You Can’t Bullshit an Ending

Human’s are natural storytellers, and as such, we can sniff out a bullshit ending a mile away.

At a lecture this weekend, Benjamin Gorman (Not A Pipe Publishing) spoke about the covenant between authors and their readers. While he was speaking about the world-building part of the equation, the set up, I want to talk about the pay off. The ending is where readers find out if you make good on the promises of an interesting, moving, surprising story. If the pay off doesn’t pay out, then you have betrayed the covenant. You’ve lost the reader’s trust.

If the pay off doesn’t pay out, then you have betrayed the covenant. You’ve lost the reader’s trust.

At the moment I am trying to write the climax of my own novel. As I am faced with writing my ending I am really discovering what promises I can deliver on in my story and therefore want to include in my specific covenant with my readers. Below are some of the questions I am considering:

  • Stakes. Are the stakes at the right level? Too low can feel anti-climatic. Too high can feel melodramatic. Is it clear what is at risk if the heroes fail? Is it clear how they are trying to succeed?
  • Character Development. Could my characters have dealt with this problem at the start of the novel? Have my characters changed? If so when? And specifically why? If characters step up at the last minute ‘just because…’ it will not be satisfying.
  • Sub-plots. What are my most important sub-plots? Can I make any of those storylines weave in and resonate with the main plot resolution? What needs to be wrapped up before hand? Can anything wait until after? Are there any interesting characters or items from earlier in the story that can be brought back in an interesting way?

There is a lot to consider, and this is an abridged list. Thankfully, I don’t have to get it all right the first time. I will be making my first draft in the coming weeks. I’m hoping to write something compelling, fun, and emotional. I will also be making many (many, many!) notes on what I need to add to the beginning to make it seem like I was building to this ending all along.

Thankfully (and to my dismay) I have many drafts of my story to go before I sign the covenant paperwork on the dotted line. I need to make sure that I am promising what I can deliver and delivering on what I promise BEFORE it gets in front of the reader’s eyes, because … you can’t bullshit an ending.