The Climactic Ending


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Thread: The Climactic Ending

  1. #1

    The Climactic Ending

    Sooner or later, you have to write a climactic ending. Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. Dorothy killing the wicked witch. James Bond saving the world (again).

    What do you like to put in your endings? What do you like or not like in the endings you read (or see?)?

    I have about four things I want to suggest, and there's some standard answers too, but I think there's maybe a lot of possible answers to this so-important question.
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  2. #2
    Who.

    In Mr. Mercedes, the main character is trying to catch the villain, the villain is taunting the MC, and the conflict is personal. In the final climactic scene, the MC gets a heart attack, and the two people who came with him have to stop the villain.

    That was wrong. I respect King and assume he had some good reason for doing that, but it wasn't good enough; the content editor should have just said "rewrite". So, have your MC thwart the villain. That advice is too obvious.

    In another book, the MC is on a quest, picks up three sidekicks, then defeats the villain by herself. I wrote a different ending with all four of them working together, and it was a lot better. I have written endings where the MC triumphs by herself, so I won't call that wrong at all. The point is to consider including those sidekicks.

    For example, in the first Harry Potter book, Harry triumphs only with the help of Hermione and Ron. Or, Luke is forced to face the Death Star all by himself. Then, when he is about to be destroyed, Hans Solo appears. In the final moments, Obi-Wan Kenobe's spirit talks to Luke.Half-jokingly, that's the only way to fit two people in a single-person jet plane.

    So, if the sidekicks are friends or a team has been formed, think of including them in the finale.
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  3. #3
    Yep, you get better action if you use multiple characters.
    I have never been a fan of stories where the hero essentially does everything, and all the good ideas come from the hero.
    I prefer to have the hero/heroine save/befriend someone who later turns out to be a great resource.
    After all, why have clever sidekicks if they are not going to contribute cleverly, right?


    Here is a good example of a book where the hero is the catalyst for everything that happens.
    The series sells well (due to the authors marketing efforts) but the hero is fairly 2D.
    https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...eries_rw_dp_sw

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Sooner or later, you have to write a climactic ending. Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. Dorothy killing the wicked witch. James Bond saving the world (again).

    What do you like to put in your endings? What do you like or not like in the endings you read (or see?)?

    I have about four things I want to suggest, and there's some standard answers too, but I think there's maybe a lot of possible answers to this so-important question.
    Well, first off the climax of a book isn't the end of the book -- that would be the denouement. Books never end at the climax. Each book's climax is different. There's no formula you can follow to achieve a satisfying one. You say the climax of Mr. Mercedes was wrong; it wasn't. It is actually a more satisfying climax than in most King novels. When Hodges goes down with his heart attack, it ratchets up the tension to a whole new level. Hodges is the experienced, veteran cop. When he's taken out of the picture, saving the day falls to a teenager and a highly neurotic, fearful woman. That was a stroke of genius on King's part, and, in light of the subsequent novels in the Hodges trilogy (and the connected novel, Outsider) added a good bit of character development and backstory.

    The structure and development of your story will determine how the climax will play out. Sometimes the sheriff will have to face the man in the black hat at high noon all by himself, and sometimes the kids will need to band together and face IT.
    “Fools” said I, “You do not know
    Silence like a cancer grows
    Hear my words that I might teach you
    Take my arms that I might reach you”
    But my words like silent raindrops fell
    And echoed in the wells of silence : Simon & Garfunkel


    Those who enjoy stirring the chamber-pot should be required to lick the spoon.

    Our job as writers is to make readers dream, to infiltrate their minds with our words and create a new reality; a reality not theirs, and not ours, but a new, unique combination of both.

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  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Terry D View Post
    That was a stroke of genius on King's part, and, in light of the subsequent novels in the Hodges trilogy (and the connected novel, Outsider) added a good bit of character development and backstory.
    Thanks! Yes, the choice was so odd, I wondered if he was setting up those characters for a future novel (or two). Maybe I would have read the next book if the ending to the first one had been better (she said snarkily).

    Taking the main character out of the action probably wasn't the only way to ratchet up the tension.

    Also, the MC gets a girlfriend. But King couldn't include her in the ending battle because he killed her off. I assume that appeals to his fan base.
    Last edited by EmmaSohan; November 25th, 2018 at 01:27 AM. Reason: clarity
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    That was wrong. I respect King and assume he had some good reason for doing that, but it wasn't good enough; the content editor should have just said "rewrite". So, have your MC thwart the villain. That advice is too obvious.
    King's endings usually kind of suck. I believe he knows it too.

    I remember reading an interview in which he said how coming up with a satisfying conclusion to his stories has often been difficult, especially in his earlier work (which I assume to mean his really early work as it was a pretty old interview). I also know some of his books had their endings changed verbatim to those proposed by beta readers: King's son came up with the ending of 11/22/63 for example after King had written it totally differently. Pretty good example of the importance of listening to feedback regardless of what level you are at and accepting sometimes other people know best.

    Anyway, so I would not look to King for the sublime example of a "climactic ending".

    I don't worry too much about endings. I think writers tend to place way too much stock in it. Why does an ending have to be at all exciting? Why does it have to be anything? As long as it is truly an ending it is guaranteed to work.

    I think its worth remembering when it comes to the end of a story that you've already "got their money" both literally and metaphorically, so this is essentially dessert after a long meal: Nice when its nice, but not a big issue if its forgettable. There are plenty of books I love I don't care for (or even remember) how they ended. Equally there are plenty of books with pretty clever little twists or whatever that I struggled to get to because most of the story just wasn't great.

    The old adage "it's about the journey not the destination" is true. Assuming you're not obliged to come up with a sequel, the ending is the one place you can generally get away with doing whatever you want with no consequences.
    Last edited by luckyscars; November 25th, 2018 at 03:20 AM.

  7. #7
    I have a tendency to get carried away with a denouement in which the main character gets carried away, following the time-honored Raymond Chandler climax after a man with a gun is introduced into the scene. Previously I tended to have the main character dance in place mindlessly following the tying-together-of-plot-threads events. I suppose this is progress.
    King, like Ramsey Campbell, does not excel at creating terrifying endings. Most horror critters are laughable if you think about it too much. An alien clown that lives in the sewer? An animated (as in actually alive) film? Hmm. The reveal kills everything unless you're encountering something like Lovecraft for the first time.
    But the characters aren't given that time or the ability to achieve such perspective, and that's the genius of the work, that it propels the reader along the same trajectory.
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by moderan View Post
    I have a tendency to get carried away with a denouement in which the main character gets carried away, following the time-honored Raymond Chandler climax after a man with a gun is introduced into the scene. Previously I tended to have the main character dance in place mindlessly following the tying-together-of-plot-threads events. I suppose this is progress.
    King, like Ramsey Campbell, does not excel at creating terrifying endings. Most horror critters are laughable if you think about it too much. An alien clown that lives in the sewer? An animated (as in actually alive) film? Hmm. The reveal kills everything unless you're encountering something like Lovecraft for the first time.
    But the characters aren't given that time or the ability to achieve such perspective, and that's the genius of the work, that it propels the reader along the same trajectory.
    I am not a horror obsessive, but I find that the great majority of the time denouement in horror particularly...is done badly.

    Stephen King's "Misery" comes to mind. A great piece of psychological warfare for however many hundred pages that ends with a fairly lengthy and very boring whimper of bull. A final chapter in which King being King cannot resist but revisiting his time-honored "alcoholic with writers block" trope for reasons that seem meaningless (the part about him becoming addicted to the same painkillers Annie Wilkes enslaved him with is a nice bit of irony admittedly, but why an alcoholic?) and culminating with some nonsense concerning a kid and a skunk that then contrives to be a happy ending for the MC.

    It feels rushed and hungover. Worst of all is how inconsistent it seems with the rest of the plot (I remember reading it four times to try to understand what the point was supposed to be) and thus there is zero point - its just words. That, to me, is King's greatest weakness.

    On the other hand, a great example of denouement in horror would be, for me, something like Jack Ketchum's "The Girl Next Door" - a book not entirely dissimilar in tone and theme to Misery. This works for me because its simple - the narrative voice throughout is of an older man recounting a series of events from childhood - and offers context in a way that is original but unpretentious. It's just the narrator recounting the aftermath of the event and how it haunts him. It also loops up well with the opening passages. No magic skunks or random alcoholism, just a standard epilogue.

    I think the major minefield when writing an ending lies in not being tempted to force a meaning where it doesn't rise naturally. There's nothing worse than a book that feels like it's trying so darn hard to say something. That's probably true for the entire process but its especially jarring in an ending because most of us readers are so entirely burned out on "the feels".

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by EmmaSohan View Post
    Sooner or later, you have to write a climactic ending. Luke Skywalker destroying the Death Star. Dorothy killing the wicked witch. James Bond saving the world (again).

    What do you like to put in your endings? What do you like or not like in the endings you read (or see?)?
    I like it best when the main story conflict is brought to the highest possible point of tension—a sort of all or nothing moment.

    I like when the protagonists are in danger of falling forever, either physically or emotionally.

    I like when minor characters from earlier in the story play a role in the climax.

    I like when the climax involves some sort of intense physical conflict.

    I like when the reader/viewer is led to believe that all is lost, only to be rewarded with a victory at the end.

    I like the victory to come with a heavy cost.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I think its worth remembering when it comes to the end of a story that you've already "got their money" both literally and metaphorically, so this is essentially dessert after a long meal: Nice when its nice, but not a big issue if its forgettable.
    I disagree, and for exactly the reasons that you give here. Yes, you have their money. But, will you have their money when you put out your next novel? Much of the sales that you may expect to get are going to be from repeat customers. People who love your writing, and are in a rush to buy your next book as soon as they see it on the shelves. Leaving your readers unsatisfied flies in the face of that.

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