AJ Reads ‘Plot & Structure’: Chapter 6

We’ve covered the general principles of beginnings, then middles, and now we reach endings (though it’s not the end of the book, by far).

I’m not ready for this chapter, and maybe it comes too early in the book; but then again, the later material consists of subjects that are shared through beginning, middle, and end, so perhaps it’s perfectly placed.

I’ve highlighted interesting bits, but I think I’ll be revisiting this chapter in depth again in a month.

Endings Are Hard Because Of This

The guy in this video is a novelist, spinning plot threads for his audience.

I felt like him as I attempted to, with my meager writing skills, write three main characters. And that was with only a few threads overall.

By the way, George R. R. Martin’s plate spinning looks like this:

And we wonder why it’s taking so long (in time and in books) for him to finish A Song of Ice and Fire.

The Opposition Must Be Winning

The tension in your plot comes when your lead character(s) have been barely (or even not) winning against the odds, but when it comes down to the final count, it has to not just look like it’s the case, but actually be the case that the opposition is winning.

The knockout comes when your character (a) manages to win after all (without resorting to deus ex machina), a positive ending; (b) manages to not exactly win and not exactly lose, an ambiguous ending; (c) loses but after a long battle, a negative ending.

Straight Endings Are Boring

Not necessarily meaning that ambiguous endings are the most awesome. An ending can be positive but have negative aspects; a negative ending can have positive ones—notably, sacrifice for the greater good tends to fall in the latter category.

I suspect that this is the key to having an ending that isn’t something the reader has seen a trillion times before. Also, this is a handy, but spoiler-filled, guide to ending tropes. Remember: tropes are not bad! Cliches are bad.

Twist Endings Need Lots of Brainstorming, or Not

There doesn’t seem to be any other way, apart from visions from the gods.

Tie Up the Loose Ends That Matter

Sift through all the threads, and I do mean all the threads. Determine which need a mere mention, which need full scenes, and which may need full chapters (which is the role of the epilogue).

I have seen books that do not do this at all. I don’t know what percentage of book-throwing results.

The Last Page Must Resonate

Description, dialogue, word choice. Reach an emotional resolution with your lead(s). This is where meaning occurs and is communicated.

I’m thinking now about Rex Stout’s books. The ones that seem to hit his top ten are the ones where the endings mattered beyond “the case is solved and Wolfe got a big fat check.” It’s the difference between The Doorbell Rang and that one with the chess player. (Not that there’s anything boring about chess, but I can’t even remember anything beyond the clipart cover.)

Do Not Rush

You’d think this is where NaNoWriMo would fail, but all NaNoWriMo does is get you to 50,000 words. How you choose to end your piece afterwards is totally your deal.

I… definitely did my ending wrong in just about all the ways. However, this doesn’t trouble me, because it turns out the book will have an entirely different ending, the way the entirely different beginning is going.

Plot & Structure for Kindle (buy or borrow)
Plot & Structure paperback