Act 3, the Ending, ties everything up, answers the dramatic question, and vanquishes the opposition.
Cue the trumpets, lower the spotlight, this is the stage of the final battle. The kind of battle is up to your genre and subject matter. It could be a fight, it could be a realization that leads to quiet action, it could be a negotiation, it’s entirely up to you.
Endings can be:
- Positive – your hero gets what she wants and it’s good.
- Bittersweet – your hero gets what she wants, but it isn’t what she expected.
- Negative – your hero doesn’t get what she wants and it’s bad.
- Nega-sweet – your hero doesn’t get what she wants and it’s good.
- Whimper – things unfold, it is what it is, and nobody’s happy.
- Armageddon – everybody dies.
All roads lead here. Themes are tied up, motivations are aligned or eliminated, the character arc completes, red herrings are revealed to be false, the real endgame is revealed. There’s a lot to do and you can’t let the wires show through. Nothing should be forced, everything should be a surprise, but still logical.
Not every string has to be tied up and resolved; it may be implied that it’s going to happen later or that it becomes inconsequential, and the character’s growth means it no longer matters.
Ultimately, an ending has to be satisfying. You’ve built up expectations and promises throughout the story. In the Wizard of Oz, Act Three happens once the witch is dead, and the Wizard’s requirements are met. They think they’ve won. Dorothy will be able to go home. But the Wizard isn’t a wizard (reversal), BUT he has a balloon (redemption), BUT he can’t fly the thing (dashed hope), and finally, Glinda reveals she has the power all along (resolution), BUT now she has to say goodbye. The act ends when Dorothy wakes up and discovers it was all a dream (the ONLY time “it was just a dream” works!). She resolves the family relationships, discovers everyone loves her, and… draw the curtain.
A lot happened right there! Dorothy’s battle with the witch in Act Two was loud and showy. The Final Battle was surprisingly laid back. It was high hopes dashed by a fraud, hopes revived by the same fraud, and all hope is lost… before Glinda reveals the power of the shoes (something all women know). It was an emotional roller-coaster, but not a physical melee.
Here’s what an ending should NOT be: “To be continued in the next stunning novel…”
If your book is part of a series, let the reader know up front. The surprise that the story isn’t going to resolve in this book is a betrayal to the reader. You want to tease the reader, excite, surprise, and allow the story to betray the reader, but YOU should never betray the reader.
If your story is part of a series, it still needs its own stand-alone dramatic question and resolution. Leave the reader hanging at your own peril!
This is the end of the April Blog Challenge, but not the end of the Prevailing Thoughts blog! While frequency will not be daily, I’ll aim for posting at least once a week. Question for you: Do you want to see writing tips for plays, teleplays, and screenplays as well as novel and non-fiction posts?