How To Lead Readers to a Satisfying Ending
This is a dilemma we writers have to face every time we write fiction. You can't completely surprise the reader (or viewer if you write screenplays) at the end--you have to set up events and characters that lead to a plausible ending. You can be very subtle and then shock readers and audiences everywhere, like The Sixth Sense did when Haley Joel Osment said, "I see dead people." Oh, yeah, we all thought: Now this whole Bruce Willis character makes sense. And obviously the director, producers, and writers thought maybe we would like to see the clues we missed when they take us back through the movie--but the clues were there for the most perceptive viewers.
Another example comes to mind--and I think I've talked about it on The Muffin before. If any of you watched Dallas on Friday nights in the 1980s or the reruns in the 90s on cable, you know that there was a season when Bobby was dead. But then Patrick Duffy, who played Bobby, wanted back in the show, so the writers decided--hey, we'll just make that whole last season a dream. Viewers everywhere were MAD, even the ones that love Bobby (umm, me) because we had no clue that the season we just invested in wasn't really happening. We all know why--because that wasn't the original plan (Bobby was supposed to be gone forever)--but that's the issue I'm getting at here:
Readers want some clues, so they can try to figure out what will happen in the end. But they don't want the solution to be too easy AND they don't want to be purposely misled!
Easy, right? HA! One of the reasons why this part of writing is so difficult is because you, as the writer, know what is going to happen, and so everything seems like an obvious clue to you. Or you are so worried about the reader feeling cheated that you make it too easy. So what can you do?
Find a good critique group or trusted beta readers, and don't tell them the ending before they read your work. If they ask for anything, give them a summary that reads like a book jacket cover. This would be just enough to catch their interest, but not tell them any crucial plot points. You can also provide questions for your critique group members or beta readers when they finish, and a couple of them should focus on predictability and a satisfying ending. Use their feedback and knowledge of your story to make sure you are providing clues that lead to a satisfying, but not too predictable, ending.
The beginning and middle of your fiction story are important, of course, but the ending is what people talk about. Think about it. You'll often hear people after a movie or book: "I loved the ending!" or "What a waste of time--I loved the book until the ending."
Don't let the latter happen to your work.
Margo L. Dill is a published author and writing instructor, who teaches novel writing for the WOW! classroom. You can find out more about her at http://www.margodill.com .
End photo above by Angela Mueller--www.flickr.com