Let Your Protagonist In Your Final Novel Image

Thursday, December 02, 2021
There are a lot of blog posts and articles about novel beginnings and first lines. After all, if a reader can't get past your beginning, that's not good! And they won't read the rest of your work. But endings of chapters, short stories, essays, and novels are really, really important, too, and I want to discuss the "final image" today. 

I find myself often writing advice to authors, when critiquing their work, that they should end the piece with a final image that contains the main character. If the story is the main character's, then the story should end with that main character--whether it's a description, a thought, or dialogue from that protagonist. 

As your readers, if we spend 300 pages of your cozy mystery with LouAnn the chef in the local bakery who also solves crimes, we want to end with LouAnn eating a cinnamon roll or kissing her new love interest or even finding her next dead body to lead into the next book. We readers don't want to end on a description of the baking assistant (AKA sidekick) with a sassy line--because that steals the thunder of LouAnn.

This happens ALL THE TIME. As writers, we get a line in our head that's clever or cute, and our main character just can't say it--for whatever reason we've decided. Or our main characters are busy with their personal growth or new business venture or new relationship, and I suppose can't be bothered to finish out the chapter or story. (I'm kidding, but honestly, sometimes, it does feel that way.)

Now, I won't be surprised if you go to your bookshelf and pick up ten books and find that the ending of half of those does not contain an image of the main character. This "final image" idea isn't a hard and fast rule. I'm not sure I've ever heard anyone write about it before--it's not a "show vs. tell" industry standard. But to me, it makes sense. I don't want anyone else stealing my protagonist's thunder, to use a cliche--not the antagonist, not the mentor, and certainly not the sidekick, who often likes to be the star of the show. 

Check on your latest work-in-progress. Look at the chapter you just worked on. Was there a lot of character growth in the chapter? If so, how did you end the chapter? Hopefully, your main character said something profound, or there's an image of him/her doing something that shows character growth. If you ended with her pet parakeet talking up a storm, make a note to revise that as soon as possible. 

One final note: I'm not saying every chapter has to end with your protagonist's "final image," especially in a full-length novel. But the very end of that full-length novel should contain a final image of your main character. Try it. You'll see the satisfying reviews and happy readers. Give your main characters the credit they deserve, and for goodness sake, don't use cliches while you're doing it (like I've done this entire blog post--do as I say, not as I do!). 

Happy writing! 

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach, teacher, author, editor, and publisher living in St. Louis, MO. Her next novel writing class starts tomorrow December 3, and her next middle grade and young adult class starts on January 26, 2022. Find out more about the classes in the WOW! classroom and more about Margo here


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--For sure. The book's main character needs to have the last laugh, the last look towards the horizon, the last word.

Margo Dill said...

Yes, even if us stubborn authors want to have it!

Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top