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Website of author and professional editor Rachelle M. N. Shaw. Find information about her books, her editing services, and her blog, From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing.

From Mind to Paper: On Writing and Editing

From Mind to Paper is a blog for writers, editors, and those interested in the English language. It covers a multitude of writing topics, from punctuation and grammar to plot development, character development, and world building. In addition to in-depth articles about various writing topics, this blog also has a number of series posts, which are currently being transformed into a nonfiction series on writing.

Make Every Scene Count: Ending Scenes

Rachelle M. N. Shaw

There are two particular scenes in a book that are rather telling of the writing quality in between: the opening scene and the ending scene. Each is vital to capturing the reader's interest in a book and keeping it. I touched on some tips for writing opening scenes in a previous blog in this series, and now it's time to go over ending scenes. I'll cover both ending scenes for chapters, and the final ending scene for a book. This will then wrap up the "Make Every Scene Count" series.

Chapter Endings
Consider ending the last scene of each chapter with a climactic moment rather than resolution. Cliffhangers may be old-fashioned, but they work. Why? They urge readers to keep reading. Examples of climactic moments are important news (especially the start of an announcement that is interrupted), a revealed secret that impacts other characters, new information that changes the plot, or new potential problem. This allows room for sort of resolution of things, but leaves the scene open-ended enough that readers will remain anxious about the outcome.

However, just because a scene is climactic doesn't mean it has to be dramatic. Dramatic scenes should really be kept for key moments. Otherwise, they become less effective. An example of a climactic scene that isn't quite so dramatic is one where a main character discovers an important object (without realizing its importance) or notices a change in themselves. Both of these things can have a huge impact on the plot, but for the scene at hand, it really doesn't change much.

Book Endings
Book endings can be difficult, especially when it comes to pleasing your readers. Some might be rooting for Ending A, and others for Ending B. So what can you do to please both audiences? Well, first realize you cannot make every single reader happy. There will always be some criticism of your choice, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Not only can authors learn from the feedback of their fans, but the fact that there is a debate about how it should have ended usually means that the writing was at least thought-provoking.

When it comes to the writing itself, my biggest suggestion is to leave some mystery to the end of a book. But be careful with this one. While not every issue needs to be resolved, there should some finality to it, and a clear, overall story arc. The worst kind of ending is one with too many loose ends or a completely anti-climactic one that leaves the reader feeling disappointed or "ripped off."

However, some less important issues surrounding the plot can be left with undetermined conclusions to hold the reader's interest in the book and keep them wondering after it is finished. Cryptic dialogue and life-changing circumstances are both great ideas, so long as you avoid clichés. For example, a marriage ceremony at the end is nice, but it's often overdone. A twist to this type of ending might be a newly married couple where the wife sneaking into the restroom to send a text to a mysterious friend without the husband knowing. This poses the option of the text either being an innocent conversation or something much more dishonest, causing speculation. This open question will leave the reader wondering, but a resolution of marriage will still have taken place.

The second and last piece of advice is to save completely care-free, happy endings for fairy tales. I know not everyone will hold the same stance as me on this, but I'm a firm believer in making endings realistic, not idealistic. This doesn't mean a conclusion can't be uplifting or joyous. It does, however, mean that some sacrifices should have been made to reach such a point. The sacrifices could be a friendship, money, change of character, or even death of others. Every book will have an ending that is best suitable for it.

For some more helpful hints on writing ending scenes: