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Posts Tagged ‘endings’

A homeless dog showed up this weekend and started camping out on my patio furniture. We’re trying to find him a good home, and in the meantime we’re meeting his most basic, and apparently insatiable, need: food.

Looking for a Good Home

The last few nights have been chilly, so yesterday I decided to make a temporary shelter for the little guy. I gathered up a laundry basket, towels, and blankets to construct a cozy den. I imagined him snuggling into it, looking at me with adoring eyes as I gave him the pièce de résistance—a beef flavored rawhide chew toy to help him occupy his time. I grabbed my video camera so I could record this touching scene to send my daughter, who fell in love with the beagley vagabond this weekend when she was visiting us (to get her birthday presents!).

The dog was blocking the patio door, so I trundled out the front door with my supplies, barely able to keep from dropping everything. As I rounded the house, Beagle Boy raced toward me, knocked the basket out of my hand, grabbed the rawhide, and disappeared into the weeds I call a flowerbed. I raced after him with my video camera, desperate to record his enjoyment of the only treat I’d bought him. Thinking I was trying to take it from him (yes, that’s a break in point of view—but I’m sure that’s what he thought), he ran into the woods and hid it.

He came back in a few minutes to watch me finish his shelter, and even crawled inside it. For several minutes I filmed him laying there, staring into the woods. The odd part of that is that when I wanted a still picture to email everyone I know, I had to take 45 pictures to get one that wasn’t blurred by movement. Now I have a 3 minute video of him not moving so much as a muscle.

So, you’re probably wondering how I could possibly relate this to writing. Fortunately, nearly everything I see or do reminds me of writing, so I can make that transition quite smoothly.

As we prepare our manuscripts, we gather our ideas and supplies, and work hard to reach that final, fantastic climax. We anticipate the finished product being worthy of our efforts, providing us deep satisfaction—possibly even winning us the adoration of agents, publishers, and countless fans. Then reality takes over.

No matter how wonderful the ending is, how cleverly written or exciting the final climax may be, it can’t sustain the whole story on its own. Like the rawhide chew toy, it can get buried in the woods and remain unappreciated if everything leading up to it doesn’t work out right.

Start with a great hook and end with a satisfying resolution, but don’t forget that the middle must do the brunt of the work. When the hook you’ve polished so hard isn’t followed by an enticing middle, with rising action and/or tension, you may lose readers. When the story threads unravel, when the writing is disorganized, readers will notice. They may not continue on to that fantastic ending you’ve planned.

Go ahead and save the best for last, but make sure you’ve got something good to offer throughout the whole story.  

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How do you keep the middle of a story from sagging? How do you add interest or tension without getting to the main climax too early? How many chapters or pages do you think are suitable for tying up the ending, after the major climax has occurred? Are you a dog person, or do you prefer cats—or neither?

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Deus ex machina, according to the Encarta dictionary, is a noun that means:

1. unconvincing character who resolves plot: an improbable character or unconvincing event used to resolve a plot
2. god who resolves plot: in ancient Greek and Roman theater, a god introduced to resolve a complicated plot

As writers, we must try to come up with believable endings for our stories. That doesn’t mean we can’t have something extraordinary happen. What we must avoid doing is bringing in someone or something that wasn’t previously involved with the story simply to fix whatever problem the characters face.

During the climax, if our characters are not able to solve their own problems it’s tempting to resort to a supernatural event or outside interference to save them. That’s fine if it fits with other events, has been foreshadowed, or can be explained within the context of the story. If it’s a clumsy, contrived intervention, the readers may feel like we’ve cheated—and that makes it a “deus ex machina.”

The falling action after the climax leads to the resolution (denouement) of the conflict, and if the reasons for what happened seem believable, readers will accept the ending even if they don’t like it.

Do you feel cheated when the ending of a story uses a deus ex machina? Can you think of stories or situations where using one might work effectively?

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