NaNoWriMo Tips: Ending Your Story
Welcome to the penultimate post of my NaNoWriMo tips series. For other tips in this series, as well as a schedule for future posts, take a look at the links below. Today’s tip and my discussion of it can be found immediately below the schedule.
- November 1 – Choosing Your Topic and Starting Your Novel
- November 3 – Taking Advantage of Your Weekends
- November 6 – What if I Need to Take a Break?
- November 8 – NaNoWriMo Has Turned Me Into a Hermit
- November 10 – Telling Your Story
- November 13 – Progress Over Perfection
- November 15 – Halfway Done! Now What?
- November 17 – Continuity Issues in a First Draft
- November 20 – Handling Writer’s Block
- November 22 – What to do About Holidays
- November 24 – I Hate My Story
- November 27 – I’m Not Going to Make It. Have I Failed?
- November 29 – Ending Your Story
- November 30 – You Did It! Now What?
It’s so close you can nearly taste it. The sweet smell of victory is less than 48 hours away. You’ve been writing since the beginning of November with one goal in mind — to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. But in addition to that, if you’ve been sticking with a theme running through these posts, you’ve likely spent the better part of a month writing the story that you w
That means that you’re to the two parts of the story that are, in my opinion, the two most difficult parts of the story to write: the climax and the ending. I’ve grouped them both together for purposes of the title of this post, but that’s only because ‘climaxing your story’ sounds more suggestive than it likely is. Unless your NaNoWriMo project is erotica, in which case, more power to you. Climax the hell out of your story.
For most of you1And even those of you writing erotica, I would assume., however, the climax and ending of your book are likely going to be different pieces. Those who strictly follow the five act dramatic structure will recognize that the climax precedes your ending (also known as the denouement), with the falling action in between then. That said, the chart you’ll see describing this structure could lead you to believe that the climax occurs in the middle of the story, with the falling action comprising a good portion of the book leading up to the ending.
In practice, however, the climax, falling action, and denouement can all occur over the final 3-5 chapters of a book. One of my favorite recent reads — An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green — begins its climax2Or at least what I could say is the climax of the book. approximately 91% of the way into the book, with the denouement not beginning until the book was 96% completed3I’m going off of the page numbers and percentages from my Kindle app, so this is a rough estimate.. I’ve read several books in recent years that follow this similar pattern, where the climax to the story doesn’t hit a peak until the story is over 80% done, only to then have a short falling action and a relatively short ending.
If you’re writing a story that is intended to have a sequel to it, this isn’t necessarily a bad route to go. You can afford to keep your ending a bit shorter if you’re planning for a sequel, because you can take advantage of cliffhanger or ambiguous style endings to build anticipation for your follow up book. With that said, if you’re looking to make your NaNoWriMo piece more of a standalone story, it might behoove you to extend the ending of your story by a little bit to tie up any loose ends to your story.
With that being said4><~~_, how do you differentiate the items that you should tie up in your climax versus what you should finish talking about in the denouement of your story? While the answer to this question might not be a cut-and-dried answer, I do have some thoughts where you might be able to draw the line.
Items to Tie Up in Your Climax
- Your primary conflict: While this likely goes without saying, if there’s a problem your main protagonist(s) has been facing throughout the story, the climax is the place to wrap it up. This is likely slaying the big bad or overcoming some sort of adversity for the final time in the story, however, it could also include some of the following items.
- Your protagonist’s primary lesson: If there’s something your main character is supposed to learn over the course of the book — be it the power of friendship, some moral lesson, that it’s okay to use an illegal kick because no one likes Cobra Kai5Except me. — now is the time for them to use that lesson to resolve that conflict.
- Final deaths: If anyone else needs to die in your book, now is likely the best time to finish killing them off. There’s an outside chance you can get away with someone dying in the falling action, but they’d likely have to be someone that has been redeemed throughout the climax, now dying as a hero instead of as a villain. Think Darth Vader at the end of Return of the Jedi.
Items to Tie Up in Your Ending
- How your main character has changed after the climax: Do they live happily ever after? Did the group of rag-tag heroes that came together to deliver swift justice decide that they’re going to stick together? Did all the pets finally get back home? This is a great time to exposit what happened after that dramatic climax.
- Planting the seeds for a sequel: If you’re wanting to give your book a sequel, now is the time to leave some ambiguity in your ending. While you don’t need to introduce a new conflict here, making it feel like someone (likely your protagonist) has unfinished business gives you a springboard with which to start your next project off of.
- The final feeling for your book: How do you want the reader to remember the last few pages of your book? While most stories end on a happy or hopeful note, that might not be what you’re going for. My 2015 NaNoWriMo project had a very bleak ending, however considering the climax that had preceded it, I could have written it much darker. Do you want your reader to end the book with a smile on their face? In tears of sorrow? In tears of joy? Create that lasting final scene here.
Like my NaNoWriMo tips series? Have questions for me about the topics posted daily? Do you just want to talk about your story and have nowhere else to do so? Leave a comment and join the discussion.