Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Creating Endings that Resonate

Resonate -- produce or be filled with deep, full, reverberating sound. (figurative -- evoke or suggest images, memories, and emotions)

We've all read them--stories that resonate with us long after we've closed the book. The main character lingers in our mind, and once we finish the book, we feel like we've lost a friend. Oh, how I wish I could write a book like that.

How do we create memorable stories that linger in the reader's mind? Not only in the middle, during twists and turns and emotional turmoil, but in the end, through those final pages that seal the deal. As usual, I turned to James Scott Bell's PLOT & STRUCTURE for answers. He suggests we consider the following:

Language
Each word is crucial in our ending, and we should choose them carefully. We must determine the mood we're aiming for. Is it clipped and hurried? Slow and sensual? Unresolved and frustrating? Hopeful and poetic? Or happy and satisfied? Word choice is important throughout our books, but the words we choose in the ending determines how the readers feel once they've finished the final chapter.

Dialogue
Is there a unique piece of dialogue between two of your main characters? If they've survived the story, consider using these distinctive words again in the end. Or dialogue could set up what's to come once the players are off the page, or even the screen, such as these famous movie lines: "Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," from Casablanca, or from Gone with the Wind, "...Tara! Home. I'll go home, and I'll think of some way to get him back. After all, tomorrow is another day."

Description
Bell suggests, "If there is a particular description of setting or character that is just right, this can make for a perfect ending." An important setting that has gone through its own character arc could work, such as a barren field sprouting fresh greenery, or cloudy skies clearing as a sign of hope. Perhaps an embattled hero finds his way home, or the next generation picks up where the previous victors left off.

A Summing Up
"There is a way to sum up the feelings of a character without making it seem like author intrusion," Bells says. A simple paragraph could work, such as this given example from Dean Koontz's MIDNIGHT:

Looking over Scott's shoulder, he saw that Tessa and Chrissie had stepped into the room. They were crying too. In their eyes he saw an awareness that matched his, a recognition that the battle for Scott had only begun. But it had begun. That was the wonderful thing. It had begun.

Do you strive for resonance in your final pages? And what book lingered with you long after you'd read The End, and why?

46 comments:

  1. Great advice. I've read excellent books that have made me think about them for days. It's wonderful to read a captivating book.

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  2. Endings can be tricky! When I started I never realized how important they really were, and thus had trouble knowing how to wrap it up. I like the last question on the SAVE THE CAT worksheet. What's the last image you want to leave your reader with? That really helped me in my latest WIP.

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  3. Yeah, I strive for resonance, but it's harder striven than done. ;) I just finished a new ending to my agented novel, but I'm not sure it has enough of resonance. I like to wrap things up cyclically, reinforce a line or idea from the beginning of the novel, but that doesn't always work.

    Lisa, that's interesting. Definitely something to think about. How do I want readers remembering the ending?

    Thanks, y'all!

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  4. Those Writers Digest books are amazing, aren't they? I have Plot & Structure, Description & Setting and Revision & Self editing. They're so helpful.

    I know what you mean about those books that make you close them and hug them to your chest. I've never thought about it being the ENDING that does that, but my getting so caught up in the awesome of the characters. Interesting. You've made me think.

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  5. Today in needless censorship...

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  6. Thanks Julie for this wonderful post with lots of great advice. I am currently reading Plot and Structure. Am in the ninth chapter.

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  7. Lots of food for thought here! I need to get Plot and Structure. It's on my big fat TBR pile! One book I loved and still think about on occasion is Kristen Heitzmann's Still of the Night, the sequel to Rush of Wings--also a great book. I didn't want that book to end, but as I turned the last page, I sighed in total satifaction. The characters and plot have stayed with me over the years. :)

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  8. Endings, maybe even more so than beginnings, are hugely important. These are really great advice! One book that has a great ending and last line is KING OF ATTOLIA by Megan Whalen Turner. :)

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  9. I love what he says about a character with a unique description making a perfect ending. James is the bomb!! I love Plot & Structure.

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  10. Excellent advice. I really tried to do that in my first book and I hope I've successfully done it in the sequel as well.

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  11. Wonderful post--you've got me thinking about my ending. James Scott Bell is a fave of mine, too. Attended his seminar at SDSU early this year and was so impressed I immediately bought his book. Endings, hmmm, choosing resonant words and settings is definitely something to ponder.

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  12. I heart James Scott Bell! :)

    I love endings that stay with me and leave an indelible image.

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  13. I have GOT to read PLOT AND STRUCTURE. I'm staring at it right now on my bookshelf. I agree with you. That last moment is the one we want stamped as an afterimage on our reader's brain. It's the final brush stroke of the painting that make it sing.

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  14. Love your example from Gone With the Wind. I think one reason that one works so well is that it leaves the reader strongly with the impression that the story hasn't ended. Our imaginations are still engaged, even past "the end."

    Thanks for a great post!

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  15. Excellent advice, Julie. Early morning here and I can't think of a specific example (need more coffee) but I love endings that leave a sense of the characters moving forward - they're still alive in your mind.

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  16. I really need to read that Plot & Structure book. I love when endings offer closure but promise of possibilities. I prolly need to rethink my ending for my WIP now .... :)

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  17. Great post, Julie. Endings are so important! I'm still reeling from reading Walk Two Moons a couple months ago. I can't get that ending out of my head. :)

    Amy

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  18. I LOVED the ending of One Thousand Splendid Suns! It made me cry and even dream about it.
    This was an awesome post, thanks!! :D

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  19. I love that you chose Koontz! The ending of THE OUTSIDERS makes me bawl every year I read it to the kids. The idea of ending with a line that was the beginning is so powerful. Great post!

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  20. You know how I love Gone with the Wind!! Great advice as well

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  21. Great advice! I often feel I don't write 'big enough' to resonate like these folks. The ending of Possession by Elana Johnson is still resounding around inside me weeks after I finished it.

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  22. hey I like that last quote... "it had begun." nice.

    And yeah, I try to go for that resonant dialogue thing, too. Like that thing that reminds you of that other thing... you know, since I'm being so specific here! LOL!!!

    good stuff, Jules! <3

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  23. I love this post, jam packed with so much great stuff. Lots of good comments, too. I never thought about the ending resonating with the reader long after they finish, but what a great goal to strive to achieve. Years ago I read The Good Earth, and Olan and Wang Lung live within me forever now. And I read The Hunger Games trilogy a few months ago, and I still miss those characters. I have a feeling Katniss will stay with me for the long haul, too. It's so cool when literature can have such an impact on our lives!

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  24. I definitely strive for resonance! Those are the stories that make me buy the author's next book. I want to be that kind of author! You're right, it's a combination of a lot of great elements.

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  25. The Marbury Lens stuck with me. Perfect Chemistry. Books where the emotional power ran deep. I guess I'd have to say Katniss but I so didn't agree with the ending that I'm just trying to forget about it.

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  26. Great post Julie. The ending that surprised me the most in an exciting way would have to be The River by Patricia Wastvedt. I couldn't get it out of my head for ages.

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  27. I like to have a lesson learned at the end. Nothing too preachy, but a lesson learned nonetheless.

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  28. One book that totally resonates is "Random Harvest" by James Hilton. OMG! One of the greatest romance stories ever written. While the movie is simply fantastic, it does not hold a candle to the book. I highly recommend it.

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  29. I love endings that resonate, but they can be tough to write, I think. Thanks goodness for books such as PLOT AND STRUCTURE.

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  30. Ooo, great post for me right now, as I am writing my last chapter for my agent revision (it's a totally fresh chapter). First I'll get the words down, and then I'll check for resonance. ;o) Otherwise I might psych myself out! LOL

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  31. Oh yes, this is *huge* to me. :) I've used dialogue before, and I usually try to come up with a line that touches on the theme.

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  32. Excellent post. I struggle to find just the right way to wrap up the final pages. I don't want to let the reader down!

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  33. My one novel I'm serializing (and have self-pubbed) has gotten comments from readers on how the ending wraps together. Originally it had an epilogue, which had an ending line that the betas really loved, because it brought things full circle, but I realized it weakened things overall and ditched it.

    I have another WiP where I've redone that last chapter a few times, already. I'm currently settled on a variation of the first ending. I'm probably going to have to go ahead and draft the sequel to figure out where I need to end it, but I'm okay with that. I'm about halfway through drafting it.

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  34. I always have trouble with beginnings. For me, it's never perfect. I always love my endings though, lol. I'm gonna have to read Plot & Structure, however, because no matter what, writers should always read! Especially to enhance their craft!

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  35. Sometimes endings can turn into new beginnings...so they must be good.

    I gotta go with the Gone With The Wind last few lines as my favorite. It did leave room for a new beginning...a new novel.

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  36. Yes, those stories that resonate long after they've ended and make me sigh out of longing for more! I am a huge fan of John Eldredge and each of his books have done that for me (I suppose because the subject matter is God and God alive, so I am craving more the one who gifted him to begin with!)
    I just found your blog and your post also resonates with me! I am anxious to come back and read more! Thank you and bless you!

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  37. Ooh--- I love a perfect ending to a boo:) If it isn't-- I have wasted my time! good post!

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  38. I know my work is nearly done when I love the final sentence.

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  39. I think endings should have a pay-off for both the character and the reader.

    I wrote the last paragraph of my WIP months ago, and I'm not even half way through a first draft. Of course, that version of the ending will probably change, but it represents an idea of where I want my character to be at the end of the story.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post, Julie.

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  40. I definitely strive for resonance. Movies that can achieve that can soon be found in my collection.

    A book that lingered with me was The Lord of the Rings. It was an epic book, but I truly felt like I went on the journey with them. They went from innocent hobbits to battle hardened warriors. Great story.

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  41. I always try to create emotional resonance in my endings, but it's nice to have some actual tactics listed of how to achieve that. One book that I love that has wonderful resonance is Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly. It really stays with you!

    Thanks for sharing this.

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  42. I think finding the perfect ending is one of the most difficult and most important parts of the entire book. I pay attention to how great books end to get ideas on how to end my own. I think repeating a phrase that has been used previously in the book is a great way to wrap things up, like in Delirium's last line: "I love you. Remember. They cannot take it." I thought that was a great ending!

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  43. I need to pick up James Scott Bell's book when I finish my first draft. I love his advice! These are great tips. I will take all of them into consideration as I write my ending. :)

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