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hey, Fran! I'm afraid your storm is reaching us quickly. I keep listening to the thunder. I'm waiting for the electricity to go off. I hope not!

Cara Lynn James said...

Tina asked me to mention my novella in the Spring into Love Collection. The authors are Mary Conneally, Ruth Logan Herne, Pam Hillman and me, Cara Lynn James.

A young widow reduced to genteel poverty rents a room over the stable to the new owner of the town’s general store. Can Ella Baldwin resist the appeal of Clark Henderson and the opportunity to work in the fabric department of his store? Can she resist his kindness, generosity — and his romantic interest — when she’s vowed never to remarry or disgrace the family by working outside her home?

Although you can't tell from the blurb, Ella's backstory influences everything she does in the present. Her relationship with her late husband (what he expected of her, how he viewed society, his expectations for their children) influence all her thoughts and actions in the present, including her response to Clark's love.

S. Trietsch said...

Wonderfully described answer to the question that is most weighing on me. I thought I had the ending set but my 'middle' has created a different set of circumstances going into the black moment!

Thank you Cara!!


Debby Giusti said...

Cara, such wonderful information. Thanks for sharing!

I'm smiling at all the comments about not wanting to cause our characters pain. I felt that way early on. My hero and heroine were never injured, never wounded, never troubled. They were so boring! Now, I love to maim and injure! They're hurt internally and externally! IMHO, the story comes alive when the characters struggle.

Waving to Janet who also like to harm her characters! Shame on us! LOL! :)

Jeanne T said...

Cara, I love your explanation of Susie's work. Her teachings have been instrumental in helping me learn story craft. Doesn't the Final Battle make SO MUCH SENSE?! I think that's my favorite part. :)

Great post today!

Cara Lynn James said...

Hi, Stephanie! It's all very complicated, isn't it?

I try to break down the plot, character's goals etc. into parts and work out how the book has to end. If I know the characters' fears, flaws and backstory I can tentatively move forward. The beginning is easy for me to figure out, although not always easy to write. As long as I basically know how the book should end, I'll work on the middle section and leave the details of the ending until later when I'm far into the story.

DebH said...

oh, this is good. just reading through this made some of my "what went wrong with my ms?" questions disappear. I will definitely be reviewing this as I work on fixing things. I need to better define both hero and heroine's struggles. THANKS for the helper post!!!

one can never go wrong with Starbucks... unless one doesn't care for coffee

Cara Lynn James said...

Debby, you can write a much more interesting story if the characters are facing all kinds of problems that keep them from reaching their goals. Boring is NOT good.

DebH said...

Loved your story in the Spring Seeker collection. All four stories were unique and AWESOME!!!!! Wait, I need to go post that on Amazon... *hand slap to face*

Cara Lynn James said...

Jeanne, the Final Battle is fun to write and it makes sense. I write it faster than anything else since by this point I'm sure I know what has to happen.

Cara Lynn James said...

Deb, I'm so happy you liked my novella! Thanks for posting on Amazon.

I truly enjoyed writing The Fabric of Love, probably more than anything else.

Chill N said...

Thanks for the info, Cara. It'll be interesting to compare these steps to the book I'm reading now. I think this may be the difference between books I can't put down ... and books I close after a few chapters and never return to :-)

Nancy C

Crystal said...

I love this! I will be printing this and posting it on my bulletin board for reference... right next to mudding through the middle. :-) Have a great day!

Myra Johnson said...

STEPHANIE said: "I thought I had the ending set but my 'middle' has created a different set of circumstances going into the black moment!"

Exactly! That's why it's so hard for me to write a detailed synopsis before I get deeper into writing the story. My characters tend to lead me down unexpected pathways, which is often a good thing, because their ideas about what happens next usually make a lot more story sense than my early inklings.

Sandy Smith said...

Thanks for this great workshop in a blog. I will find it useful.

Please enter me in the drawing.

Heading to Omaha tomorrow for a writer's conference. Looking forward to it!

Cara Lynn James said...

Sandy, have a wonderful time at your writers' conference. I'd love to go to one in the near future.

Cara Lynn James said...

Crystal, I'm glad this will be useful to you. We should all thank Susan May Warren!

Cara Lynn James said...

Nancy, I like writers' books. Not all writers do, but I always get something important out of all of them.

CatMom said...

Sorry I'm so late stopping by today, Cara, but wanted to say THANK YOU!! This is an EXCELLENT post and I'm not only putting it in my keeper file but am certain I'll be re-reading quite a bit. Very helpful and what I needed as I revise the manuscript I wrote during SPEEDBO.
You and the other Seeker ladies are not only such talented authors, but you're SO very kind to share tons and tons of helpful information. Thank you again.
Hugs from Georgia, Patti Jo

Tanya Agler said...

Cara, Thanks for the info about black moments. I think I struggle with putting the characters in the worst possible scenario, even though I know I must. Thanks for some tools, and thanks for the craft book recommendation. I love books that will help me learn how to become a better writer. The last book I read showed me how often I use both. It might not sound like anything that important, but many uses of both in a manuscript is at least one thing I can improve. Now I have info on how to improve my black moment. Thanks.

Edwina said...


Excellent post! Thanks for sharing such great info!


Sierra Faith said...

Black moment event... I think that's a great name for it! I have a character (Sean) where the focus of the book is his Black moment!