How can I end this story in a way that’s unexpected and inevitable?
This is the third question from my blog on the Write Conversation, Plot Problems Solved in 3 Questions. The first two questions are explored in What Would My Character Naturally Do? and How Much Worse Can it Get?
Steven James writes, “The first question will help focus your believability. The second will keep it escalating toward an unforgettable climax. The third will help build your story scene by twisting, turning scene.”
We’ve all read novels where we could see the ending coming a hundred pages away. We finish reading and we say, “Yep, there it is.” And we close the book feeling less than fulfilled.
On the other hand, we’ve also read novels where the ending was completely unbelievable. Something like the cavalry riding to the rescue when they haven’t been in the book previously.
Make the Ending Natural and Inherent
What endings please you the most? I think readers don’t want predictable endings. Nor do they want endings that seem to come out of nowhere. The ending needs to be natural and inherent to the story. We want the reader to be surprised and satisfied.
In my novel, Journey to Riverbend, I established throughout the story that my hero believed he killed his father and that he would never kill again. At the end of the story, I put him in the position where he has to decide if he can kill again to save someone. The ending was inevitable yet surprising and satisfying to the readers. It was also believable because of the foreshadowing I layered in.
In my second novel, Riverbend Justice, my approach is different. Without spoiling it for you, the ending again is a surprise and has a twist. The inevitability works because I layered enough information throughout the story for the reader to say, “I didn’t see that coming, but it makes sense.”
No Rabbit Out of the Hat
We don’t want to pull a rabbit out of the hat at the last minute. Unless we’ve already planted the hat,
and the rabbit, and a character who knows how to use it. We make the ending unexpected by having that character logically do something we don’t see coming in the climatic scene. We have the character face a choice between things they value. We make it believable by having the character do something we’ve already shown or hinted and the character has the skill or the willingness to do.
Plant and Foreshadow
The ideal is the planting and foreshadowing throughout the story without being blatant and obvious. If the character has to use a weapon in the climax, weave into the ongoing narrative that she is familiar with weapons and also has the spunk to be willing to use it in a crisis.
One of my favorite movies is John Wayne’s The Searchers. At the end of the movie, we see Wayne stand aloof as he watches his family have a tearful and joyous reunion. Then he turns and walks away, alone. The ending is unexpected and very moving. The final scene works because, from the opening frame of the movie, Wayne established that his character is a loner, a man who feels out of place.
Look at your work in progress. What elements are already there or need to be added to make your ending unexpected but inevitable? To make it memorable?