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How to Plot Your Book or Novel So That You Actually Finish It-Part 3: Endings

This is the third installment in my How to Plot Your Book So That You Actually Finish It series. This post talks about how to plot endings. When I discuss endings, I am referring to how to finish your chapters and sections, as well as how to end your book. We could also discuss how to end a series, but that is for another time.

Chapter and Section Endings

From a plotting perspective, not a writing perspective, the way you end your chapters needs to accomplish a couple of  key things. The way a chapter ends should leave the reader with a sense of satisfaction (maybe 4 on a scale of 1-10) and a sense of anticipation (6-10 on a scale of 1-10). The reader should understand why you broke the chapter where you did. You can end a chapter based on any number of reasons, including (but not limited to) timelines, setting, action, characters, and point-of-view (POV). Whatever the reason, the break in your story should not feel as if it were chosen randomly, unless you are writing some kind of bizarre experimental fiction or if you have a desire to confuse the reader.

the-end

The chapter ending should also motivate the reader to continue reading. Your ending should herald, foreshadow, hint, or otherwise make the reader drool about an upcoming or suspected plot point. When plotting, it is often effective, if using multiple POVs, to hint at a future resolution, action, or confrontation at the end of a chapter and then to have the next chapter focus on a different plot line. If done correctly, this will act like a sling shot, propelling the reader through this next chapter as fast as he or she can turn the pages. It is not that you want to rush someone through your book, but chapter endings and well-thought-out, plot-driven chapter sequencing can turn your book into one of those stories that readers just can’t put down. I like to keep the satisfaction score the same (4) or maybe raise it as subplots are resolved (6-7) while continually raising the anticipation score to the higher end of the scale as the reader nears the end of the book. In other words, I like my readers to be propelled more quickly the further they get into the book. As a side hint that is a little off-topic, I also make my chapter lengths increasingly shorter as I go further along in the book. This turns your plot-driven story into an ever increasing slope, against which the reader has no defense, but to continue reading.

If your book is broken into sections or parts (as is my modern epic fantasy novel, The Conservation of Magic) I would argue that your satisfaction score needs to be higher when you end these larger divisions of your book–closer to a 6, 7, or 8. The reader has just finished a huge, discernible chunk of your novel, after all, and even though you want them to continue reading, they should completely understand why you’ve decided to group this particular group of chapters into a larger structural plot unit.

Book Endings

I have written books where I knew the ending scene before I outlined or wrote the first chapter. I have also had vague senses of where a book was going and then clarified the ending as I went along. There are several different approaches to how to end a book. Some authors enjoy teasing readers with cliff-hangers, hoping that the reader will buy the next book in their series to find out what happens. Other authors like to tie everything up and give their readers a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. I like to do a bit of both. From a plotting standpoint, I believe that the ending should resolve your major plot line, while leaving some tasty, anticipatory groundwork for your next book. While plotting, I like to bring up minor characters and seemingly small actions that I can later harken back to or bring up in a way that brings up new conflict or complexity in my plot. For example, I might have a minor character lose something early on in the story, only to have that lost item come up in the last chapter, with the characters wondering what became of it. This leaves the reader satisfied, but still curious about that lost item. For a book ending, I like to up the satisfaction score to a 8 or 9 (on a 1-10 scale) and have the anticipatory level be anywhere from a 5 to a 7. I shoot for the reader wanting to read the next book in my series because they feel satisfied by my plot while being also intensely curious about what the characters will do next or where the story will go.

I hope this has been of some use to you in thinking about how you end your chapters, sections, and your book itself. Please feel free to ask questions or to bring up any other points of view or opinions on related plotting topics by replying to this post below.

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