By Writing Excuses | October 16, 2011 - 6:11 pm - Posted in Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, Scenes, Structure

Lou Anders joins Dan, Howard, and Mary for a discussion of endings. We begin by talking about how important it is to “stick your landing” at the end of the book, and then recap the Hollywood Formula to point out how endings work there. We get examples from Mary’s upcoming novel Glamour in Glass, Dan’s upcoming novel Partials, Howard’s work-in-progress short story, and Lou Anders’ award-worthy, dot-matrix printer.

Audiobook Pick-of-the-Week: Blood of Ambrose, by James Enge, narrated by Jay Snyder

Writing Prompt: Using the first fifteen minutes of your least favorite recent movie as a starting point, write a story with a powerful ending.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 16th, 2011 at 6:11 pm and is filed under Characters, Conflicts, Guest, Plot, Scenes, Structure. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

31 Comments

  1. October 16, 2011 @ 6:23 pm


    I just want to say to Dan and his family congratulations on the new arrival. Best of luck to you all

    Posted by Rafael
  2. October 16, 2011 @ 6:56 pm


    The ending is easily the most important part of the book. I review books on my blog and the ending of a book can easily sway the score that I give a book by two or three points (I use a 10 point scale). For example, I recently read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, and the book just wasn’t working for me. Up until the last 10% of the book I was going to give it a 4, but the ending really tied everything together for me well enough to raise my total score up to a 6. On the other hand, I was really enjoying most of The Magicians by Lev Grossman and the ending just didn’t work for me, which dropped a book I was really enjoying to a 7/10.

    And just to inflate your egos a little bit, the John Cleaver books all had wonderful endings, especially I Don’t Want to Kill You. As much as I enjoyed the books as a whole, the endings completely blew me away. Likewise with the Mistborn trilogy, everything about the trilogy is fun, the magic is wonderful, the worldbuilding is wonderful, but I’ve described the ending of the trilogy as the single coolest ending I’ve ever seen in any work of fiction. When I pitch the series to people that is one of the points that I focus on for it.

    Wonderful podcast, keep up the excellent work.

    Posted by Adam
  3. October 16, 2011 @ 7:05 pm


    Great podcast, but it left wondering about endings and sequel hooks.

    Can of worms for another podcast?

    Posted by Rafael
  4. October 16, 2011 @ 8:23 pm


    “…it left ME wondering…”

    Sometimes I’m such an idiot!

    Posted by Rafael
  5. October 16, 2011 @ 9:59 pm


    Interesting that you bring up Battle Star Galactica in an episode dealing with endings.

    Ronald Moore might have benefited from Lou’s printer in the writing room.

    Posted by Tony
  6. October 17, 2011 @ 5:52 am


    Great episode. In fact, I’m going to listen to it again right now. This is what last week’s episode left me wanting. Thank you!

    I particularly like the comments about small stakes. I think that’s why I’m more drawn to sword-and-sorcery instead of epic fantasy, because the smaller scope makes it more personal.

    Tony: Especially true for the series finale, which could have ended an hour earlier.

    Posted by K. Bill Albrecht
  7. October 17, 2011 @ 6:32 am


    Funny you mention the Dr Who episode where Rory is forgotten. I just barely watched that one and the end moved me more than any other episode’s I’ve seen yet (which isn’t many), except maybe the Agatha Kristy episode but in a different way. That one left me laughing all the way through with the various references to her writings and then jumbling it up with the game of Clue and other mystery novel tropes.

    As to the scale of stakes, I feel it is partly tied to genre and subgenre. Political spy thrillers and epic fantasies tend to have the fate of the entire world at stake. We have to find and disarm the nuke in less than two hours! Others like westerns tend to have smaller, more personal stakes. Hurray, we saved Aunt Josephine’s farm from getting repossessed by the bank!

    In whatever you’re writing, those stakes, whether great or small, need to be the most important thing to your protagonists. If they don’t care about how it ends, neither will your readers. That goes back to the formulas, meeting expectations, and having protagonists with clearly defined goals and desires.

    Another fine podcast guys.

    Posted by Talmage
  8. October 17, 2011 @ 11:24 am


    This timing on this podcast couldn’t have been more perfect! I’ve been struggling with the ending of my book. The ending that the story wants is completely different from what I’ve outlined and after listening to this episode, I’ve realized that the story is right and my outline is wrong.

    Thanks for ending my anguish.

    Posted by Kim Mainord
  9. October 17, 2011 @ 11:46 am


    Great ‘cast. Yes, a bad ending ruins a story for me. I’ve read too many stories where the ending just fizzles out into nothing and the reader is left saying, Well, so what? Another flaw I notice is the rushed ending – I sometimes get the feeling the author sees the finish line up ahead and doubles the pace, and doesn’t give things the attention they need.

    And yes, my favorite stories are the smaller-stakes, more personal ones. An epic save-humanity type story can be a lot of fun, but I’m usually pretty emotionally distanced from it. I’m far more involved when the stakes are more intimate; I can wrap my brain around it and it’s more real. Hundreds falling in battle against Sauron – very interesting to watch, but I don’t feel it all that much (that’s why I need the hobbits, they give me something personal to care about). Ripley against the Alien where the stakes are the lives of a few people – that scares me to death, and I care deeply about who survives and who doesn’t. A simple mystery story can affect me far more than the great epic. There’s a place for both – sometimes I don’t want to be put through the ringer and a popcorn story can be just fine. And my favorite stories of all have a bit of both.

    Posted by Laurie
  10. October 17, 2011 @ 1:44 pm


    In this podcast, Dan mentioned that the latest book he was working on started as a pitch. I’ve heard Brandon mention similar things before too.

    It would be interesting the next time you guys do another “business of writing” type podcast if you could talk about how that process works. At what point in your career do you start transitioning from what I guess you’d call spec work to pitch work? How do the advances work in those cases, is it still paid upon acceptance of the final manuscript?

    Posted by Lee Falin
  11. October 17, 2011 @ 7:34 pm
  12. October 17, 2011 @ 8:15 pm


    I think the level of stakes is a good way to address multiple stories, e.g. I’m primarily thinking about trilogies. The first story has relatively small stakes, mostly personal, then bigger in each subsequent story. Sequels (the good ones) need to both evoke what made the first one successful while expanding the story at the same time. Raising the stakes does that, though it can get tricky if you go too large. As Laurie pointed out, the larger the stakes are, the more difficult it is to connect them to the reader.

    My prompt for the week:

    http://temporalsword.dyndns.org/blog/?p=208

    Posted by Jeff Whitaker
  13. October 18, 2011 @ 5:37 am


    Good cast again.

    At first I thought Lou was way off track when he mentioned the Matrix as a good example, but then he came back with the Matrix 2 and 3 comment.

    I must revisit the MICE quotient – it’s in my notes.

    I’m so far from the ending of my novel, at the moment, but I suppose it’s good to keep endings in mind.

    I’d like a cast on moving from Act 1 to Act 2 – I’ve stalled and need to get back on track. Plus the act transition usually gets left out of plotting discussions.

    And finally, I know Suckerpunch isn’t that recent, but it would have to be my writing prompt movie – I was scarred by the awfulness of that film.

    Posted by chella
  14. October 18, 2011 @ 5:52 am


    Apparently, Howard has a key to Chekhov’s Armory.

    Posted by Michael Burris
  15. October 18, 2011 @ 11:25 am


    Podcast request:

    Doing more than one thing in the same scene. I don’t mean like “descriptions doing more” or any of the topics that have been covered that kind of fit. I’m talking about two distinct things happening that are both important and need to be handled at the same time for effect. Maybe a chess match where one person tells the other that they killed their parents is in line with what I’m talking about. The result and strategies employed in the match are as important to the story as the dead parent information, so I can’t do the trick of fading one thing into the background.

    Martin has a scene in one of the ASOIAF books where Sansa is in a talk with some women (I think Cersei might be in there) and at the same time a fool is singing “Bear and the Maiden Fair.” This was a neat scene since the background song offered pacing, but if the song itself were informing the plot it couldn’t be tossed into the background like he did.

    I’ve tried rewriting this one scene several times and it comes out muddled, so I was wondering if there were any strategies for making it work that don’t involve restructuring it to have the information come out in separate scenes. When I play the scene in my head it’s neat – I just can’t get it on paper.

    Posted by Duke
  16. October 18, 2011 @ 5:38 pm


    @Duke? Just a thought, but who’s the narrator/viewpoint character? If you’re trying to mix two disparate actions, you may want to have someone in the corner, who is watching both of them, glancing back and forth, waiting to see whether the chess game will end first or the verbal duel turn into real action (or whatever). The trick here being that narrating the action by someone who is involved in one or the other gives that one precedence, but a third viewpoint can keep them balanced?

    Posted by Mike Barker
  17. October 18, 2011 @ 5:42 pm


    And yes, my favorite stories are the smaller-stakes, more personal ones. An epic save-humanity type story can be a lot of fun, but I’m usually pretty emotionally distanced from it. I’m far more involved when the stakes are more intimate; I can wrap my brain around it and it’s more real. Hundreds falling in battle against Sauron – very interesting to watch, but I don’t feel it all that much (that’s why I need the hobbits, they give me something personal to care about). Ripley against the Alien where the stakes are the lives of a few people – that scares me to death, and I care deeply about who survives and who doesn’t. A simple mystery story can affect me far more than the great epic. There’s a place for both – sometimes I don’t want to be put through the ringer and a popcorn story can be just fine. And my favorite stories of all have a bit of both.
    +1

    Posted by Jorge
  18. October 18, 2011 @ 10:31 pm


    SF Tidbits for 10/19/11…

    Interviews and ProfilesJonathan Strahan and Gary K. Wolfe chats with Ursula K. Le Guin (podcast). Writing Excuses interviews Lou Anders (podcast). The Outer Alliance Podcast interviews Lynne M. Thomas (podcast).Lightspeed Magazine (Erin Stocks) intervi…

    Posted by SF Signal
  19. October 18, 2011 @ 11:02 pm


    I LOVE this episode, and just wish that I had heard it a little sooner.

    I just finished the first draft of a novel last Friday, and it was such a huge disaster. This podcast explains perfectly what I did wrong. I’ll definitively give it another listen once I’m ready for the edits.

    Posted by Casey Jewels
  20. October 19, 2011 @ 6:19 am


    @Mike

    The viewpoint character is doing both things at the same time. I’ll try shifting viewpoints to see if that helps.

    Posted by Duke
  21. October 20, 2011 @ 4:56 pm


    Season 2: Episode 6 – Endings

    Check this out for more takes on endings from a couple years back. There may be more, but this one came to mind.

    Listen to both, as they have different perspectives, mainly that the older one doesn’t talk about the hollywood formula.

    Posted by Duke
  22. October 20, 2011 @ 9:32 pm


    And while we’re waiting for the curtain to come down… a transcript!

    http://wetranscripts.livejournal.com/50527.html

    Posted by Mike Barker
  23. October 21, 2011 @ 9:35 am


    Did we ever get a part 2 to the collaboration episode from Jan 2010?

    Posted by SmileyGirl
  24. October 21, 2011 @ 2:32 pm


    [...] advice on endings is a little harder to come by. Lou Anders returns to Writing Excuses to discuss sticking your novel’s ending. This entry was posted in Publishing and tagged big publishers, Christopher Butler, design, [...]

  25. October 21, 2011 @ 6:52 pm


    Ohmigosh, when Howard said that this was the last episode, I sat there with my mouth open, tears forming in the corners of my eyes…no, but I was upset.

    And so I hate you guys a little, now. ;)

    But seriously, great ‘cast!

    Posted by Erynne
  26. October 23, 2011 @ 11:27 am


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    [...] Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 6.20: Endings [...]

  28. October 25, 2011 @ 3:56 am


    The theme I’ve been mulling over is sort of hard to put into words, but I guess it’s closest to “Victorian laboratory meets hobbit hole” with a splash of old-fashioned typography. Quirky antiques, moss, letterpress everything… slightly steampunk, perhaps, but lighter and softer.

  29. October 29, 2011 @ 2:44 pm


    [...] Writing Excuses 6.20: Endings brought to mind the discussion on a recent (for me, it may actually have been the first episode) SF Squeecast, in which an affectionate bashing of Christopher Priest “everyone just walks off stage” endings ensued. Lou Anders joined writing excuses again and endings were discussed largely in relation to the Hollywood formula. Lots of info in 15 minutes and they lie. They’re all super smart. [...]

  30. November 29, 2011 @ 1:32 pm


    [...] highly recommend downloading and listening to the episode, as well as its sequel on endings, but if you’re pressed for time, Nathan Russell has whipped a handy summary up here. At its [...]

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