Stick the Landing: Bringing Your Ending Full-Circle
A few weeks ago, I talked about how beginnings are hard, and one of the things that makes them so difficult is that many times, it can be hard to figure out where the story really starts until you know where it ends. Obviously, if you’re talking about most romance books, it ends in Happily Ever After, or at least Happily For Now.
But it’s not enough to just get to a good stopping point. A great ending needs to mean something. You need to provide a sense of closure and emotional catharsis for your readers. (If you don’t remember what emotional catharsis is, check out this blog post.)
And, to me, most often (of course, every book is different and your mileage may vary) the easiest way to get that sense of closure and emotional catharsis is to bring the book full-circle. This means that your main character should be in a scene or a situation that somehow refers back or reminds the reader, to where they were in the very first scene of the book, but now the character is very different. They’ve grown, they’ve changed, they’ve found happiness and love. Or, at least are more self-aware.
The elements that bring this full-circle, the things that are the same, or at least reminiscent of that opening scene, are going to highlight the changes in your characters and really drive home the emotional story.
Many people get very upset about epilogues (*cough*Harry Potter*cough*), but honestly I didn’t mind the Harry Potter epilogue that much—(Except for the kids’ names… Albus Severus? Scorpius? Really?)—because J.K. Rowling was bringing her series full-circle. In a documentary she said that her first image of Harry Potter was him on a train going to Hogwarts, and that she had the ending to the entire series in a safe in her house for years. And that ending was Harry Potter sending his kids off to Hogwarts on the same train. And really, she did this for most of the individual books as well. They started and ended with the Dursleys.
Think about The Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry starts off the series living with the Dursleys in a cupboard under the stairs being picked on by everyone. But, at the end of every year, he’s learned more, he’s grown as a character, and his home situation tends to improve slightly. Over the course of the series, he moves into the spare bedroom, he keeps the Dursleys at bay with the threat of magic, and eventually he gets to the point where he is saving Dudley from dementors. Each book is bookended by these scenes where we get to see how much Harry has grown. Once again, she’s bringing things full-circle.
And I’m not saying that your character has to be in the exact same spot or situation as they were in your opening scene, just that your ending and your beginning need to feel connected. We need to feel like that you can follow all the steps for how you got from Point A to Point Z and ideally, the beginning and the ending should be reflections of each other in some way.
So, as I said in the beginning (hey look, I’ve connected the beginning and the end of this post!), sometimes you don’t know where your book really begins until you figure out where it ends. First, get your story written. Try not to stress too much about making the beginning perfect. Wait until you can see the entire shape of the story, then find the perfect place to end. That will help you find the perfect place to start.