Photo: Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans by J. Wilder Bill
Endings can make or break an entire story. We’ve all heard about the protagonist’s motivation dictating his actions. His motivation shapes the plot and determines the big finale of the story. Whether you’re a plotter with an outline, or a panster with a completed first draft, once you’ve decided on the resolution, revise with a mind to bolster the ending. Set up the elements before you reach the final chapter.
- Say It Like You Mean It
Gossip, gossip, gossip. We’ve all been victims. We’ve done our share of spreading seedy details about others, too. It catapults a person’s reputation from dreary housewife into conniving diva. The neighbor who wears high heels with a pajama top to walk down the driveway and pick up the morning paper becomes headline news.
Embellishing the facts is delicious. Tension sky-rockets every time a character expresses a strong opinion about the antagonist.
“He’d kill a kitten in a playground.”
“That woman cheated on her husband and then took his entire savings while he was away in the war.”
- Spread the Dirty Laundry
Readers love to hate and they love to find a reason to hate. A great excuse to disapprove of a person comes from casting judgment on him.
Exposing the dark secrets of the antagonist’s past does wonders for turning readers against him. Character traits we, as a society, can’t forgive include, harming our neighbors, abusing pets and children, and showing a lack of respect toward the environment. The antagonist loses supporters when he only thinks of himself. The reader yearns to find fault where the antagonist deserves his up-commence.
The anatomist beats his dog.
He refuses to share his cookies with his mother.
He chews out a cashier at the grocery store.
- Sock It to Me
As long as the scenes prove the protagonist has a right to defeat the antagonist, the ending can be outlandish. Develop the story so that the protagonist must win in order to overcome personal obstacles, protect others, and survive another day.
Give plenty of examples where the protagonist gets kicked around. All the while, the protagonist takes the higher road. Her only wish is for a better life where she receives her well-deserved recognition.
The protagonist spends sixteen hours a day for two years training for the Olympics.
She blows out her ankle and knee replacement surgery.
Her mother’s dying wish is to see her baby win.
- It Can’t Get Any Worse
Let your characters be pessimistic about the odds the protagonist will reach her goal. We want the gory details to be stated loudly and clearly.
Having several characters see how bleak matters are for the protagonist gives credibility to their predictions. If it’s only the protagonist’s mom who says she has no chance, the reader will dismiss the comment. Once three or four people in the story have the same sense of foreboding, the negative viewpoints become a hardcore fact.
“No one’s ever made it through the Death Valley pass on foot.”
“You’d have to get a perfect score on the C.I.A. exam to make up for your terrible performance.”
“He’s never dated anyone from the office.”
- Put All the Eggs in One Basket
As the story progresses, slam every door in the protagonist’s face. Let him reach a point where there is only one shot for him to reach his goal. If he doesn’t come through with this one thing, there is absolutely no way he will win.
Lay out the foundation by letting the protagonist think of every possible mishap. He trains. He studies. He abstains from what he loves. Then, when all the bases are covered, remove his one opportunity.
The protagonist must use a special cupcake recipe to pull the hero out from amnesia. She finds the recipe. She saves money to buy the equipment and rare ingredients. She practices. In the final hour, she arrives at the train station with the cupcakes on a silver platter as the hero boards to leave forever. A dog attacks the protagonist and eats the cupcakes.
- The Golden Chalice
Lucky charms, precious heirlooms, and customized tools give the protagonist a boost over his rivals. Whether you call them superstitions or magical charms, the protagonist relies on one relic. Without it, he fails.
Place his hope to accomplish his goal on his crutch. Harry and his magic wand. Indiana Jones and his leather whip. Jack Sparrow and his compass. The Prince of Persia and the dagger.
In the final moment, remove the golden chalice. Destroy it. Give it to the antagonist. It doesn’t have to be fantastical. Losing that particular item raises the stakes.
The protagonist must have his mother’s pendant for his dream girl to recognize him after an accident disfigures his face. The antagonist melts the pendant and the protagonist has nothing.
- Giving It Up for Your Love
Throughout the story, give the protagonist something she can’t live without. One craving, object or activity must fuel her life. The world can collapse, but as long as she has this one thing, she rallies and keeps her wits.
It could be her alone time in the woods, her incredible job, her diamond comb or a violin she’s played ever since she learned to walk. At the critical hour, the protagonist voluntarily gives up the one thing that keeps her sane.
She quits her job to care for her crippled husband. She sells the only valuable possession she has, a comb she inherited from her grandmother, to purchase a present for her husband.
She’d rather have her fingers cut off and never play the piano again in exchange for staying with her one true love.
The protagonist is a race car driver. Her car is reliable and serves as her savings account. In the end, she crashes her car into the river to prevent the hero from falling to his death.
- Captain Underdog Rules the Day
A great strategy is for the antagonist and the protagonist to have equal chances of winning throughout the story. At the climax, shift the skill levels of the characters. Give that nasty antagonist a huge advantage. Let his strengths outweigh the capabilities of the protagonist.
With the new circumstances, the protagonist must think faster, find a unique resource, and change gears. He must devise a new solution.
Both women vying for the same man are beautiful. The antagonist gets promoted and wins the lottery. The protagonist rallies through her sincerity and amazing cooking to aid the hero in overcoming his fear of heights.
- Change a Leopard’s Spots
Readers love figuring out the ending before the characters do. They stick with the same genre because there is comfort in predictability.
We aren’t here to coddle our readers. Instead, shake their books off.
Set the stage for the typical outcome and take time playing it out. Build the story so that the protagonist craves for the likely ending. Then, deny, deny, deny. Don’t give the reader what he wants.
Three times, show the protagonist lose against the antagonist in chess. Establish that if the protagonist makes the Klondike Crush move, she’ll win every time. Let her botch the first step but then recover. She sees how to make the move, but the antagonist pulls out a gun and holds it to her grandmother’s head before the final play.
- It’s a Matter of Perception
At her last breath, the protagonist needs to change the way she perceives life. She demonstrates her new take on life by having a different reaction to a repeated situation.
Throughout the story, show the protagonist responding the same way to similar experiences as the story unfolds. Again and again, the protagonist has the same extreme opinion. Finally, once the dust is stirred, the protagonist doesn’t respond in her typical fashion. She feels the opposite from how she did at the beginning of the story but with an equally strong conviction.
In the beginning, the protagonist loves a nice smoke. She inhales the fumes deeply. At every opportunity, the protagonist lights up. She gets angry when people tell her it’s unhealthy. In the final scene, someone ridicules her for taking a light. She throws the smoke away and gives him a hug.
Think of the big finale as the main element of the plot. Focus your motivation and storyline on the final scene. The setup of the resolution escalates your protagonist’s problems. Elevating the purpose of the ending gives the protagonist a humdinger resolution!