In my two previous posts on the Parts of a Story, I spoke about the Beginning and the Middle. For me, the Beginning is as easy as it is exciting. It is something new. I explore new characters or facets of previous characters. There is a new story line to explore. Great Fun.
The Middle is the hardest for me. The Middle requires that I keep my focus, that I don’t waste any words in propelling the reader to the Ending. Each chapter in the Middle must be coherent, and each chapter must not waste the reader’s time.
There is something wonderful and exciting about the Ending. First of all, I can’t wait to type that last period. The Ending is where I place most of the action. That isn’t to say that there isn’t action in the rest of the book. But the Ending is climactic. There is resolution.
In my books, the Ending is where the “bad guy” gets his or her reward, so to speak. It is where the characters’ stories come together to create the “aha” moment in the reader’s mind.
My Endings have been described by various readers as a train heading down a hill without brakes. Readers have told me they cannot put the book down, that they have to get to the Ending. I have some readers mention they are sorry to have finished my books. They wanted more. They wanted to know what happens next. These are all things a writer wants to hear.
To me, there has to be plausibility in the Ending. The writer can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat without letting the reader know there is a possibility of a rabbit.
For instance, in the Lives Trilogy, I took great care in crafting George, my young Navajo boy, who seems to be mature beyond his age. Readers have bought into this, because I took care to describe George’s training at the hands of his grandfather. George’s grandfather was a Haatalii, which could be described as a medicine man, but more important than that. More like a bishop or cardinal in the catholic tradition. His grandfather taught him how to use the knife, and each morning they would practice together.
George’s knife fighting ability came into play more than once in my books. If I had not taken the time to set this up, the reader might have thrown the book across the room in disgust because, using the rabbit out of the hat analogy, I didn’t prep the reader that there might be a rabbit and a hat. In this case, the reader had to see George practicing with his knife. The reader had to understand the closeness in the relationship between George and his grandfather. The reader had to understand that the Navajo believe there is a spiritual realm beyond our physical world, and that often, they believe dreams are messages from the spirit world, and that there are some Navajo who experience visions and messages from the spirit world. George experiences messages and visions involving his grandfather. My readers accept that.
I wove this into my books. Readers have bought into it because of the setup. Without the setup, the Ending would read as false and the reader wouldn’t buy into it. I believe that is why my readers love George as a character. He certainly isn’t invincible. I don’t make him out to be. But the fact he risks his own life to save his brothers and family, that he consistently puts himself in the possibility of harm, is what draws readers to love George.
Endings can also be a prelude to what is coming. Endings can be a cliffhanger, forcing the reader to purchase the next book or read the next story. Readers don’t like a story ending on a cliffhanger. Readers want tidy, neat, orderly endings. However, I did this twice.
Here is the Ending to Taking Lives, the Prequel to the Lives Trilogy:
Brett knew Bobby was going to ask him for the millionth time about him and Uncle Tony, so he went to the dishwasher, opened it, placed his glass on the top rack, and then picked up his backpack and walked down the hall to his bedroom.
He changed his clothes to shorts, a t-shirt, and basketball shoes. He stuck his head into Bobby’s room and not seeing him there, walked back to the kitchen.
Bobby hadn’t moved.
“I’m going back to school to play some basketball.”
Brett studied his brother’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Bobby shrugged, but didn’t take his eyes off the glass he held.
Brett sat down next to him. “What’s wrong?” He asked again.
“I have my piano recital tonight, and I’ve never played in front of anyone before.”
“You don’t have to worry. You’re really good.”
His little brother looked up at him, shocked.
“What, you don’t think I listen to you?”
Bobby shook his head.
Brett smiled and said, “Sometimes, when you practice, mom and I come out to the kitchen and listen to you.”
“We know you don’t like anyone listening to you, but you’re really good, Bobby.”
Dumbfounded, Bobby didn’t know what to say.
“You are. That song, Mandolin Wind, I like that one the best.”
“You listen to me singing?”
“You have a good voice. Mom likes that Kip Moore song.”
“Hey Pretty Girl?”
“Yeah, that one.”
Bobby shrugged. “It would sound better on guitar.”
Brett punched him lightly on his arm. “Bobby, you’re really good.”
“But tonight, I’ll be playing in front of mom, dad, Grandma Dominico and a bunch of other people. And I have to play classical crap,” he added with a “Blaahh,” and his tongue sticking out.
Brett laughed. “And you’ll do great.”
Bobby smiled at him and shrugged.
“You wanna go play basketball with me?”
Bobby thought about it, almost said yes, but said, “Nah, I better practice.”
“You sure? We can use one more guy.”
“No, I better practice.”
“Okay. You’re really good, Bobby. Don’t worry about it. I bet you’ll be the best one there.”
With his hand on the doorknob, Brett stopped and stared at his brother.
Bobby turned around. “What?”
Brett wanted to tell him he loved him, something that he couldn’t ever remember telling him. He wanted to tell him that he was sorry he didn’t do more with him, that he was sorry they never talked or hung out. He wanted to apologize for not being a very good big brother. Mostly, he wanted to tell him that he was proud of him, and that from now on, he’d do better.
“What?” Bobby asked again.
“Nothin’. I’ll see you later, okay?”
“Yeah. See you later.”
Brett went back into the garage, found his bike, pulled it out of the garage and shut the garage door behind him. Then he jumped on the bike and peddled out of the driveway without looking back.
He took his time, peddling slowly.
No one was on the street, and there wasn’t any traffic. He came to a stop sign and thought about blowing right through it, like he had done hundreds and thousands of times, and not knowing why, he slowed to a stop.
A blue van pulled up next to him and the sliding door opened. Brett felt rough, strong hands pull him off the bike and clamp a damp smelly cloth over his mouth and nose. His bike fell to the pavement. He tried to fight back, but the cloth… the smell….
The sliding door closed and the van pulled away from the stop sign. Brett tried to scream for help. He tried to fight back. He tried to push the hands away, but they were too strong. He tried to hold his breath, but it was too late. He felt himself getting drowsy, sleepy, and then there was darkness; nothing.
Brett was gone.
A half a block behind, Tony Dominico watched the brief struggle. He watched them pull Brett off the bike and into the van and watched the van pull away and drive down the street.
Dominico tried to summon up a feeling, any feeling, but nothing came to him. Nothing at all; it was all Brett’s fault anyway, Brett’s fault. Not his.
Not everyone liked this Ending. One reader wrote that it was a cheap way for me to sell the next book. Other readers couldn’t wait to get their hands on the next book. Fortunately, my publisher at that time placed a sneak peek of Stolen Lives at the end, so the reader knew what was to come . . . or so they thought.
I ended Taking Lives on a cliffhanger because I knew it was a prequel. I knew there was going to be another book (three more, to be exact). The only other time I ended on a cliffhanger was in Shattered Lives, Book Two of the Lives Trilogy. I used that as an example in one of my previous posts, explaining that the ending of Shattered Lives was the beginning of Splintered Lives, Book Three of the Lives Trilogy. Unless I write another trilogy, I doubt I will ever use a cliffhanger ending again. Like any reader, I want to see “the end.” I want things sort of wrapped up, nice and neat and tidy.