Today, let’s start with a look at how the endings of Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games wrap up their current story while introducing their next adventure. Here are 5 warning signs to look out for as you write and edit your own ending.
Warning Sign #1: The adventure part of the story doesn’t end on a high note.
So, after the hero gets knocked out during the climax and wakes up in the hospital, what’s next? It’s time for the hero to bask in his success a little. After all, we haven’t seem him happy in quite some time.
- Harry gets a special photo album from Hagrid and Gryffindor wins the house cup. “It was the best evening of Harry’s life, better than winning at Quidditch, or Christmas, or knocking out mountain trolls . . . he would never, ever forget tonight.” (HP Ch.17).
- Katniss pulls off the perfect post-Games interview. “Everyone’s laughing and crying and hugging, but I’m still not sure until I reach Haymitch. ‘Okay?’ I whisper. ‘Perfect,’ he answers.” (HG Ch.27).
- Bella goes to prom with Edward with her leg in a cast. “I smiled back. I was surprised to realize that I was actually enjoying myself . . . a little.” (TW Epilogue).
Warning Sign #2: There are too many loose ends.
If you leave too much unanswered, readers might be too annoyed to read the next book. The bestselling YA novels bring up small problems from earlier in the book and resolve them.
- In Harry Potter, we learn: why it burned Quirrell to touch Harry, what happened to the Sorcerer’s Stone, who sent the invisibility cloak, and why Snape hates Harry’s dad. Plus, the students also get their exam marks to officially close the school year. (HP Ch.17).
- In The Hunger Games, we get closure on Peeta’s side of the story when Katniss watches a 3-hour recap special of the Games. “Now that I see what the audience saw, how he misled the Careers about me . . .” (HG Ch.27).
- In Twilight, we are reminded about Bella’s regular high school drama when Tyler tries to pick Bella up for prom. We also see how Charlie feels about the Cullen’s now that she’s out of the hospital. (TW Epilogue).
Warning Sign #3: The ending introduces a totally new, unrelated adventure.
The bestselling YA authors use a minor character from the hero’s homeland to usher in a future conflict. This serves as a bridge of familiarity, so the next adventure feels more natural.
- Harry heads back to live with the Dursleys, and we can only imagine what his summer will be like. “‘Hope you have– er– a good holiday,’ said Hermione, looking uncertainly after Uncle Vernon, shocked that anyone could be so unpleasant.” (HP Ch.17).
- Katniss braces herself for the conflict of balancing her relationship with Peeta and Gale. “The idea of seeing Gale in a matter of hours makes my stomach churn.” (HG Ch.27).
- Bella sees that Jacob is suddenly on equal footing with Edward. “I was shocked to notice that Jacob didn’t have to look up. He must have grown half a foot since the first time I’d seen him.” (TW Epilogue).
Warning Sign #4: The ending conclusively ends the battle with the villain.
I know, this seems like the opposite of tying up loose ends, but it’s not. The trick is to make the hero defeat the villain for now. Something bigger is always waiting on the horizon.
- Harry’s battle with his villain is far from over. “Well, Voldemort’s going to try other ways of coming back, isn’t he? I mean he hasn’t gone, has he?” “No Harry, he has not.” (HP Ch.17).
- Katniss leaves the arena still knowing that the Capitol and President Snow are out for her. “[T]here’s a more insidious fear that the Capitol may be monitoring and confining me. I’ve been unable to escape since the Hunger Games began, but this feels different, much more personal. This feels like I’ve been imprisoned for a crime and I’m awaiting sentencing.” (HG Ch.27).
- Bella learns that Billy Black is serious about the whole werewolves vs. vampires thing. “He said to tell you, no to warn you, that . . . ‘We’ll be watching.'” (TW Epilogue).
Warning Sign #5: The hero never makes it home.
To complete the monomythical hero’s journey, the main character should end up just where he started from: the dreary homeland. But now he has a totally different perspective. Bonus points if you end in a mass transit station. 🙂
- In Harry Potter, the students leave the Hogwarts Experts to exit Platform 9 3/4 in small groups (so as not to attract Muggle attention): “It took quite a while for them all to get off the platform.” (HP Ch.17).
- In The Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta’s train arrives in District 12: “So we just stand there silently, watching our grimy little station rise up around us.” (HG Ch.27).
- In Twilight, Bella skips the details about the journey home from Arizona and jumps back to regular teen life in Forks. “Charlie had been . . . difficult since my return to Forks.” (TW Epilogue).
Why it Works
An effective ending is one that satisfies readers but still leaves them wanting more. Give your audience the closure they crave.
On the other hand, if you tie up everything too neatly, you might write yourself out of a sequel. Even if you are planning a stand alone novel, it’s nice to let the readers imagination take over and fill in the possibilities.
Naturally, this “closure + continued threat” index card will go in our last chapter/epilogue of the master outline.
Don’t worry, this isn’t the end of the deconstruction project…you’ve probably noticed we’ve been working out of order. My mind works in its own special (or spatial…) way. 🙂